Diabetes is termed a lifestyle disease. It affects city dwellers that are habituated to sedentary life and unhealthy food practices with little or no exercise. Once you have diabetes there is no cure for it in allopathy. All you can do is manage it and food is one thing about which you need to be careful if you are a diabetic. Your choices become limited. You cannot gorge on food. However, there still are safe yet nutritious foods for diabetics. Keep reading and you will learn to live life to the fullest even though you are diabetic and must control your diet.
The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone, that helps in glucose management. The body uses glucose for energy and the blood contains glucose but it must be within specific limits. Insulin helps in glucose management and metabolism.
You can develop diabetes of either of the following types.
Type 1 diabetes
It happens that the pancreas stops producing insulin or produce insufficient amount. One reason could be that the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas. The result is type 1 diabetes. It happens to children and to adults alike at any age. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day.
Type 2 diabetes
The type 2 diabetes occurs at any age but it is more common among older people. Your body simply does not produce a sufficient amount of insulin or it may not be able to use it.
Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women but it goes away after delivery. Should you have gestational diabetes you need to be careful about the diet during pregnancy and even afterward because gestational diabetes may lead to type 2 diabetes later on.
Diabetics can exhibit conditions like hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. Should you consume more food or food that contains more sugar the blood sugar spikes and causes hyperglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the opposite in which the blood sugar levels fall below the normal level.
Sugar levels in diabetes
The normal sugar level should be 100 mg/dL or less. If fasting blood sugar is between 100 to 125 mg/dL it shows you have prediabetes that could develop into diabetes. If blood sugar goes above 125 mg/dL then you have diabetes. There is a normal blood test that gives a clue as to whether you have diabetes or not.
Then there are other tests too such as Glycated Hemoglobin test known as A1 in which you do not need to take a fasting blood sugar test. The test measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin. Glucose tolerate test is another method in which you fast overnight and drink sugar solution. Your blood test done every two hours gives an indication of the presence of diabetes. In this case, a level of 140 to 199 mg/dL shows prediabetes and 200 mg/dL after 2 hours shows diabetes. 140 mg/dL is considered to be normal.
Once the blood sugar level test confirms the presence of diabetes then the doctor may carry out a urine test to check for ketones.
In any case, should tests prove positive then you will need a change of lifestyle and adoption of right food for diabetics.
Controlling diabetes with food for diabetics
The right food for diabetics will help you manage diabetes and lead a normal life. The first thing to do is to know about various foods and find out if they are friendly for you.
1. High glycemic index foods
The first thing you do is weed out high glycemic index foods. High GI foods are those that cause a spike in blood sugar levels when you eat food. You must avoid these high glycemic foods:
- Sugar and foods containing sugar
- Soft drinks containing sugar
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Fruits that have high amount of sugar such as grapes, sweet mangoes, cherries, guavas and bananas.
Simply give up these high glycemic index foods should you have even prediabetes or diabetes with medium blood sugar level. However, not all foods with high GI are bad. Eat such foods in moderation. The amount of carbohydrates you eat is important too. It is best to balance your diet with protein, fat and fiber from fruits and vegetables.
The question then arises as to what is the right food for diabetics.
2. Millets for diabetes
One of the best filling foods for diabetics is the class of grains known as millets. You have a variety of such millets like jowar, ragi, bajra. Foxtail millet is especially recommended as food for diabetics since it helps to reduce sugar level. Millets have high amount of fiber, some proteins and minerals.
Bajra is excellent since it contains high amount of protein, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Its high fiber content means it releases glucose at a slower pace. Pearl millet or bajra is high in phytic acid that reduces cholesterol. Given these benefits bajra should be your preferred choice for roti instead of wheat. You can, however, mix wheat flour along with bajra flour and ragi flour and make delicious roti (flat bread). It is a good food for diabetics. You get plenty of nutrition, your blood sugar levels do not spike and your digestion improves.
Ragi is excellent. You do get plenty of iron and antioxidants. One good thing about it is that it tastes good when made into a sort of thick porridge. People in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh consume ragi this way. Go to the Panchmahal and other tribal regions in the west and you will its flour being used to make rotla (thick flat bread). You can just as well mix ragi and bajra flour to make theplas and puris. You see, food for diabetics need not be bland or unappealing. There are other foods suitable for diabetics.
If you are non-vegetarian then you can reduce intake of meat (which is not good for diabetics) and eat more fish. Sea fish is best since it contains higher amount of omega 3 fatty acid. Fatty sea fish reduce chances of cardiovascular disease, something to which diabetics are prone. Eat fish at least five days a week and your cholesterol level goes down.
It must be stressed that high protein and fewer carbohydrates does not make for a balanced diet. If you eat fish (or chicken or other meat) then make sure you have plenty of leafy vegetables and fibrous carbohydrates to balance the protein.
4. Fibrous vegetables good food for diabetics
You may not find bajra, jawar and ragi to your taste if you are habituated to wheat and rice. Eat less of millets by all means. However, you can and should increase amount of fibrous vegetables in your meal. Fibrous vegetables are good food for diabetics.
Leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek must be part of your menu. Apart from iron and vitamin A and C you also get plenty of fiber. Vitamin C reduces inflammation too. Leafy vegetables provide antixodants like zeaxanthin and lutein.
Other fibrous vegetables you must have on your menu are beans of all types, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots when in season, green chillies and brinjal.
Lastly when you think of food for diabetics then you simply cannot avoid mention of bitter gourd. Karela, as it is known, is bitter but can be made into tasty curries. It helps reduce fat and maintain sugar levels. Just drink a half cupful of bitter gourd juice first thing in the morning.
5. Eggs for diabetics
People usually stay away from eggs because they think it is high in cholesterol. This is a fact but the cholesterol found in egg yolk is good. Besides the yolk contains vitamin B that is important for heart and brain health. Eggs are good food for diabetics.
Eggs actually help to improve good cholesterol levels and keep LDL cholesterol in check. Your insulin function also improves. You get lutein and zeaxanthin from eggs so that is another reason for diabetics to eat eggs for at least four days a week.
6. Berries for diabetics
If you are a diabetic and wonder which food for diabetics is good and tasty then the answer is berries. Berries have high amounts of antioxidants, phytophenols, and flavonoids apart from minerals and vitamins. Eat berries in moderation. Strawberry is delicious and can be eaten plain or mixed with other fruits. The Indian Jamun is just perfect for diabetics. The flesh is not sweet and has an astringent taste. It is excellent to control blood sugar. The dried powdered seeds are even better in controlling blood sugar. Eat whatever berry is in season. They are all good food for diabetics.
Talk of berries and the talk comes around to fruits.
7. Fruits for diabetics
Fruits are a different matter. Berries have a low glycemic index but some fruits can be extra rich in sugar. A typical example is bananas and another is grapes. A third is sweet ripe mangoes. These fruits have a high amount of sugar. That does not mean you cannot eat a banana or a mango if you feel like it. Just do not eat too much. A half-cup is a good portion.
Then there are other fruits that can eat more without worrying about sugar spikes going through the roof.
- Apple is your friend. You get high amount of fiber plus antioxidants.
- Oranges are just as good. You get plenty of vitamin C, folate and potassium from orange. It is better to eat it than to extract the juice.
- Pears give you lots of fiber and vitamin K.
- Consume a whole bowl of papaya without apprehensions. You will take in plenty of fiber, vitamin A, C and K, and iron as well as potassium.
- Melons are good for diabetics. They are filling and low on sugar. Just be careful about watermelon that has a higher amount of sugar. Simply eat a smaller amount.
- Kiwi is fast becoming a favorite fruit of Indians and it can be the diabetics’ friend too. You get plenty of Vitamin C and potassium whereas calorie count is low.
8. Seeds for diabetics
- From birdseed to chia seeds there are plenty of seeds you can munch on as a snack and enjoy health benefits:
- Chia seed: high in fiber, low in calories, chia helps reduce blood sugar level and keeps you feeling full.
- Flaxseed: good for diabetics who are vegetarians and need omega 3.
- Sunflower seeds give you healthy protein and fats.
9. Herbs for diabetics
Food for diabetics is not just grain, lentil, fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and eggs. Herbs are important. These should be on your list of herbs to eat every day or every other day:
- Green coriander leaves – plenty of fiber and vitamins. Just drink a cup of coriander juice in the morning.
- Make it a point to chew mint leaves, curry leaves, and tulsi leaves every day for good diabetes control.
- Ginger is cleansing and anti-inflammatory so include it when you prepare curries. It improves hunger, purifies blood and aids digestion. Drink raw ginger juice in the morning or simply prepare and drink green tea with plenty of ginger and lemon.
- Garlic is antibacterial, antifungal and excellent as a cleanser. Just include it in your food preparations.
- Turmeric is another beneficial herb. You get fresh turmeric in winter. Eat plenty of it. In other seasons use plenty of turmeric powder in curries and drink a mixture of fresh amla juice or dry amla powder and turmeric powder. It is best for diabetics.
How you eat is important
You now know what good food for diabetics is. How you eat and portion size are important factors too.
- Instead of heavy breakfast, heavy lunch and dinner spread your meal into five different times for eating. That way you avoid chances of sugar spiking in the blood.
- How much you eat at one go is important. Eat small portion sizes.
- Chew food well.
Food can be poison and food can nourish. Food for diabetics is the same food everyone else eats. Just know which foods are better suited for diabetics and stick to them.