About 25.8 million Americans have diabetes — 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Of these, 7 million do not know they have the disease. In 2010, about 1.9 million people ages 20 or older were diagnosed with diabetes. The most common diabetes is Type 2. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When people eat food, especially carbohydrates, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes glucose from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:
- Cells may be starved for energy.
- Over time, high blood glucose levels negatively impact eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
Managing diabetes requires close attention to nutrition and food intake. Recommended meal planning tools include the plate method, carb counting, using the glycemic index to control blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol numbers, and maintaining the proper weight.
People with diabetes have to make sure that their food choices balance the insulin they produce with the oral medications they take (if they take them), plus exercise to help manage their blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates cause the pancreas to secrete insulin, the hormone that enables people to digest starches and sugars. Eating simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, fruit juice, and refined wheat and grains, provokes higher insulin secretion (insulin spikes) than eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and whole fruit. Diabetics must be careful not to take in more carbohydrates than they can digest because un-metabolized sugars circulating through the blood can cause dizziness and, in some cases, even turn into a diabetic coma. Healthy diets for diabetics include vegetables, whole grains, whole fruits, non-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, poultry and fish, and foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Highly processed foods should be avoided and nutrient and fiber-rich carbohydrates that are slow to digest are recommended.
Recommendations for a healthy diabetic diet include:
- Avoid sugary drinks, including regular soda, sweet tea, fruit punch, and sports drinks. Water or diet drinks like diet soda, sugar-free lemonade are recommended instead.
- Whole fruit instead of juice.
- Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
- Whole-grain bread and whole wheat pasta instead of white bread and regular pasta.
- Whole grain oatmeal instead of processed cereals.
- Brown rice or barley in soups, stews, and salads instead of white rice.
- Using the plate method to manage portion size:
- Only about 1/4 of the plate is for starchy foods including starchy vegetables or grains like rice.
- Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
- The last quarter is for your protein foods like fish or chicken.
- To keep portions smaller, keep the food to a depth of about the thickness of your palm.
Why this matters:
High-GI foods trigger a rise in blood sugar and release insulin, which is thought to trigger fat storage, intensify hunger, and lead to weight gain. By avoiding foods that have a high-GI score, appetite will decrease and weight loss can occur more easily.