By Kristina Smith, DTR, Dietetic Volunteer
What comes to mind when you think of the term “diabetic diet”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the word “diet”. It sounds restrictive, unpleasant, and like something that I am tempted to break. I guess the American Diabetes Association thought so too, because they did away with the term in the early 90’s, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to eating[i]. Although the term is still used, it is referencing a more flexible way of eating that is dependent on the individual and their eating behaviors.
Let’s review diabetes for a minute. Diabetes is a condition where your body either does not make any insulin (Type 1), or your body does not respond to the insulin that it does make (Type 2). Type 2 diabetes is more common, and the risk of developing it increases with age[ii], along with other factors. Certain racial groups are more prone to developing it than others such as African Americans, Native Americans/Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics, particularly Mexican-Americans are disproportionately affected[iii].
Even if you don’t have diabetes, eating in a diabetic-friendly way is a healthy way of eating, anyway! This is because the key to eating a diabetic “diet” is knowing how to balance your foods. Now, carbohydrates are not bad- our bodies need carbohydrates, just not in large amounts. In fact, carbohydrates is the type of energy that our bodies can most easily use, and they fuel our everyday activities. Carbohydrates are what cause our blood sugar to rise. Everyone’s blood sugar rises after a meal, not just people with diabetes. The higher it rises the more our bodies have to work to bring it down, which can be stressful for our body. So what are some tricks to evening things out? Here are some tips:
1. Eat carbs with fiber. This could mean eating your fruit with the skin on (unpeeled apples, pears, cucumbers), eat whole grains vs. refined grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta), or include other sources of fiber in your meals (beans, lentils). Why? The fiber slows and may decrease the absorption of the carbohydrate[iv], which leads to a lower peak in your blood sugar.
2. Add a source of fat to your carb. Examples: toast with a margarine spread, apple slices dipped in peanut butter, or adding avocado slices or a slather of mayo to your sandwich. The fat slows the absorption of the carbohydrate, (like fiber but in a different way), and keeps your blood sugar from shooting up.
3. Eat your carbs in moderation. Eating a reasonable amount of carbohydrates means the less work our bodies have to do to balance things out- plus it makes room for all the other nutritious foods you can include in your diet! Non-carb foods like: meats, meat substitutes, and non-starchy vegetables. Include these in your meals to feel more satisfied. Also, take time to enjoy your meal, and give your body time to realize it is full. Drink water during the course of eating, and you may come to find you’re not craving that extra serving of carbs anyways!
4. Exercise is the best pill. For those that are able to engage in it, physical activity helps to control our glucose levels better, and makes our bodies more sensitive to insulin[i]. Exercising after meals in particular has been shown to improve glucose control[ii].
Knowing that you are nourishing your body in a healthy and balanced way is a good feeling, and the satisfaction you get from it is better than any temporary “in the moment” indulgence. Don’t think of it as a diet, but as a permanent and healthy way of eating for you. When you view a food as off-limits, the more you think about it, and the more desirable it becomes. Instead, try to change your perspective and focus on what you do like from what is healthy to eat. This will help keep you from feeling deprived. For more ideas on diabetic meals, take a look at Meal on Wheels San Antonio’s Menu A which is diabetic-friendly and heart-healthy.
[i] Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, et al. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes: The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement executive summary. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(12):2692-2696. doi:10.2337/dc10-1548.
[ii] Erickson ML, Little JP, Gay JL, et al. Effects of postmeal exercise on postprandial glucose excursions in people with type 2 diabetes treated with add-on hypoglycemic agents. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, vol. 126, 2017, pp. 240-247.
[i] Barrier, Phyllis M. “Goodbye to the `Diabetic Diet’.” Nation’s Business, vol. 82, no. 11, Nov. 1994, p. 86. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=b9h&AN=9411073157&site=sbrc-live.
[iv] Stipanuk, Martha, and Marie Caudill. Biochemical, Physiological, and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. 3rd ed., Saunders, 2013.