The Diabetes Diet and Living with Type 2 Diabetes
The moment someone hears I am living with type 2 diabetes, the first question is – what do you eat? I have to confess that when I was diagnosed, I imagined giving up everything I enjoyed eating – thanks to all the myths I’ve heard.
The good news is, there is no diabetes diet. That’s right. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, that is. Each individual has a different constitution, different needs and generally, the doctor recommends making changes in what we eat, how much we eat without making drastic changes unless the situation warrants it.
It is all about planning. By managing what we eat cleverly, we can still continue to eat some of our favorite foods.
After the shock of extremely high blood sugar and cholesterol/triglycerides, I went on an extreme diet of salads, fruits and whole grains and an hour of brisk walking every day. I eliminated sugar, rice and wheat for almost two months. I brought my sugar levels back to normal in two consecutive blood tests. And I intend to keep it that way.
But today, when I visited my doctor, she scolded me for taking such radical measures in my diet. She advised me to eat as normally as possible, only avoiding specific vegetables, fruits and fried stuff and sugar from my diet. Luckily, I am a South Indian vegetarian, which coincidentally happens to be one of the healthiest diets around.
So the point is – there’s flexibility.
Let’s look at what healthy eating means – as it also applies to type 2 diabetics:
- Including variety, with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, zero fat dairy, healthy fats
- Portion control, which means no overeating
- Not focusing on eating a lot of the same food
- Eating well-spaced meals
- And most important, not skipping meals, especially breakfast
Pretty much what we learned in 5th Grade eh? Except some of us forget to apply it along the way.
Diabetes requires some changes in the diet. Not big ones which can be really hard to stick to. Here’s what my doc advised me to do:
- Eat as I normally do, but make some changes on my plate – fill half my plate with veg and fruit, a fourth of it with proteins and the remaining fourths with grains/starches. A glass of milk is allowed
- Gradually, make healthy choices
- Count those carbohydrates to keep the blood sugar in control.
So does that mean I can never eat cake again? She said it was okay to indulge in a small piece once in a while and keep track of it.
I have to say the word diet sounds unattractive to me. Unfortunately, diabetes is a lifelong condition and has no cure. The best option is to keep it under control by making healthy food choices. Take a look at the food pyramid for diabetes:
What we need to know about carbohydrates for living with type 2 diabetes
- We need carbs in our diet because they provide the fuel we need and give us the energy to go about our routine. Examples of carbs include: bread, rice, cereal, pasta and other starchy foods, dairy and that means milk and curds/yogurt, fruits, fruit juices, vegetables like corn, potatoes, beans and legumes, sugary foods, and other snacks (juices, sodas, cookies/biscuits, candy, cake, chips)
- All carbs turn into blood glucose eventually, so it makes sense to focus on healthy carbs.
- Our body converts carbohydrates into glucose or blood sugar from which we get energy. The insulin in our body helps us use glucose properly. An excess of glucose in the blood triggers problems.
With diabetes, it is critical to get the right amount of carbohydrates so that the medication and exercise maintain blood sugar at safe levels. Hence the harping on carb counting. Fluctuating carb intake can make blood sugar levels go crazy and it is important to ensure that the same quantity of carbs is consumed with every meal.
Counting carbs means knowing how to read labels and which foods are carb-rich so you can control your portions. A dietician can help you develop a good meal plan that suits your lifestyle, keeps you satisfied, and gives you the right number of calories.
What are healthy carbohydrates?
Fiber qualifies as a healthy carb since it does not get digested and does not have a significant effect on blood sugar. This is why diabetics are advised to get enough fiber. It is beneficial and makes one feel fuller, longer.
The important thing to remember is to balance our food, medication, and exercise to manage type 2 diabetes. The diabetes diet need not be depressing. I see it as a second chance to live healthy by making the necessary lifestyle changes so that I can avoid diabetes complications.
To sum up:
We can monitor our diet and control blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight by doing the following:
- Eating small quantities every 3 hours instead of three heavy meals
- Consuming complex carbohydrates with every meal (whole wheat, oats, brown rice, millets, etc.)
- Eliminating refined and processed foods like bakery items made of white flour, polished rice and white bread as they shoot up blood sugar levels rapidly. can raise blood sugar levels.
- Add fiber-rich foods – vegetables, whole grains
- Get protein via low-fat dairy products – milk, curd, paneer, tofu, pulses, lentils
- Focus on leafy green vegetables and minimize potatoes.
- Based on your doctor’s advice, restrict yourself to one or two fruits a day. Limit banana and mango, but if you must, early in the morning is best.
- Go easy on the butter, oil, and ghee. Try and give up processed foods – this means cakes, cream biscuits, ready-to-eat foods which are full of fat
- Cut your sugar and salt intake as this directly messes up your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Have to repeat – no sugar. No honey. No jaggery. What about artificial sweeteners, I asked. Preferably avoided, I was told.
- When you have to go out for a few hours, pack a snack so you don’t suffer from low blood sugar. A handful of almonds or a piece of fruit is a good idea.
- Drink plenty of water.
Day 4 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge
Living with type 2 diabetes: Diabetes Diet