Diabetes Mellitus is often used as a catch all term to describe a lifelong, chronic medical condition that involves spikes in the blood-sugar levels of an individual, but the affliction actually comes in two forms; Type 1, and Type 21.
Type 1 Diabetes
Many people associate the typical Diabetic as being overweight, but someone living with Type 1 of the condition will typically struggle to maintain a healthy body weight and muscle mass.
Type 1 Diabetics are often diagnosed in childhood, through no lifestyle choice of their own, with the root cause being a disorder within the human body.
The immune system of a Type 1 Diabetic will regularly, erroneously attack the pancreas, resulting in an inability for the organ to create the essential hormone insulin.
This is required by the body to combat glucose, aka blood sugar, and without insulin to keep these levels at bay, the body can become flooded with glucose, causing such dangerous conditions as hyperglycemia2.
Introducing insulin from an outside source is absolutely essential to a Type 1 Diabetic, usually done via an injection or insulin pump.
The same cannot be said for Type 2 Diabetes, which can be controlled without medication in some rare cases, and typically occurs in older people that struggle with their weight.
Type 2 Diabetes
Undoubtedly the better-known form of the condition, Type 2 Diabetes differs from its Type 1 counterpart in that it is typically diagnosed later in life, though it too can be genetic.
However, whereas somebody living with Type 1 Diabetes is unable to create any insulin thanks to the appropriate cells being destroyed by their immune system, Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body starts to resist the hormone, which is known as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is where the links to weight control to Type 2 Diabetes are formed, as in some cases the body struggles to keep up with the amount of sugar consumed – though it is as much a fallacy to claim that all Type 2 Diabetics are overweight as it is to say all overweight individuals live with the condition.
However, there are undeniable links to a lack of exercise and unhealthy eating plans with Type 2 Diabetes.
As a result, unlike Type 1, this strain of the condition can be treated by lifestyle changes, although it’s very rare that an individual can stay off medication for the duration of their lives as the condition becomes more aggressive over time3.
Regardless of whether the condition takes the form of Type 1 or Type 2, foods are a huge part of a Diabetic’s life. Many convenience meals are unsuitable for anybody living with Diabetes due to their high carbohydrate content, but fortunately a great many delicious dishes are packed with nutrients that the body will thank you for.
Best Food for Diabetics
Red meat is not an ideal choice for a Diabetic (if you must consume such produce, aim for the leanest variant available), but protein can be derived from a variety of alternative sources. Considering that at least a quarter of any meal should consist of protein, it’s important to discover appropriate supplies.
Fish and seafood is an optimal ingredient, which is worth including into your meal plan at least twice a week. Scaly fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids generate the hormone adiponectin within the human body, which in turn improves sensitivity to organic insulin production.
Salmon, mackerel and herring are among the foods rich in Omega-3, though the more conventional likes of cod, herring and mackerel are also fine choices for a Diabetic, as are any form of shellfish4.
Protein can also be sought from skinless poultry such as chicken or turkey, or indeed plant-based meat substitutes; vegetarian burgers, sausages and chicken products all come packed with positive nutrients and nothing damaged.
A plant-centric diet can be beneficial for Diabetics, as the likes of tofu, various beans and falafel are healthy in addition to being delicious and filling.
Nuts and spreads, including almonds and cashews, can also be a great source of protein, as can certain cottage cheese and egg whites. All of these foods do contain carbohydrates, however, so be sure to check the labels carefully before preparing your meal.
It’s not all about the protein, however; some starch is still required for the human body to function appropriately.
To this end, look into including sweet potatoes (considerably better for the Diabetic than their standard equivalent), and plenty of whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice. Oatmeal for breakfast is also a fantastic way of obtaining these nutrients for a slow release throughout the day.
Best Fruit for Diabetics
Adjusting to life after sugar is one of the biggest challenges any Diabetic will face, and fruit is one of the most baffling food choices. It’s no secret that such foods are loaded with naturally occurring sugars, so surely they are a no-go? The answer, as is so often the case, is simultaneously complex yet simple. Portion sizes of fruit should be managed carefully, but many ripe and luscious examples of organic produce are laden with vitamins that will benefit the body. Just steer well clear of anything canned!
The ideal starting point when looking for a summer fruit snack is anything ending in –berry. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries can be a Diabetic’s best friend, packed with antioxidants and placed very low on the glycemic index5. Whether used as a snack, a dessert or sprinkled over breakfast, berries should be a part of any Diabetic meal plan when in season.
Peaches and apricots are similarly versatile, able to be munched on directly or blended into a liquid smoothie or tea, and rich in Vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium - all heart-healthy as well as Diabetes-friendly. If you’re keen to avoid too many trips to your doctor, stick with age-old rhyming advice and munch on an apple a day too. The skin of these fruits, in particular, is absolutely packed with antioxidants. Pears are similarly beneficial, loaded with vitamin K to improves insulin sensitivity, while the potassium found in bananas, prunes and citrus fruits will keep your blood pressure low.
Best Vegetables for Diabetics
Fiber is another essential component in the battle against Diabetes6. Though a variation on traditional carbohydrates, the body does not digest fiber, ensuring that it passes through the digestive tract while acting as an internal broom, clearing out anything unwelcome along with it. As a result, fiber-packed vegetables are the cornerstones of any Diabetic diet, and should be consumed multiple times daily.
The key to finding a high-fiber vegetable is to seek out something non-starchy, which will ensure a lower carb count. Fortunately vegetables of this ilk are many and varied, and a great number of them also act as superfoods, providing all kinds of health benefits beyond blood sugar.
A typical non-starchy vegetable will be green in shade; green beans, leeks, broccoli, sprouts and peas are all great weapons to keep in your arsenal. Spinach, kale and asparagus are absolutely loaded with nutrients, and are worth applying to meals wherever possible.
Happily, conventional vegetable ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, peppers and mushrooms are all packed with fiber. Various essential elements of popular green salads are also available to anybody living with Diabetes.
Using the likes of lettuce and watercress as a base, you can apply cucumber, eggplant, celery, beetroot, bamboo or water chestnuts to a salad for a healthy, tasty and filling meal.
Finally, please allow us a word of praise for the humble butternut squash. This hugely versatile non-starchy vegetable can be used to replace many of your favorite carbohydrate-heavy dishes; with the use of a mandolin, this sweet vegetable can create substitute pasta, noodles and spaghetti. Before long, you’ll wonder why you didn’t turn to this particular superfood sooner
Best Sugar for Diabetics
OK, time to address the elephant in the room. A Diabetic diet does not need to remain 100% sugar-free, it just requires more conventional planning and management.
Naturally occurring sugars to satisfy your sweet tooth can be found in fruit, especially pineapples, while vegetables such as carrots provide good doses of the sweet stuff.
Alternatively, you could look into sweetening your hot drinks and breakfast oatmeal with agave nectar. The produce of the agave plant, this is a natural sweetener that tastes similar to honey, but is infinitely less sugary.
Of course, there are also a great many artificial sweeteners on the marketplace, some which are healthier than others. Xylitol is probably the most highly regarded of these products, and it certainly comes recommended by dentists as well as doctors7.
As the body can process Xylitol without the use of insulin, it is arguably the best option for any Diabetic seeking a sugar substitute.
Diabetic pet owners be aware, however – this product is extremely toxic to household pets such as dogs and cats, so do be vigilant about screwing lids on jars and keeping on high shelves, and don’t forget that an alternative to sugar does not permit a free-for-all on high-carb foods. Stevia is another option widely used by people suffering from diabetes.
A Quick Summary
To even begin to control your blood sugar, the following is your check list:
- Cut down or give up anything sugary – sweets, drinks, desserts
- Avoid starchy ‘white’ foods such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes
- Switch to wholegrains such as bulghar, rye, barley, buckwheat
- Avoid breakfast cereals or read the packets carefully. It really is best to stick to oats as so many cereals contain sugar
- Avoid margarine or butter substitutes – stick to butter
- Remember that eggs will satiate you more than cereal or toast
- To get your ‘sweet kick’ use berries instead of sugar
- Feast on protein rich foods
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- Remember your rainbow of vegetables from dark and leafy greens to Mediterranean vegetables (peppers, courgettes etc)
- Eat as many healthy fats and oils, such as oily fish, olive oil
- Maintain a positive attitude – you can make your food delicious!
Start with these steps, and you will also feel a lot more healthy.