To keep as healthy as possible when you have diabetes means paying special attention to certain aspects of your lifestyle1. The ‘rules’ do not have to be too restrictive but it’s important they are closely followed1.
Nutrition is one of the most important things to consider. This used to mean special ‘diabetic’ foods, eating at specific times of day and keeping careful records of carbohydrates consumed. Thankfully, all that has changed: gone are the days of strict regimes, forbidden foods and trips down the sugar-free aisle2. These days, experts agree that people with diabetes simply need to follow the basic principles of healthy eating2.
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1. Rate Your Plate
Take a good hard look at your plate. Half of it should consist of vegetables to provide nutrients and fibre, a quarter should be starch or grain, and the remaining quarter should be a lean protein source like fish, lean meat or pulses/Quorn/tofu2. Also consider a serving of low-fat milk or yogurt. Five portions of fruit or vegetables per day are recommended3.
2. Rein in Portions
It's simple: our portions are often oversized2. Fast foods and snacking between meals are often the culprits. It can be worth keeping a food diary to give you a good idea of how much you usually eat. For people with diabetes, controlling body weight is a key priority4.
3. Choose Healthy Oils & Fats
Advice about fats has evolved in recent years leading to the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats. Saturated fat (including trans-fat) is known to increase insulin resistance (the underlying cause of abnormal blood glucose levels), and also raise cholesterol and blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes1,2. These ‘bad’ fats are mainly found in solid form2– e.g. cheese, butter and fatty meat – as well as in fried, processed goods. ‘Good’ fats come from cooking oils derived from vegetables (e.g. olive oil, canola oil) as well as from avocados and nuts.
4. Pick Nutritious Carb Sources
Sugar is of course a major concern and it’s hidden in a huge number of products5. Apart from obvious things like confectionery, fizzy drinks, cakes and pastries, extra sugar can be included in foods that don’t always taste sweet like table sauces, salad dressing, bread and crackers5. Sleuth out added sugars by reading the ingredients lists, keeping an eye out for sucrose, corn sweeteners and fructose5. All are loaded with calories and offer nearly zero nutrition. The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a classification of carbohydrate-containing foods based on their potential effect on blood glucose levels6. Slowly absorbed foods - like porridge, brown rice or wholemeal bread or pasta - have a low GI rating and may help control your blood glucose levels and make you less hungry between meals6.
And while we are talking about sugar – don’t forget salt! Too much salt in your diet (which again can be hidden in all sorts of foods) can raise your blood pressure7 which is a no-no for people with diabetes.
5. Eating out healthily
Cooking at home from scratch so you can control the ingredients is always a good idea. However everyone eats out now and then and you can do this if you study menus in advance and ensure that healthy choices are available. Steer clear of buttery and creamy sauces, batter and breadcrumbs. Maybe you could share a starter or main course. If you must have dessert, opt for sorbet or fruit salad. Don’t be afraid to ask for variations on the menu – most restaurants these days will be accommodating.
Everyone should aim to fit in 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week1. It doesn’t have to be the gym: there are plenty of other ways to keep active, such as playing a ball game with your kids, gardening, or any activity that gently raises your heart rate e.g. walking or swimming1. Working muscles use more glucose than resting muscles - and muscle movement also leads to greater glucose uptake by muscle cells thus lowering blood glucose levels8. Additional benefits of exercise include a healthier heart and better weight control8. Be very careful with alcohol and get to know how it affects you. Alcohol can have unexpected effects – particularly if you don’t eat enough when drinking9. One of these is a heightened risk of hypos, without the usual warning signs9. Smoking – which is already known to damage your health in so many ways – is now also recognised as an independent contributor to long-term health problems in diabetes10 so should be avoided at all costs.
The take-home message is that healthy living for people with diabetes is really just the same as that for people without diabetes. But possibly that much more important!
- NHS Choices (2016). Healthy living with diabetes [online]. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Diabetes/Pages/Healthfordiabetics.aspx [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- PharmEasy(2017). 5 Healthy Eating Tips for Diabetes [online]. Available at: https://pharmeasy.in/blog/5-healthy-eating-tips-for-diabetes-management/ Accessed 17 May. 2017]
- Diabetes UK (2016b). What is a healthy, balanced diet for diabetes? [online]. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Enjoy-food/Eating-with-diabetes/What-is-a-healthy-balanced-diet/ [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Van Gaal L, Scheen A (2015). Weight management in type 2 diabetes: current and emerging approaches to treatment Diabetes Care 38, pp 1161–1172
- Girdwain J (2011). Is sugar sneaking into your "healthy" foods? Women’s Health [online]. Available at: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/addictive-sugar-habits [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Harvard Medical School (2013). A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index [online]. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/a-good-guide-to-good-carbs-the-glycemic-index [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Diabetes UK (2016a). Salt and diabetes [online]. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Enjoy-food/Eating-with-diabetes/Food-groups/Salt-and-diabetes-/ [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Leontis LM (2016). Type 2 diabetes and exercise [online]. Available at: http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-2-diabetes/type-2-diabetes-exercise [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Diabetes.co.uk (2016a). Alcohol and hypoglycaemia [online]. Available at: http://www.diabetes.co.uk/alcohol-and-hypoglycemia.html [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]
- Diabetes.co.uk (2016b). Diabetes and smoking [online]. Available at http://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-smoking.html [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016]