Eating your way through diabetes
November is National Diabetes Month. Unlike Thanksgiving, it’s not exactly an event worth celebrating over a festive dinner, but it is a good reminder of the ugly truth. With over 30 million Americans living with the disease, and 84 million who are pre-diabetic, diabetes is a mass epidemic. There is no known cure, but it is treatable, and even preventable with a healthy lifestyle. What does that look like, especially in terms of food? Here’s the breakdown.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a disorder of metabolism by which the pancreas creates little or no insulin, a hormone that aids in processing sugar and fat from food. In other cases, the body responds inappropriately to insulin, known as “insulin resistance.”
People can suffer from type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. Nicknamed adult-onset diabetes, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body experiences insulin resistance, leading to obesity. Fortunately, it is possible to control blood sugar levels to reduce the need for insulin. This can be done through a well-planned meal program. To someone already with diabetes, this may all seem like review, but interestingly "Data from the CDC suggests that of the estimated 30.3 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, 7.2 million, or 1 in 4 adults living with the disease, are not aware of it. And among those people living with prediabetes, only 11.6 percent are aware that they have the disease. (EverydayHealth)" So how can you know if you are one of these unsuspecting sufferers? Some early warning signs of type 2 diabetes included excessive thirst, frequent urination, insatiable hunger, unintended weight-loss and foot pain or numbness. If you suspect some of these early warning signs, don't fret. With some diet changes, you can significantly reduce symptoms without suffering frustrating, chronic symptoms.
What can you eat?
Firstly, it’s important to decipher types of carbohydrates that will work for the body instead of against it. Carbs are necessary to provide fuel for the body, but too many or the wrong kind, and you can send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. On average, an adult will need two to four carb servings per meal to stay in a balanced blood sugar range. This range tends to be specific to the individual but on average its is usually somewhere between 40-60g. Carbs can get a bad rep for being fattening because sugar is a carb, but complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic load are nutrient-dense, and take longer for your body to digest. In short, they will stabilize your body sugar levels, instead of making them spike to require more insulin, providing longer lasting, slow-released energy. These foods include brown rice, lentils, quinoa, steel-cut oats, nuts, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. They also tend to be high in fiber, which aids in digestion, and helps you to feel fuller for longer periods. When you’re trying to fight weight gain, this is key. Fiber and glycemic index have a very close relationship. Fiber is considered a carb, however, it is non-digestible by your body.
Read more about good carbs vs. bad carbs.
You know those foods that often look the same way coming out as they did going in? Yeah, that is because they are high in fiber! On a nutrition label, fiber is calculated into the total carb count, but it is non-digestible so it doesn't cause a rise in blood sugar. In fact, because of its ability to slow digestion, it even slows down the release of the digestible carbs in the same meal! When deciding on a meal to make or eat, take note of the "net carbs" which is the total carbs minus the amount of grams of fiber. Plant based meals tend to be scary for some because the carb count tends to be higher, but since veggies, legumes and grains are so high in fiber, the net carb content often fits perfectly in the 40-40g range.
Read more about high fiber foods you can snack on.
Simple carbohydrates should be avoided because they cause a rapid increase in blood sugar (high glycemic load). These foods include sugar, pasta, white bread, flour, and desserts (cookies, pastries, etc). It is also best to stay away from high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats. These simple carbohydrates can be hidden in foods that would not normally be labeled as “bad,” such as breakfast cereals, watermelon, pineapples, and white potatoes. It is also important to manage protein and fat intake. Like fiber, both of these help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and allow for slower, lower insulin release. They also curb cravings. Protein from animals is associated with unhealthy saturated fats, and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plant-based fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado can help to decrease this risk.
Read more about 5 foods you should never eat.
Dietitians and doctors have suggested a variety of “diets” that can manipulate blood sugar levels, and slow the effects of diabetes. Almost all of these comes down to eating lots of veggies, and limiting or eliminating processed sugars and red meat. Planning and prepping meals for the day can help avoid blood sugar spikes and throwing the body into panic mode. Ready-made Veestro meals are packed with fiber, low in sugar, and labeled for simple carb, fiber, and protein calculation. Cookbooks based on a low glycemic index are also great for creating a colorful, diverse diet that is sugar-friendly.