Diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, refers to a disease that affects your body’s ability to control glucose levels. When you have this disease, your glucose levels become higher than what is healthy. A healthy diet helps your body regulate your glucose levels and can prevent complications such as nerve damage and heart problems.
Understanding Blood Sugar
Glucose, a simple sugar, provides your body with energy. When you eat, your pancreas releases insulin to help remove glucose from your blood. This insulin helps the sugar find its way into cells for use as energy. According to the Mayo Clinic, diabetes occurs when either your pancreas does not release enough insulin to adequately lower your blood glucose levels (Type 1), or when your cells become resistant to insulin, causing a buildup of excess sugar in your blood (Type 2). Whichever type of diabetes you have, a healthy eating plan is the first step to bringing your glucose levels back into a healthy range and keeping them there.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends that you eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, non-starchy vegetables and lean meats throughout the day. High-calorie snack foods such as chips and candy bars contain simple carbohydrates that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, whereas whole grains take longer for your body to digest and break down into glucose over a longer period of time. Watch your portion sizes as well–even healthy foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar and weight problems if eaten in large amounts.
When creating your meal plan, consider using the diabetic exchange system. This system of organizing your eating habits groups foods into seven categories: starch, fruit, milk, meat, sweets, fats and free food. Your dietitian will help you plan how many exchanges from each group you should eat per day. You can then consult the American Diabetes Association’s exchange list and choose items with the correct portion size from the categories. By spreading your exchanges throughout the day, you control your blood sugar and ensure balanced meals.
When to Eat
Swap your three-meal-a-day schedule for five to six smaller meals each day. By eating less more often, your body maintains a more steady blood glucose level, as opposed to a spike at meal time followed by a significant drop after several hours without a meal.
Eating a healthy meal or snack every two to three hours helps fight off hunger pangs, but even with healthy eating habits, you are bound to get cravings. Instead of chips or pretzels, reach for a handful of carrot sticks with low-fat, sugar-free ranch dressing. Swap sodas and juices for sugar-free varieties. If you have a sweet tooth, eat a piece of fruit or bake your own desserts with baking sugar substitutes and portion them out right away.
Why Watch Your Diet
Controlling your diet with diabetes allows you to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range. Making healthy food choices helps you lose weight and lowers your risk of developing diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, nerve damage and vision problems. When you eat a variety of nutritious foods, you will feel better from day to day and establish an eating routine to simplify your diabetes care plan.
- healthy food image by Witold Krasowski from Fotolia.com