Dispelling common nutrition myths about diabetes
Fifty-eight-year-old Dallas took his new diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes seriously. He began a walking program and read the sugar levels on all packaged food. His doctor told him to eliminate white foods, so he weeded out the majority of grains in his diet and decided to go low-carb.
Dallas dropped a few pounds and was managing healthy blood sugars, but noticed his energy level was getting progressively weaker. While he initially enjoyed his new high-protein diet, he missed potatoes, toast and dessert.
Dispelling three common myths about diabetes helped Dallas find more flexibility in his eating plan.
Myth 1: I only need to pay attention to the sugar on the label
The most important item for someone with diabetes to examine on a food label is the total grams of carbohydrates. This is because most carbohydrates (except fibre) directly influence blood sugars.
The type of sugar in grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes and starchy veggies is complex carbohydrate (longer chains of sugar, similar to a pearl necklace). Foods such as fruit, milk, yogurt, some vegetables, beer, table sugar and sweets have simple carbohydrates (single or double units of sugar).
There are other important numbers on a label for diabetics. If you are overweight, watching calories is important. Since people with diabetes are also at risk for heart disease, reducing trans fats, saturated fats and sodium is important.
Choosing higher fibre foods and meals and snacks that contain protein also helps to improve blood sugar control.
Myth 2: I should avoid white foods and carbs in general
There is no reason to avoid carbohydrates if you have diabetes. Carbohydrates are essential for brain and nervous system functioning, and for your muscles as energy. Natural foods such as fruits, veggies, grains, milk and yogurt supply important nutrients and phytonutrients.
Since carbohydrates are found abundantly in starchy foods, juice, savoury snacks and sweets (and are commonly overeaten), be ruthless at watching how much of these you have.
While everyone’s needs are different, a good place to start is to have a maximum of two pieces of bread or, alternatively, one cup of grains, potatoes, corn or fruit per meal or snack. Having a bun and a baked potato, or two slices of garlic toast along with a cup of pasta, may be too much.
For better blood sugar control, it’s better to have smaller meals and add snacks than to have large meals. The best way to assess how your body responds to the common foods you are eating is to purchase and use a blood sugar monitor regularly.
Carbs with high glycemic index can spike your blood sugar rapidly. Choose starchy foods with a lower glycemic response, such as most beans and legumes, basmati rice instead of short grain rice, yams more often than white potatoes, whole grain breads instead of white breads, and high fibre bran cereals more often than low fibre cereals.
Myth 3: I must avoid dessert and use alternative sweeteners
While moderate consumption of alternative sweeteners aspartame or sucralose is considered safe by the Canadian Diabetes Association, it doesn’t mean you must use them.
Small amounts of regular sugar and dessert can be included, but you need to be savvy about how much and what you’re eating with them. Look for recipes that use less sugar. Eat dessert separate from a meal so you can spread out the carbohydrates you have at one time.
Lastly, head out for a walk or any type of physical activity, since this is one of the single most effective ways to lower your blood sugar.
Dietitian Andrea Holwegner owns Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. Visit healthstandnutrition.com or phone 403-262-3466 for nutrition counselling and to subscribe to her free monthly ezine. Twitter.com/chocoholicRD