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Diabetes Diet

Diabetes is a health condition that affects your body’s ability to process sugar in an optimum manner. Insulin is the critical hormone that functions as a means to transfer glucose from the blood stream to the cells in your body. People with diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin or cannot utilise it properly.

 

It is important to understand the relation between food and blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. When you eat something, it is converted into simpler compounds, including glucose (or sugar), during digestion. Each food item is graded from a scale of 0–100 on the basis of how much and how quickly they raise blood sugar levels in the body. This rating is known as the glycemic index, where 100 is given to pure glucose. Food with low-glycemic index have a rating of less than 55, and foods with high-glycemic index have a rating of more than 70.

Let’s look at the benefits of following a healthy diet as per an individual’s health condition.

 

Benefits of following a dedicated diet plan for people with diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease, which means that it is a long-lasting illness (entire lifetime for most people). As a person with diabetes, the food you eat directly impacts your blood sugar levels; this, in turn, causes related health problems when there is an excess or lack of sugar. Thus, understanding your diet can be extremely helpful in managing your condition in the long run.

 

1. Maintain good health

You may already know that following a healthy-balanced diet is linked to better health and well-being. If healthy people miss out on some nutrients in 1 or 2 meals or overeat (during a brunch for example), their body can follow the right mechanism to cope with such incidents. However, this is not the case with people with diabetes. Thus, they need to pay extra attention to their diet to have a healthy and properly working body.

 

2. Avoid complications

Not following a proper diet can lead to frequent blood sugar fluctuations that can turn into a severe type of diabetes—brittle diabetes. In this condition, it is very difficult to predict your sugar levels and consequently troublesome for treating the disease. People who have brittle disease find it more difficult to continue with their day-to-day activities than people with not-so-severe diabetes.

 

Fluctuating blood sugar has a roller coaster effect on the patient health. Some of the common complication include the following:
A. Damage to blood vessel clusters in the kidneys (diabetic nephropathy)
B. Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
C. A group of conditions affecting the blood flow and blood vessels in the brain (cerebrovascular disease)
D. Abnormalities in the blood vessels outside the heart and brain (peripheral vascular disease)

 

3. Loose excess weight and/or maintain a healthy weight

Obesity makes things worse for multiple health conditions, including diabetes. People who are overweight can use diet as a tool to bring their weight under control and keep it their minimising potential health risks.

People with diabetes who are not overweight can still struggle with maintaining a healthy weight; following a healthy diet can solve this problem.

 

Glycemic index of some of the common food items

Food

Glycemic index (approximate)

Carbohydrate rich items

White bread

75

Multi-grain wheat bread

53

Wheat chapati

52

White rice (boiled)

73

Brown rice

68

Sweet corn

52

Rolled oats

55

Muesli

57

Fruits

Apple (raw)

36

Orange (raw)

43

Pineapple (raw)

59

Banana (raw)

51

Mango (raw)

51

Watermelon (raw)

76

Dates (raw)

42

Apple juice

41

Orange juice

50

Cucumbers

15

Tomato

15

Vegetables

Potato (boiled)

78

Potato (deep fried)

63

Carrots (boiled)

39

Sweet potato (boiled)

63

Pumpkin/Seetaphal (boiled)

64

Green banana (boiled)

55

Lettuce

15

Capsicum

15

Dairy products and alternatives

Milk

39

Milk (toned)

37

Curd

45

Paneer

27

Cheese

0 to 10

Ice cream

51

Soy milk

34

Tofu

15

Legumes

Arhar/Toor dal (boiled)

29

Masoor dal (boiled)

25

Chanda dal (boiled)

8

Kidney beans/Rajma (boiled)

19

Chickpeas/Chhole (boiled)

33

Moong dal (boiled)

38

Urad dal (boiled)

43

Soya beans (boiled)

16

Other food items

Chocolate (milk chocolate)

40

Honey

61

Jaggery

84

Sabudaana/Tapioca pearls

67

Whole grains and millets

Quinoa (boiled)

53

Bajra (boiled)

54

Jowar (boiled)

62

Ragi

54 to 68

Dry fruits, nuts, and seeds

Almond

0

Cashew

22

Pistachio

15

Pine nuts/Chilgoza

15

Chia seeds

1

Flax seeds

35

Pumpkin seeds

25

Muskmelon seeds

65

Raw peanuts

14

In general, you should avoid eating food items with high glycemic index (above 70). Besides, eggs and meat generally have a low glycemic index; so, non-vegetarians can enjoy them with other healthy food preparations

Healthy diet for people with diabetes

The best diet for diabetic patients includes food items with a low glycemic index and an adequate amount of macronutrients and micronutrients as per the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Here’s a list of RDA approved food items for diabetic patients.

 

1. Breakfast

This is the most important meal of the day as your body receives nutrition after almost 8–10 hours. Common breakfast items include dosa, idli, poha, pancakes, upma, uttapam, stuffed paratha, sandwiches, sabudana khichadi, and kachori. But most of these items are not suitable for diabetic people. By simply swapping a few ingredients, you can still enjoy eating your favourite breakfast item.

 

For example, while making sandwiches, you can replace the white bread with multi-grain wheat bread and the standard stuffing of mashed potatoes with tossed vegetables and paneer.

 

Here are some examples of food items you can enjoy in breakfast:
a. Quinoa poha
b. Moong dal uttapam
c. Wheat idli
d. Vegetable stuffed paratha made with corn flour
e. Fruit salad made with apples, oranges, pineapples, etc.
f. Bajra khichadi
g. Salad made with lettuce, paneer/tofu, boiled chickpeas, etc.

 

2. Lunch and Dinner

People sometimes skips their lunch/dinner, which are the other two most important meals of the day, to accommodate other work in their lives. But this has a negative impact on your body, and the blood sugar in your body can suddenly drop causing dizziness and/or nausea. Common food items in lunch and dinner include dal, vegetable preparations, chapati, rice, and salad. People may skip some items and miss out on the required nutrition; this is especially true for youngsters living away from home or working professionals with little time to complete house chores.

 

However, skipping on meals is doing no good, especially if you have diabetes. If you can’t manage meal preparation on your own, it is better to get domestic help.

 

Here are some examples of food items you can incorporate in your lunch/dinner:
a. Khichadi with brown rice and sautéed vegetables
b. Dal, chapati, vegetable, and brown rice
c. Wheat dosa and sambar with added vegetables
d. Brown rice with vegetable preparation
e. Parathas stuffed with peas or other suitable vegetables
f. Sweet preparation of oats with fruits and nuts
g. Savoury preparation of oats with vegetables

 

3. Snacks

It is inevitable to avoid munching on crispy potato/banana chips, chocolate chip cookies, or the instant cup noodles, for example, during the day. Although you might not feel hungry, seeing someone else during their snack break may trigger you to eat common snack items and you might regret it later.

Here’s a list of some snack examples you can enjoy without worrying about your sugar too much:
a. Fruit salad
b. Sugar-free cookies made with ragi flour and dry fruits
c. Nuts and seeds
d. Cucumber or carrot salad
e. Banana chips (preferably baked)

 

Make the most out of your diet

By introducing the following tips in your daily routine, you can maximise the benefits of your healthy diet:
1. Set a standard mealtime and try to eat your food at the same time every day.
2. Do not skip meals, trade your full meal for a light snack if you don’t feel very hungry at your mealtime.
3. Avoid eating any heavy meals at night as your physical activity is very low or nil at that time.
4. Try to incorporate as much variety in your diet as possible with limitations on certain foods due to high glycemic index to keep your gut healthy.
5. If you are concerned about something, consult your doctor on your regular visits.

 

Checking blood sugar levels

Self-testing is a key for managing a chronic condition like diabetes. There are numerous testing devices available in the market easily. By investing in a handy device, you can tack your progress, understand how your body reacts to different conditions, and learn optimum diet and exercise routines for yourself.

 

You should check your blood sugar levels once every week initially. If the results vary quite a lot, then start to do it in every 3 days; notice the impact of change in diet, sleep, exercise, and other mental factors on your blood sugar. Once your results start showing some consistency, you can reduce the testing frequency to once a week and then once a month later on.

 

The best times to check blood sugar are: (1) in the morning on an empty stomach, (2) 2 hours after a meal, or (3) at random. It is important to note that home testing devices are there for monitoring your condition only, you should never change the dosage of your medicine or start additional medicine without consulting the doctor first. In addition, you should go to a pathology lab for getting blood sugar levels to check the accuracy of your device once in a month or two.

 

What are the normal blood sugar levels?

Tests

People with diabetes

People at the pre-diabetic stage

Normal results

A1C test

6.5% or above

5.7% to 6.4%

5.6% or below

Fasting blood sugar test

126 mg/dL or above

100 to 125 mg/dL

99 mg/dL or below

Glucose tolerance test

200 mg/dL or above

140 to 199 mg/dL

139 mg/dL or below

Random blood sugar test

200 mg/dL or above

N/A

N/A

To understand your condition better, your doctor might order these tests:

1. A1C test
Also known as HbA1C test, it is used to measure average blood sugar for the past 2 to 3 months.

 

2. Fasting blood sugar test
As the name suggests, this is utilised to measure your sugar levels on an empty stomach. The sample is also collected early in the morning.

 

3. Glucose tolerance test
This is employed to measure your blood sugar before and after having a drink containing glucose.

 

4. Random blood sugar test
This test provides your blood sugar levels at random; the sample can be taken anytime during the day.

 

When to consult a doctor?
People with diabetes may not realise if there is a problem brewing underneath the normalcy they observe as the signs and symptoms can be subtle.

 

You should visit the doctor if you notice any of the following:
1. Pain, numbness, or tingling sensation in the hands, feet, arms, or legs
2. Sudden weakness or dizziness
3. Skin problems or infections that don’t heal at a normal speed
4. Troubles seeing
5. Light-headedness after standing up, nausea or bloating, or constipation
6. Fluctuations in your blood sugar levels
7. Darkening of skin patches
8. Consistent higher or lower (than normal) blood sugar levels

 

Living with diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic illness that can become severe and cause other complications affecting your brain, kidney, and other organs. Understanding how to control and manage it is essential. Following the right diet plan and leading a generally healthy lifestyle can also be extremely beneficial in minimising potential risks related to the disease.

 

Your doctor will likely recommend some lifestyle changes when you are first diagnosed with diabetes. But if you find yourself struggling with your diet plan, you should try consulting a professional dietician to make a practical diet chart that aligns with your health goals.

 

Since diabetes is a chronic disease, you cannot look at your diet and lifestyle with a short-term mindset. It is better to set your health goals according to your short-term circumstances, but make sure they all align with the right long-term vision.

 

FAQs

What food can a diabetic patient eat?

Anything that has a low glycemic index (0–55) is the best choice for people with diabetes. For example, multi-grain whole wheat bread, apples, oranges, paneer, and eggs.

Is eating raw vegetables good in diabetes?

In general, it is better to eat cooked food as it is easier for the body to digest and as cooking reduces the chances of you getting any infection. However, if you are eating a salad made up of cucumbers (which have a low glycemic index), you are good to go.

What is a perfect diabetic diet?

A perfect diabetic diet list involves a balanced portion of macronutrients and micronutrients as per the daily recommendations.

What food and fruit to avoid with diabetes?

You should avoid anything that has a high glycemic index (above 70) whether it is a fruit, a vegetable, or anything else.

Can proper diabetic diet help recover fast?

Yes, ensuring that you get the right nutrition without causing blood sugar levels to suddenly drop or increase is the best way to manage your condition.

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