When I thought about diabetes, I honestly used to think only about one problem food: sugar. Many people who have little experience with the disease think the same thing. My limited understanding was based on the assumption that diabetes is just about sugars.
I’ve recently learned that diabetes isn’t just about avoiding sugary drinks and cupcakes, it’s much more complex than that. There are also differences between Type I and Type II diabetes, which I wasn’t aware of until I began my research.
Why am I suddenly so interested in the intricacies of this complicated disease? My family recently found out that my grandfather, already in poor health, has been diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Now I want to know how I can help my grandfather, and my family, manage his condition.
The Differences Between Type I and Type II Diabetes
Type I and Type II diabetes each have different underlying causes and are managed through various medications as well as through dietary and lifestyle changes.
Type I Diabetes: Usually diagnosed early in someone’s life, Type I diabetes is understood to be an autoimmune disease. The underlying mechanism is not fully understood yet, but the immune system essentially goes into overdrive. It kills off the production of insulin in the pancreas. This type of diabetes is triggered by genetic factors, viral or bacterial infections, or even by chemicals found in foods.
Type II Diabetes: This type of diabetes is on the rise in the developed world as our diets increasingly revolve around sugars, fats, and junk foods. The primary risk factors for developing this type of diabetes are obesity, diet, and lifestyle. Also, if Type II diabetes runs in your family, that also will increase your risk.
Why Diet is Important for Treating Diabetes
Blood sugar levels can be regulated in both types of diabetes through diet. Despite the assumption I had before, a diabetic diet is not boring, restrictive, and bland. The main characteristics of a healthy diabetic diet are the same that apply to a health non-diabetic diet.
Almost everyone, not just people living with diabetes, needs to eat healthier. A healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, limited amounts of organic meats and a focus on unprocessed foods. Although someone with diabetes needs to monitor their blood sugar level on a daily basis, one cupcake here and there will not cause undue hardship. Its when one cupcake becomes two, or three, that blood sugar problems can start occurring.
The most important dietary change a diabetic patient will need to make is understanding how seemingly non-sugary foods eventually will affect blood glucose levels. It’s not just high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars that trigger spikes in blood glucose levels, it can be something as benign as a potato.
Understanding how your body processes foods will help you determine which foods to avoid if you have diabetes. Unfortunately for many people, carbohydrates are the main culprit for dietary sugars. When carbs are digested, they turn into sugar and thus can have a negative effect on blood sugar levels.
Not all carbs were created equal, though, which is a bit of a learning curve for some people. Problematic sources of carbs for people with diabetes include starchy foods, processed grains, and refined sugars, which often are hidden in the ingredient listings. A healthy alternative is to source slow release, high-fiber carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as oatmeal.
Tips for Managing Diabetes Through Diet
1. Drink Lots of Water: Especially for people with Type I diabetes who may experience an unquenchable thirst, it’s vital to drink good ol’ H20. Drinking juice, soda pop or other sugary drinks not only will increase thirst but make blood sugar levels skyrocket.
2. Eat at Regular Intervals: Try to eat at the same time every day. This ensures your blood sugar remains relatively level throughout the day, and your body isn’t going through a feast and famine routine with long breaks between meals.
3. Avoid Foods Advertised as “Diabetic” or “Suitable for Diabetics.” Although this may seem counter-intuitive, these foods tend to have higher fat content than their equivalents. Not only are they generally more expensive, but they also still can impact blood sugar levels. If you are craving a special treat, experts recommend avoiding these advertised foods and focusing more on reducing portion sizes.
4. Educate Yourself on Carbs: Take the time to understand the relationship between carbohydrate consumption and insulin levels. Some sources recommend eating low levels of carbs on a regular basis to help maintain even blood sugar levels. Work closely with your doctor to understand the perfect balance of carbs for your diet.
Foods to Avoid with Diabetes
Now that I have a better understanding of what foods affect blood sugar, I can help my family put together whole food-based meal plans for my grandfather. The important thing to remember when developing your own meal plans is to focus on healthy, natural foods for the majority of the time.
Diabetics don’t have to cut out sweets and deep fried foods forever, but these foods should be considered a treat, to be eaten rarely. This is excellent news for my grandfather, who loves ice cream more than anyone I know.
To help you create your own diabetic diet, the following is a list of 19 common foods to avoid with diabetes:
- Sugary drinks
- French fries
- Fruit juice (avoid even the all-natural no-sugar-added varieties)
- Processed deli meats
- Fancy coffee drinks, such as mochas and frappuccinos
- Take-out or frozen pizza
- Low-fat products that have replaced the fat with sugars and salts
- White rice
- Cornflakes and other highly processed, high sugar cereals
- White pasta
- Store-bought cakes, cookies, and sweets
- Deep fried foods
- White bread
- Canned vegetables and beans
- Deep fried meats, such as chicken wings
- Fatty dairy products, such as full-fat yogurt, cheese, and cream
It’s not difficult to build an exciting and healthy diabetic meal plan, but it can be a significant change for some people. If you are used to eating processed foods and snacks found in the center aisles of the grocery stores, try looking for foods found in the store’s outer aisles.
Focusing on foods located in outer aisles of the grocery store will help you stick to the fruit and vegetable sections, as well as the fish and meat sections. Invest in a cookbook, and take the time to learn how to prepare healthy delicious foods. Some inspiring and easy to prepare recipes can be found over on Be Well Buzz in the Recipe Buzz section.