Geetha G H,
Registered dietician, Certified diabetes educator, Exercise and Sports nutritionist
A Bangalore based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, exercise – sports nutritionist (currently pursuing International Olympic Committee Sports nutrition), with diverse experience of 14 years in academia, nutritional counselling, lifestyle coaching, clinical nutrition, food safety, corporate workshops and seminars, clinical research, a nutrition columnist for well renowned health magazines and wellness websites.
What kind of food can a person with diabetes eat and what kind of food should be avoided? How important is diet management in diabetes management? What is a balanced diet for people with diabetes? Are there some groups preferred for people with diabetes? These are some of the Frequently Asked Questions that I receive. This article attempts to answer the FAQs and sensitize people about how their diet can help them in ‘Winning with Diabetes’.
It is very important for people with diabetes to eat a balanced diet that will provide them all the essential nutrients. Proteins can be obtained from dal, pulses(with skin) fish, dressed chicken and whole eggs; fibre from fruits and vegetables; carbohydrates from brown rice, wheat rotis, oats, barley and millets. It is important to note that carbohydrates are also present in dal, milk, vegetables and fruits. So certain vegetables like potatoes, carrots, peas and corn should be taken in moderation and consumed in mixed meals. By eating a balanced meal or a combination of food groups a person with diabetes can delay the absorption of glucose.
Protein Is Important
Proteins are very important for diabetics as it helps in muscle maintenance and other physiological functions. Protein helps in formation of antibodies, enzymes, hormones and even insulin, which is required for the absorption of glucose. Protein also helps the body build and repair tissues.
Make sure to consume some high-quality proteins in your diet. These can be taken from dairy items in any form such as low fat or skim milk, curd, paneer, cheese or buttermilk. As diabetics have the risk of developing heart diseases, it is advisable they choose the option of low-fat or skimmed milk which lowers the intake of saturated fats.
Pulses, such as lentils and beans (channa, rajma, lobia, whole moong etc), are a source of protein for vegetarians. For non-vegetarians, fish, dressed chicken and whole eggs are good choices of protein. However, red meat should be consumed in moderation.
Good fat vs Bad fat
Fats are also very important for physical well-being. In fact, Vitamin D is synthesized from cholesterol. It is very important, however, to understand the difference between good fat and bad fat. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include trans fats present in many processed foods. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.
Fats like coconut oil, ghee or butter should be consumed in small amounts. About half teaspoon a day is a good rule of thumb. As a cooking medium, cold pressed sesame oil, rice bran oil, and mustard oil are all good options.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of good fats. Omega-3 is found in oily fish. Vegetarians can obtain Omega-3 from olives, walnuts, avocado, olive oil, and in small amounts in green leafy vegetables, pumpkin and watermelon seeds.
Be Careful with Packaged Foods
When choosing packaged food, savory items like deep fried snacks and fast foods are best eaten in smaller quantities and that too occasionally. This is because they are very high in trans fats. Trans fats are man-made fats and they increase the risk of heart disease. It is best avoided by people with diabetes.
Vitamins are Important
Whole grains should be consumed for vitamins B1 and B12. These are very important in maintaining nerve conduction, typically seen in diabetic complications. B12 is only available in non-vegetarian food. So vegans have to take care that they take a cobalamin supplement to make sure they don’t have any vitamin B12 deficiency. Folate is the generic term for both naturally occurring food folate and folic acid. Dark green vegetables are the one of the best and cheapest sources of folate.
Almonds are not only a very important source of vitamin E, they are also a very potent antioxidant that takes care of heart health.
Ensuring Mineral-Rich Diet
People with diabetes need to ensure adequate intake of calcium to maintain bone health. Milk and dairy products are a common source of calcium. Curd also offers the benefits of probiotics of good bacteria.
Lettuce, capsicum, tomato, cucumber are all good sources of potassium and indirectly helps the heart as they are good for reducing blood pressure.
Magnesium, whose richest source is dark green leafy vegetables, is an anti-stress mineral. It helps in relaxation of the blood vessels as well as the muscles.
Lower your consumption of table salt, which has sodium, as it increases blood pressure. Processed and packaged foods often have very high sodium content and should thus be consumed cautiously.
Chromium is a micronutrient that is very important for insulin formation required for the metabolism of carbohydrates. You can get it by eating whole grains & broccoli. Selenium is found in cashew nuts and walnuts. Zinc is very good for wound healing, as diabetics need more time for recovery. Oysters, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and yeast are good sources of zinc.
Fruits in daily diet
For people with diabetes, the day to day choices for fruits can be apple, papaya, musk melon, figs and oranges. Mango, banana, grapes, jack fruit that have a higher sugar content can be eaten on occasions, in combination with a main meal which offer protein and good fats or with nuts, curd(smoothies), and milkshakes.
Consume foods favorable for people with diabetes like apple cider vinegar, fenugreek seed powder, roasted flax seeds, Ceylon cinnamon, chia seeds and green tea regularly.
A balanced mixed diet typically eaten in Indian meals helps diabetics keep blood glucose in control and prevent complications. So eat healthy, exercise and lead a happy life!