Healthy Foods for Diabetics

Making Sensible Choices

People with Type 2 diabetes need to eat a healthy diet. By eating the right foods and engaging in moderate exercise, it is possible to manage your blood glucose (sugar) levels and in some cases to lower them quite dramatically.

A healthy diet for a diabetic is suitable for anyone. There is no need to buy special foods or prepare separate meals. It really is not that hard for a newly–diagnosed diabetic to continue to enjoy varied and delicious meals. Several factors are important. One is to eat regular meals throughout the day. Foods should be low in fat, particularly saturated fat, and should be based on high fibre carbohydrate foods. High fibre carbohydrate foods include such things as wholegrain bread, cereals, beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits.

Too much fat leads to an increase in weight, it compromises diabetes control and can lead to an increase in blood fats ie cholesterol and triglycerides. However small amounts add flavour and reduce the risk of heart disease. What is important is the type of fat you eat, and the amount.

Saturated fats are a no-no for a diabetic. These fats are found in dairy foods such as milk, butter and cheese; also in meat. Vegetable products containing saturated fats include coconut products and palm oil. The latter is found in snacks and convenience foods, and solid cooking fats.

There are some simple steps which will help reduce the intake of saturated fats. Choose low fat dairy products. There is a problem here as low fat products often have harmful additives which enhance an otherwise unacceptable or bland flavour. You may prefer to stay with the freshest, most natural products you can find but limit your intake of these.

Eat lean meats and trim any fat before cooking. Remove the skin from chicken. Try to avoid coconut products, lard, dripping and hard cooking margarines. Limit cakes, cream biscuits, pastries and puddings to special occasions.

Limit all pre-packaged and processed products. This will reduce your intake of additives which are especially prevalent in processed deli meats and sausages. Avoid fried take-away food, pies and sausage rolls. Finally use tomato based sauces rather than creamy sauces.

As some fat is necessary for good health, choose polyunsaturated and mono-saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, soybean, grapeseed and sesame oils, plus the fat found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines. Mono-saturated fats are canola and olive oils and avocado.

Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for the body. When digested they break down to form glucose. Eating regular meals will help maintain energy levels without causing peaks in your blood glucose levels. Carbohydrate foods digest at different rates and these rates cause different effects on blood glucose levels. This is called the Glycaemic Index (GI). Foods with a low GI raise sugar levels more slowly and are much to be preferred for people with diabetes. Having a low GI food with each meal can help with blood glucose control.

Many processed foods have far too much sugar. Cordials and soft drinks are loaded with sugar and you may want to try the low joule types. If using a lot of artificial sweeteners, it is a good idea to vary the type so that the total intake of one type is not excessive.

Food additives such as artificial sweeteners are numbered in Europe. For instance potassium metabisulphite, which is often used in wine-making, has the number E224. Australia uses the same numbers but without the ‘E’. The United States does not use numbers.  Additives are listed as ‘Generally recognised as safe’ or ‘GRAS’ by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Australia, additives are often listed by name and/or number on the packaging of products. However there are loopholes in the system which means that, under certain conditions, some additives need not be listed at all.

Sugar substitutes should be viewed with caution. Artificial sweeteners used in Australia are mostly all suspect. Those based on aspartame (951) have had very bad press lately with good reason. Aspartame is linked to many disorders including cancer, asthma, nausea and seizures.

Cyclamate (952) and saccharin (954) should be avoided by pregnant women. Cyclamate caused testicular and embryo damage in rats. In 1970, it was banned in the United Kingdom and the USA but it is still permitted in Australia. Saccharin is a known carcinogen especially linked to bladder and reproductive cancers. It was banned in the USA in 1977 but has since been reinstated with strict labelling provisions.

Other sweeteners are sucralose (955) which has been linked to neurological and immunological disorders. It has been found to cause liver and kidney damage. Sucralose should be avoided until further testing has been done. Acesulphame K (950) caused cancer and tumours in test animals.

Try to wean yourself onto water with a dash of lemon or lime juice and leave the soft drinks on the shelf. Honey can be added to tea or, by reducing the amount of sugar gradually, a painless switch to sugarless tea and coffee can be made.

Choose protein foods which are low in fat. Lean meat, poultry (minus the skin), seafood, eggs (not fried), pulses and soy products are all suitable for diabetics.

Reading Labels
Should a manufacturer declare his product to be ‘low fat’ or ‘high fibre’, a Nutrition Information Panel must be placed on the label of the product. Such Panels provide useful information for those with diabetes. There is always a column headed ‘Per 100g’ and this is very helpful to provide comparisons between two products. Choose the one with eg the lowest fat level or the highest fibre level. Levels of sodium (salt) will also be listed and where possible products with reduced or no added salt should be chosen.

Care needs to be taken that a very low reading in one area is not outweighed by a high reading in another. Foods with low sugar levels may be high in fats. Also foods low in an area may have an excess of additives. For instance, a food with very little fat may have less taste than a more natural product. To make up for the lack of taste, the product may be laced with additives. Not all additives are bad for you. Learn the additive numbers that you need to avoid.

The less processed the food the less the number of additives used so stick to fresh foods as much as possible or cook your own. That way you are more likely to avoid complications arising from your condition and you have much more chance of knowing exactly what is in your meals.