- What is Diabetes?
- Types of Diabetes
- Type I
- Type II
- Gestational Diabetes
- Diabetes and Diet
- How Does Diet Affect Diabetes?
- Is the Diet Different For Different Kinds of Diabetes?
- Before Meal Planning
- Objectives of Diabetic Meal Planning
- Points to Consider Before Planning a Diabetic Meal
- Methods of Diabetic Meal Planning
- Carbohydrate Counting
- Plate Method
- Food Pyramid
- Exchange System
- Diet Plans
- For Type I Diabetes
- For Type II Diabetes
- For Gestational Diabetes
- Eating Out
What is Diabetes?Diabetes describes a group of diseases in which the person has a high blood sugar level. What happens is that the carbohydrates that we consume from different kinds of food, produce glucose (a form of sugar) in the body after digestion. This glucose is responsible for providing the body with all the energy that it needs to carry out day-to-day activities. The role of moving the glucose from the bloodstream into fat or muscle is carried out by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. A person suffers from diabetes because of the body's inability to produce enough insulin or because it is unable to use the insulin that is being produced, or in some cases, both.
Types of DiabetesDiabetes can be classified into three main types as follows:
▶ Type IType I diabetes mostly occurs in children and teenagers, although it can occur at any age. 5-10% of diabetic patients in the United States suffer from Type I diabetes. In this type, the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body's immune system itself, and hence, it fails to produce insulin. Due to this, the glucose does not reach the body cells. This causes the sugar level in the blood to rise. Type I diabetes patients are given insulin on a daily basis. This is done either by injecting the insulin into the body or delivering it by using an insulin pump. Their blood glucose is also monitored frequently. This helps in understanding which foods, physical activities, or times of the day, increase the individual's sugar levels.
▶ Type IIType II diabetes is mostly seen in adults, and accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes. In this type, the body does produce insulin, but the fat, liver and muscle cells fail to respond to it properly. This condition is called insulin resistance. It can also be caused due to the body's inability to produce enough insulin, and is mostly caused due to lifestyle and genetic factors. Though it is most commonly found in people who are overweight, thin people have also been reported to suffer from type II diabetes, but during an elderly age.
▶ Gestational DiabetesThis type of diabetes is first diagnosed during pregnancy, especially during the third semester. It affects nearly 3-10% of pregnancies. These women have no history of diabetes, but the increased levels of certain hormones during pregnancy makes the body's cells much less responsive to insulin. Usually, a pregnant woman's pancreas produces three times more insulin to avoid the change in hormone levels from affecting the blood sugar levels. However, if the pancreas fail to produce enough of it during pregnancy, the blood sugar levels rise, resulting in gestational diabetes. The blood sugar levels come down to normal soon after the delivery. Those who have suffered from gestational diabetes are more prone to develop type II diabetes in the future.
Diabetes and Diet
How Does Diet Affect Diabetes?The food that we eat has a direct effect on our blood sugar levels. Some foods break down into sugar faster than others, causing a sudden spike in the glucose levels. Moreover, diabetics are susceptible to developing further complications like kidney diseases, blindness, heart diseases, and imputation. This is the reason they have to be extra careful with their eating habits. The three most important things to be kept in mind are:
- What to eat?
- How much to eat?
- When to eat?
Is the Diet Different For Different Kinds of Diabetes?Yes. The diet has to be different for all the three types of diabetes. Though the symptoms are similar in all kinds of diabetes, they are very different from each other, since they are found in people from varied groups. Type I diabetics are encouraged to maintain their weight, whereas Type II, being on the overweight side, are made to lose weight. Moreover, the diet for gestational diabetics has to ensure proper nutrition to both, the mother and the baby.
Before Meal Planning
Objectives of Diabetic Meal PlanningA meal plan meant for a diabetic should fulfill the following objectives:
- Maintain the amount of blood sugar at a controlled level.
- Reduce the amount of harmful cholesterol, especially in cases of obesity; and keeping weight under control.
- Make all kinds of nutrients available to the patient in their right measure.
- Try to minimize the need for supplements and medication.
- Prevent complications of diabetes.
Points to Consider Before Planning a Diabetic MealDiabetes is a chronic disease. Diabetics have to stick to their diet for a lifetime. Hence, their diet has to be planned very carefully. Following are the things that should be kept in mind before coming up with a meal plan for a diabetes patient.
- It should be a well-balanced diet, i.e. it should provide all the nutrients that are necessary for the well-being and good health of the patient.
- The meal should be planned according to the patient's food preferences, otherwise, the chances of the patient following the diet are low.
- The diet should be planned keeping in mind the patient's daily routine. It is very important that the individual eats at the same time every day. Long gaps between meals can cause a drop in the sugar levels. More than the quantity of the diet, the timing and the gaps between different meals is important. The body must be allowed to get familiarized with the eating cycle, which helps it to metabolize the foods better. For the same reason, there should be an adequate gap between meals. Ideally, a gap of two hours is recommended.
- The diet should not be too different from the normal diet the person used to have before being diagnosed with diabetes. This is an important point, considering the drastic lifestyle changes that some meal plans try to bring about, which probably have only adverse effects.
- The diet should not be monotonous, it should be varied everyday, or there could be a chance that the patient would develop a dislike for food itself, and that could cause more complications.
- The patient's weight issues should also be kept in mind. As mentioned before, type I diabetics are underweight, whereas type II diabetics are overweight. Keeping their weight in check helps in avoiding further complications.
Methods of Diabetic Meal Planning
▶ Carbohydrate CountingIt is the carbohydrates that are converted into glucose, once digested by the body. Since diabetics are required to maintain their glucose levels, counting the amount of carbs that they consume each day becomes the most important aspect when it comes to their meal planning. All you need to do is learn how to measure food portions and pay more attention to the serving size. Below is a table which will help you understand how many servings of carbs you can have daily.
How to Eat Your Carbs
|To Lose Weight
Men: 3-4 servings per day
Women: 2-3 servings per day
To Maintain Weight
Men: 4-5 servings per day
Women: 3-4 servings per day
To Gain Weight
Men: 5-7 servings per day
Women: 4-6 servings per day
▶ Plate MethodIn the plate method, you divide the average-sized dinner plate in half. Place vegetables like broccoli, lettuce or carrots (all non-starchy veggies) on one half. Next, divide the other half in two quarters. Fill up one quarter with proteins (either chicken, meat or fish) that sums up to 3 oz., and the other quarter with high-carb foods like rice and potatoes. This method ensures proper intake of all the necessary nutrients required for the day-to-day functioning of the body.
▶ Food PyramidThe food pyramid for diabetics is very similar to the USDA one that you see on labels, except that the serving sizes vary, so as to equalize the number of carbs in the meal. It consists of six food groups as follows:
- Breads, grains, beans and other starches: The breads, beans and grains are at the bottom-most level and make the largest section of the pyramid. This is the food group from which the patient is supposed to eat most of the servings from, i.e., about 6 to 11 servings. Beans are supposed to be especially beneficial for diabetics due to their high and soluble fiber content. The fiber helps in slow digestion of the carbs, thereby maintaining the blood sugar levels. Lentils, split peas, chick peas, pinto, and red beans are all good options to be added to your diet in good amounts.
- Non-starchy vegetables: These have a very high content of nutrients and are low in fats. Vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and spinach are all included in this food group. 3 to 5 servings of these vegetables in the daily diet is highly recommended.
- Fruits: Fruits are high in all the important nutrients that the body needs. A diabetic meal should include 2 to 4 daily servings of fruits like apples, grapes, oranges, cantaloupe, and all kinds of berries.
- Milk: Milk and milk products are very rich in protein as well as calcium. 2 to 3 daily servings from this group are recommended.
- Meat: Meat and meat substitutes like chicken, beef, fish, tofu, and peanut butter should be eaten in small amounts with each meal, rather than consuming it at once. The patient can consume 4 to 6 ounces per day.
- Fats, alcohol and sweets: These are the foods that are allowed to the patient only occasionally, that too in very small portions.
▶ Exchange SystemIn an exchange system, similar foods are put into different kinds of lists, e.g. vegetable list, starch list, fruit list, etc., and the portion sizes are specified for each food group. Any food from one list can be exchanged with a food from another list, since they contain the same amount of nutrients. This gives the patient different foods to choose from, thus making his/her diet more varied and easy to follow.
Diet PlansGiven below are sample diet plans for all the three types of diabetics:
▶ For Type 1 Diabetes
▶ For Type II Diabetes
▶ For Gestational Diabetes
Eating OutYou do not need to restrict yourself from eating out just because you are suffering from diabetes. You can surely enjoy those occasional dinners at your favorite restaurant. Though, there are a few things that you'll have to keep in mind.
- Avoid salt at all costs. Sodium increases a diabetic's blood pressure and further worsens the problem. Order low-sodium dishes and do not put any extra salt on your food.
- Instead of dishes that are high in fat, order the ones that are steamed, baked or grilled. (Definitely not fried!)
- Keep the portions small.
- Eat a good amount of carbs.
- Eat at the same time that you eat at home. Make early reservations.
- Request the sauces to be served on one side of the plate, eat a minimal amount.
- Choose low-fat dressings on salads.
- While eating hamburgers, sandwiches or pizzas; ask for whole grain breads, choose lean meat or vegetable fillings and toppings, and limit the butter and mayo.
- Keep the alcohol limited to just 1 standard drink.
- If you wish to have a dessert, request for a smaller serving.
Apart from eating healthy, diabetics should also consider exercising regularly. They should get A1C and dental tests done every 3-6 months. At each doctor visit, they should review their medication, check their weight and blood pressure, and discuss any problems such as numbness, digestive problems or sexual problems. More importantly, they should make all the necessary lifestyle changes and keep a check on how they are coping with the disease.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is solely for informative purposes and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject. Always consult a dietitian/nutritionist before following any diet.