Diabetics can live healthily by making wise food choices

2013-04-11 00:00

EATING healthily as a diabetic entails following the same general guidelines as for otherwise healthy individuals, with a few specific areas demanding close attention.

Weight loss is often required due to the prevalence of overweight and obesity in people with diabetes. As little as five to 10% weight loss improves insulin resistance and blood glucose control. All diabetics should aim to reach and maintain a healthy weight for their age and height. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and altered blood lipid levels. Making wise food choices and using healthy meal-preparation techniques are a good starting point to living healthily with diabetes.

The lowdown on fats

The body fat percentage drops remarkably quickly when cutting down on the fats one consumes. While aiding in weight loss, this also improves the body’s response to insulin and reduces the risk of heart disease. I have seen it time and again in my patients who have followed some simple steps.

• Limit the intake of fatty and fried foods such as pies, pastries, hard cheeses, crisps and fried chips.

• Try not to add any fat when cooking. Rather use non-stick pans, and roast, steam or grill food. Avoid adding butter, margarine, cream or cheese to vegetables. If you do need to use some fat rather choose liquid plant oil (such as canola oil, olive oil or sunflower oil) and avoid brick margarines. Restrict the total fat used per meal to one teaspoon per person.

• Remove all visible fat from meat and skin from chicken before cooking. Preferably buy lean meat products that already have the fat or skin removed. Ostrich meat is an extremely low-fat alternative, which is available in a variety of forms, from sausage to mince, stews, steaks and burgers.

• Use pilchards, salmon, sardines or trout at least twice a week in place of red meat, chicken or pork.

• Replace the meat in a meal with legumes at least once per week.

Bulk up with plenty of fibre

• Aim to eat at least five to six portions of vegetables and fruits daily, with the emphasis on vegetables.

• Increase intake of legumes, vegetables and salads by adding them to every lunch and supper meal. Mashed beans work very well as a thickener for stews and casseroles. They add a lovely flavour to sandwiches when used as a spread instead of margarine or butter.

• Use high-fibre breads, cereals and crackers rather than refined white alternatives.

• As a rule, rather opt to eat fresh fruits than drink them. Fruit juices are a very concentrated source of fruit sugars and very little fibre remains after juicing.

Read the labels

Get into the habit of reading labels when grocery shopping. Choose foods that have less than three grams of total fat per 100 g, and less than 1,5 g saturated fat per 100 g. Also look out for foods that contain no trans fats, or virtually none (less than 0,1 g per 100 g).

Carbohydrates are not the enemy

It is true that excessive carbohydrates are associated with weight gain, high blood-sugar levels and an increased demand for insulin medication. However, a moderate amount of carbohydrate is necessary at each meal to provide adequate fuel for the body to function optimally.

The amount of carbohydrates in a meal needs to be monitored, as it will influence the amount of insulin and other diabetes medication required. The type of carbohydrate, the way it is prepared, its degree of processing and ripeness, as well as the presence of other foods at the same meal, all influence how much the blood sugar rises after a meal.

• As a general rule, carbohydrate-rich foods should not be eaten in isolation, but rather in combination with a protein. For example, always add an egg, sardines, fish paste, chicken or cottage cheese to toast or bread-based meals.

• Remember that carbohydrates are found in many foods. Good sources of carbohydrates in our diet are legumes, fruits, vegetables, wholegrain starches and low-fat milk products.

Eating healthily can be the source of much confusion, particularly when diabetes is thrown into the equation.

Don’t delay in talking to a dietitian, who will guide you practically through meal suggestions and lifestyle changes to achieve great long-term health.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@­iburst. co.za

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