Diabetes is a common long-term disease. The disease occurs when the body is unable to properly store and use food as a source of energy. More than 11 million Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes, an early indicator of the disease. The overall cost of diabetes to the Canadian healthcare system is expected to be $3.1 billion by 2020.
Current treatment options to manage diabetes include medication, insulin therapy, and lifestyle changes. A healthy diet is an important part of managing the symptoms of diabetes, as there are a number of foods that control blood sugar. This review will discuss three diet-based methods for blood sugar control.
What is diabetes?
People with diabetes are either unable to produce insulin, or cannot properly use the insulin that they produce. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps to body use and store glucose (a basic sugar molecule) from food.
Type 1 Diabetes
There are three common types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells that make insulin, resulting in little or no insulin production in the body. People with type 1 diabetes are always treated with insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, accounting for 90% diabetes cases, results when the body is unable to use insulin properly. This form of diabetes is often associated with being overweight or obese, which can affect blood sugar levels and the activity of insulin the body. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed through exercise and diet, though medication and insulin can help.
The third form of diabetes is gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition resulting in high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It occurs in about one in 25 pregnancies and puts both the mother and child at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Diabetes can lead to many health complications. Having high blood sugar levels over long periods can cause other diseases or damage to different organs and tissues in the body. Diabetes can be life-threatening if it is not properly treated.
Here we describe three methods for natural blood sugar control, and how to control blood sugar throughout the day.
How to control blood sugar throughout the day
1. Eat healthy carbohydrates
Foods with carbohydrates can cause the most fluctuation in blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should limit the amount of carbohydrate-rich foods eaten with each meal. Carbohydrates should only account for 45% to 55% of the total calories eaten each day. Many diabetes patients are advised to count carbohydrates when creating a meal plan for the day.
Healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are preferred. Whole grains are broken down more slowly in the body, causing less abrupt changes in blood sugar levels. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include whole grain toast, fruits, and vegetables.
Low-fat dairy products can also be eaten in moderate amounts. Refined grains such as white bread, pasta, and rice are not recommended for diabetes control. Sugary foods such as candy, jam, soda, honey, and other desserts should be limited or avoided.
2. Include high-fibre foods
Foods that are high in fibre help the body regulate digestion and control blood sugar levels. Dietary fibre is the part of plant foods that is not digested or absorbed by the body. It is classified as either soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water, and can help lower cholesterol and glucose levels. It might also help improve insulin sensitivity, meaning that the body requires less insulin to lower blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre is found in foods such as oats, beans, apples, carrots, peas, and barley.
Insoluble fibre helps move food matter through the digestive tract and can be found in whole grain breads and cereals, nuts, beans, cauliflower, and other vegetables. Many foods have soluble and insoluble in varying amounts.
Fibre can also help patients feel full longer. Less snacking between meals helps to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day. Adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes should consume between 30 and 50 grams of fibre each day from a variety of food sources.
3. Plan meals, and eat three meals per day
Meal planning is an important part of managing the symptoms of diabetes. Patients with diabetes should eat three meals each day spaced no more than six hours apart. This regular schedule can help the body to maintain natural blood sugar control. Every meal should have a mix of starches, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins.
Breakfast is an important meal as it breaks the overnight fast and restores the body’s glucose supply. Eating breakfast helps to kick-start the body’s metabolism and stabilize blood glucose levels.
Examples of healthy breakfast options include whole grain toast and cereal; fruit such as oranges, pears, prunes, melon, and berries; low-fat milk and plain yogurt; and peanut butter. Ground flax seeds can be added to yogurt, cereal, or homemade breads to increase fibre content. Fruit juice is not recommended and can cause spikes in blood sugar. Water and unsweetened tea or coffee can be consumed throughout the day.
For lunch, meals should also include a combination of healthy carbohydrates, fibre, protein, and healthy fats. Healthy foods that control blood sugar include lean chicken or fish; tofu; quinoa or quick-cooking barley; vegetables such as carrots, peas, broccoli, and spinach, fruit, low-fat cottage cheese; and hummus. Meats can be substituted with chickpeas or beans to incorporate more fibre.
Preparing food in advance helps patients maintain a regular eating schedule. Healthy snacks are also recommended between meals. Snack options include low-fat cheese and plain yogurt, fruit such as apples, berries, peaches, and grapefruit, and peanut butter.
Dinner: Dinner should also be a reasonable portion size and include various food groups. Healthy dinner recipes do not need to be time-consuming and should include a large portion of non-starchy vegetables.
The best dinner food options include fresh vegetables such as spinach, artichoke, eggplant, and other greens, barley, brown rice, and whole grain bread products. Proteins can include chicken, fish, beans, and low-fat milk. Small amounts of olive oil can also be added to meals. People with diabetes should avoid sugary dessert foods after meals, and can opt for low-fat Greek yogurt with berries or other fruit instead.
Dietary changes are an effective way to manage diabetes, especially for those with type 2 diabetes. Healthy carbohydrates and soluble fibres are important to maintain blood sugar control. Three meals should be eaten each day at regular times—skipping meals can cause large shifts in glucose levels. People with diabetes should consult their doctor, dietician, and other healthcare providers when creating a diabetes treatment plan.
Written by Braydon Black, BSc
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