Diabetes is a condition where the body has a reduced ability to control the amount of glucose in the blood. Blood glucose levels are partly controlled by the hormone insulin. In people with diabetes, the body may stop producing enough insulin to control blood glucose levels or alternatively, there may be enough insulin but it may not be working properly. These can be classified as Type I or Type II Diabetes as described below. Without enough effective insulin, glucose levels in the blood will rise above normal levels. In general, blood glucose levels range between 3.5-8.0mmol/L. People with diabetes are recommended to maintain blood glucose levels between 4.0-10,0mmol/L. This is best achieved by following a healthy eating plan, including regular physical activity and taking medication (eg. insulin and/or tablets) as prescribed.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1: Diabetes (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus or Juvenile Onset Diabetes). It usually occurs in people under 30 years, but can occur at any age. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin. Therefore people with Type 1 diabetes require insulin injections to control their blood glucose levels.
Type 2: Diabetes (Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus or Mature Age Onset Diabetes). It usually occurs in people who are over the age of 50 years and have a family history of diabetes; or are overweight, although sometimes it affects others too. People with Type 2 Diabetes often still produce insulin, however the body is ineffective at using it. It can be called insulin resistance, and is often made worse by being overweight. People with Type 2 diabetes benefit from a healthy diet, regular exercise and (often) weight reduction. People with diabetes may require tablets and sometimes insulin.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to keep in regular contact with medical professionals. This includes your doctor, who may refer you to a specialist endocrinologist. You will also benefit from talking with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Diabetes Educator. You will also benefit from joining support organisations such as the International Diabetes Institute.
Finding out as much information as you can about diabetes will teach you how to manage your diabetes best. Take responsibility for your health and speak to medical professionals about:
This will assist you to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible (between 3.5-8 mmol/L). Keeping your blood glucose levels in normal ranges will help prevent the short term effects, and long term complications of poor blood glucose control such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, eye problems and circulation problems.
How Does Diet Help Diabetes?
A healthy diet is an essential part of managing diabetes. The diet for diabetes is simply healthy eating, and is recommended for all people. An Accredited Practising Dietitian can individualise your dietary needs. Healthy eating ensures you not only look after your daily blood glucose levels, but also your long-term health including reducing the risk of complications.
Recommendations for healthy eating for diabetes include:
Reduce saturated fat intake (e.g. fat on meat, skin on chicken, butter, cream, coconut milk/cream, many processed snacks and take-away foods). Poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats are healthier choices than saturated fats. Choose sources of these healthy fats in preference such as olive and canola oil, nuts and avocado. If overweight, you may also benefit from reducing the total amount of fat in your diet.
Eat foods with carbohydrate regularly. Some people with diabetes use ‘exchanges’ to work out how much carbohydrate they need. Try to include carbohydrate foods that are broken down and digested more slowly by the body at each meal. These are called low glycaemic index foods. Your dietitian can describe these for you.
Include high fibre foods. Eating a diet high in fibre (especially soluble fibre) slows the glucose absorption from the small intestine into the blood. High fibre foods also tend to be more filling, therefore assisting in prevention of obesity. Good sources of soluble fibre include grains, legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils), vegetables, some fruits and psyllium. Try to choose high fibre breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables each day.
Include moderate amounts of protein for example, lean meat, skinless chicken, seafood and fish, eggs, dried peas, beans and lentils, skim or low fat milk and yoghurt, and low fat cheese;
Limit intake of high sugar foods. Most people with diabetes can include a small amount of sugar as part of their meal, but foods or drinks that contain large amounts of sugar should be avoided such as soft drinks and lollies.
Limit intake of salt. A high salt diet can increase blood pressure in some people. It is important for people with diabetes to control blood pressure. Try not to add salt when you cook or at the table, and limit the use of high salt foods.
Limit alcohol. It is recommended that people with diabetes who drink alcohol only drink in moderation and with food. Limit alcohol to one to two standard drinks per day and have two alcohol free days per week.
Eat regular meals. It is important to eat regular meals each day. Skipping or delaying meals may affect blood glucose levels and leave you feeling unwell.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Diabetes sufferers
Keep active. Regular physical activity is an important part of diabetes management. It assists in controlling blood glucose levels and is an important part of weight control. Try to be active each day.
Maintain your weight within the healthy weight range. Losing weight if overweight can actually help improve your blood glucose control. Speak to your doctor or accredited practising dietician about the reccomended healthy weight range for you.
Maintain regular contact with health professionals. Have regular reviews with your doctor, dietitian and diabetes educator to ensure your blood glucose control is optimal.
Maintain contact with support organisations.
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This information was provided for general use only. Please seek medical advice from a GP or health professional before considering undertaking any diet.