Healthy eating tips to keep diabetes under control
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Diabetes is a metabolic disease characterize by high blood sugar associated with alterations in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. Despite the fact that diabetes, as a long-lasting disease cannot be cured, lifestyle modification can substantially help to control the blood sugar level and prevent diabetes complications. In fact, lifestyle modification result in diabetes remission defined when blood sugar levels fall below the diabetes range, usually without clinical signs and symptoms. If diabetes remission can be achieved for a long period of time, less or even no diabetes medications are required.
Lifestyle modification to regulate blood sugar levels
Lifestyle management is a fundamental aspect of diabetes care. Healthy tips to keep blood sugar levels within a desired range include:
- Eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day to prevent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
- Avoid having a large, heavy meal which leads to blood sugar spikes.
- Maintain healthy weight (BMI: 18.5 – 22.9 kg/m2 for Asian population and 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2 for Non-Asian population) to control blood sugar levels and minimize insulin resistance in which cells in the body do not respond well to insulin and glucose cannot be taken up from the blood. Therefore, a weight loss of at least 5 percent is highly recommended in obese patients with diabetes.
Healthy eating with diabetes
Healthy eating tips can help diabetic patients to efficiently manage blood sugar level and control body weight while reducing the risks of developing other health-related issues. These tips include:
- Limit amount of carbohydrates: Appropriate amount of carbohydrates each day should be taken. Sources of carbohydrates are, for instance, rice, flour, bread and toast, noodles, rice, vermicelli, corn, taro, cassava, fruits and beverage.
- Choose complex carbohydrates: Choose the healthier foods that contain healthy carbohydrates and be aware of portion sizes. Complex carbohydrates made up of sugar molecules in complex chains provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. Complex carbohydrates are found in brown rice, whole grains and vegetables. However, starchy vegetables such as pumpkin should be consumed in proper amounts.
- Stay within the recommended allowance for fruit per day: All fruits contain a natural sugar, called fructose. Current nutrition guidelines recommend that diabetic patient should consume 3–4 servings of fruit per day, as part of a healthy eating pattern. Examples of 1 serving of fruit are: 1 small apple, 1/2 large banana, and 6 bite-sized pieces of melons.
- Refrain from all fruit juices: Fruit juices contain no fiber, but instead a large amount of sugar which quickly raises blood sugar levels. Therefore, people with diabetes are usually best to avoid drinking fruit juices. Fruits with low glycemic index are advised in diabetic patients. However, eating a large amount of low sugar fruits can also elevate the blood sugar levels, thus it is more important to consume those fruits in proper portions.
- Avoid sweets and desserts: Sweetened desserts are comprised of sugar which is quickly absorbed into blood circulation, causing blood sugar spikes.
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages: Sugary drinks, e.g. soft drinks, iced tea, fermented milk and herbal drinks can instantly raise sugar level in the blood. To reduce calorie intake or control blood sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners are recommended, such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose or stevia instead of white or brown sugar.
Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are high-intensity sweeteners and typically non caloric or very low in calories. Due to recommendations to limit dietary sugar intake, NNS have become widely used. Detailed information on artificial sweeteners is usually provided on nutrition labels.
- Limit alcohol intake: Alcohol may raise blood sugar levels. If alcohol is consumed, it should only be consumed in moderation – up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. In addition, drinking alcohol with an empty stomach must be avoided since much of the alcohol passes quickly from the stomach into the small intestine, causing low blood sugar levels.
Diabetes is a complex, chronic disease requiring continuous medical care with risk-reduction strategies beyond glycemic control. Self-management and lifestyle changes are critical to reducing the risk of long-term complications. There is no a one-size-fits-all diabetes diet for everyone. To help making healthier food choices, nutrition advices provided by a dietitian and nutritionist are essential. Nutrition support along with controlling other risk factors allows for a proactive healthcare plan to accomplish the treatment goals that set differently among individuals.
Ref : American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Care 2021 Jan; 44(Supplement 1): S53-S72. (https://doi.org/10.2337/dc21-S005)