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Diabetes and Diet

There are 2 types of diabetes, type-1 and type-2. The latter is on the rise and can be linked to diet and lifestyle. Type-2 used to be known as late onset diabetes; however it is now afflicting much younger people. Both types of diabetes require a carefully balanced diet to help control blood glucose levels.

Glucose comes from sugars and starches, which belong to the food group category of carbohydrates, glucose is made in the liver after the food has been digested in the stomach. Once converted, the glucose enters the blood stream where insulin takes it to the body’s cells to be used as immediate energy for body functions and for any exertion, such as exercise. Any excess will be stored.

Problems occur when a large amount of glucose is released very quickly into the blood stream. In response to this the body releases high levels of insulin to manage it. As well as taking glucose to the cells, insulin also stores glucose in the form of fat for later conversion to energy if needed. When dealing with large amounts of glucose, insulin tends to store it as fat around our middle, leading to central adiposity, a known risk factor in diabetes development.

Weight gain is not the only consequence of high insulin levels. If insulin levels are raised too often, the cells which would normally respond and take in the glucose become resistant to the signals. The glucose then has nowhere to go and circulates in the bloodstream causing damage to many body systems. A knock on effect is that the body becomes fatigued through not getting enough energy to the cells and this stimulates the release of even more insulin to try to rectify matters. This exacerbates the situation and may be the point when diabetes develops or a person is termed pre-diabetic.

For those who are pre-diabetic or newly diagnosed this is really the time to try to turn the situation around through diet and exercise. Diabetes type 2 can be reversed, as has been shown recently with the 600 calorie diet study at Newcastle University.

Eating a low Glycaemic Index (GI) diet is particularly effective for diabetics, providing they keep a check on the size and number of portions of carbohydrates eaten.

The GI provides a ranking system which measures how the food you eat reacts in your body and the effect it has on blood glucose. A low glycaemic diet includes foods that are more slowly converted into the body’s preferred fuel of glucose, thus helping to stabilise blood glucose levels. Foods with a high GI value generally cause sharp increases in glucose. Protein eaten alongside carbohydrates slows the release of glucose by slowing the digestive process.

Food to eat

Low glycaemic foods are whole, unrefined grains such as wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and wholegrain cereals. These should still, however, be eaten in moderation by reducing portion size and restricting these starchy carbohydrates to no more than 3 portions a day.

For example:

  • Breakfast – a slice of wholemeal toast and an egg or porridge or muesli with no added sugar (sweeten with berries)

  • Lunch – a protein food (meat/fish/eggs/beans) with a green leafy salad, a piece of fruit or yoghurt.

  • Dinner – a protein food with green leafy vegetables, carrots or sweet potato.

Remember that milk and fruit contain the natural sugars, lactose and fructose respectively. These will not raise glucose levels in the same way as a spoonful of sugar as there are other constituents such as fat and fibre which slow down digestion and glucose release, however they should be eaten in moderation when following a low GI diet. Green leafy vegetables and the sourer berry fruits are the best choices. Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips are healthy but contain higher sugar levels.

Foods to avoid

The worst high GI culprits are the highly refined carbohydrates such as white bread, refined breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes along with some foods we tend to think of as healthy such as energy drinks, rice cakes, cornflakes or baked potatoes.

Eating regularly can help to regulate blood glucose levels but it is important to listen to your own body and find what suits you best. If you are testing your blood-glucose, monitoring the levels after eating will give you an indication of the effects of certain foods and the frequency of eating best suited to you. Grazing through the day means that insulin is constantly being released even in small amounts which may tire those specific pancreatic cells out leading to insulin deficiency!

If you are diabetic and planning to make drastic changes to your diet, do seek medical advice, as your medication may need adjusting and you need to ensure you are obtaining sufficient nutrients.


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