What is diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, which occurs most often in children and adolescents, occurs when the body is unable to make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that ensures your body can deal with blood sugar properly. By far the most common type of diabetes is Type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not make enough insulin or does not use the insulin properly. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used by the body for energy. If diabetes is not diagnosed or treated properly, it puts a tremendous amount of strain on the body and can cause serious complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, eye disease, erectile dysfunction and damage to the nervous system. By managing a healthy weight, eating healthy foods and doing enough physical activity, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing diabetes and even delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
How do different foods impact blood sugars?
Carbohydrates are the single most important component in your diet that determines your blood sugar level. A carbohydrate is simply a cluster of sugar units. When you consume foods that contain carbohydrates, such as breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and sweets, these sugar clusters are broken down into individual sugar units during digestion and released into your blood. This means that the more carbohydrate-containing foods you eat, the higher your blood sugar can get. However, this does not mean that you have to limit your intake of carbohydrates; you just need to be aware of the type and amount of carbohydrates you ingest at one time.
Fibre does not raise blood sugar levels. High-fibre foods, such as whole grain breads, some cereals, legumes and many fruits and vegetables, help to slow the rise in blood sugar after a meal and thus are beneficial for blood sugar control. Fibre-rich foods also lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease and are useful for weight control since they contribute to you feeling full.
Fat is found in foods such as oils, butter, margarine, nuts and seeds as well as in meats, some milk products and some snack foods. Dietary fat does not raise blood sugar levels. But that doesn’t mean a high-fat diet would be appropriate for diabetes management and overall health. In fact, a high-fat diet can increase your cholesterol levels and raise your risk of heart disease, which is already higher if you have diabetes. Eating a high-fat diet often contributes to extra calories and might also make it more difficult to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight.
Protein does not raise blood sugar levels. In fact, protein has an important role in blood sugar management. Protein-rich foods, such as meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, eggs, peanut butter and nuts, help to slow down the release of carbohydrate-rich foods into the blood stream, thereby preventing fast surges in blood sugar. Protein is also helpful in weight control since protein-rich foods are slow to digest and contribute to the feeling of fullness.
Top 3 nutrition strategies for managing healthy blood sugars:
- Marry carbs and protein together
- Eat every three to five hours
- Get picky about portions
Consider the following serving-size suggestions:
- Fruits and grains/starches, such as cereal, pasta, rice and potatoes: choose an amount up to the size of your fist at a single meal.
- Protein, such as meat, chicken and poultry: choose an amount up to the size of the palm of your hand and the thickness of your little finger at a single meal.
- Vegetables: choose as much as you can hold in two hands.