It’s a common misconception that diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. Because it is a condition where blood sugar levels are too high, it's all too easy to think eating too much sugar is the cause. While it’s true that eating too much sugar may be a contributing factor to developing diabetes, it’s not the “cause.”
The key to healthy eating if you have diabetes is eating regularly, watching your serving size and following a healthy eating plan that is low in saturated fat, refined sugars and salt. Your doctor will likely refer you to a dietitian who can work with you to develop a healthy eating plan that is right for you. The plan helps you control your blood sugar, also called blood glucose, manage your weight ,and control heart disease risk factors.
While no two diabetes diets will look the same, certain foods are considered staples for people with the disease because they support a healthy weight and blood sugar level. Here are our top tips for healthier food choices you can make if you have diabetes.
1. Choose healthy carbs
Carbs have the largest effect on blood glucose levels because when digested, carbohydrate is broken down into glucose (sugar). Healthier sources of carbs include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, pulses and low-fat dairy products, so limit your intake of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, pasta and highly processed cereals.
2. Use less salt
Having too much salt increases your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Aim for a maximum of 6g (1tsp) of salt per day. As many pre-packaged foods already contain salt, try to rely less on processed foods – check food labels if you are not sure how much salt they contain. A good way to cut down on processed foods is to cook from scratch at home. Instead of salt, flavour your food with pepper, garlic, vinegar, curry powder, mustard, lemon juice, parsley and other herbs and spices.
3. Eat less red and processed meat
Eating too much red and processed meat such as bacon, sausages, ham, hot dogs, salami and cold cuts is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Replace with fish, poultry, pulses, eggs and nuts. Eat at least two portions of oily fish a week. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help prevent heart disease. Beans, peas and lentils are high in fibre, have little effect on blood glucose levels and can be good alternatives to meat.
4. Eat plenty of fruit and veg
Aim to eat 5 - 7 servings a day from a variety of fruit and vegetables, which are low in calories, low in fat and high in fibre and vitamins. Spread your intake throughout the day rather than eating huge portions at a go. Choose from fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. With a few chops of a knife, you can turn a few pieces of fruit into a fruit salad, and drizzle lemon juice over the top.
5. Choose healthier fats
Foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and oily fish have good mixtures of healthy fats. Swap saturated fats such as palm oil, coconut oil and butter for vegetable oils such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil and sunflower oil. Skip that cream sauce and look for lean cuts of meat, skim or low-fat dairy, and vegetable sources of protein like beans, lentils, or nuts. Grill, steam or bake foods rather than frying.
6. Cut down on added sugar
It can be confusing to know whether you should eat certain types of fruit, because they contain sugar. The good news is the natural sugar in whole fruit is not the type of added sugar you need to cut down on. But drinks like fruit juices and smoothies do contain added sugar, so eat the whole fruit and veg instead. Sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea, and energy drinks also contain a concentrated amount of sugar which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Swap them for water, unsweetened milk, or unsweetened tea and coffee. Artificial sweeteners may be an option to help you reduce your intake of sugars and calories.
7. Be smart when snacking
If you want a snack, choose Greek yogurt, a handful of unsalted nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, vegetable sticks such as carrots or celery with some low-fat hummus, or a bowl of cereal with low-fat or skimmed milk, instead of crisps, chips, biscuits, pastries, cakes and chocolates – and watch your portions.
8. Drink alcohol sensibly
It's easy to underestimate the calories and carbs in alcoholic drinks, including beer and wine. Limit your intake to a maximum of 14 units a week, avoid binge drinking and go at least three days a week without alcohol. If you are administered with insulin and or periodic diabetes medications, avoid alcohol on an empty stomach as it may lead to a serious condition of hypoglycaemia. Instead, you should consume alcohol either during dinner or after dinner.
At Allianz Partners, our mission is to keep you well. Whether you need help, advice or support, our Helpline is here for you 24/7. Contact us