This is a guest post by: Leslie Vandever a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California where she writes for Healthline.
Good nutrition is important for everyone who eats. But it’s essential if you have any type of diabetes, whether it’s type 1 (autoimmune), type 2 (adult-onset), or gestational (pregnancy-related).
Your body converts everything you eat, from your breakfast smoothie to that last, sneaked-in-before-bedtime snack, into sugar (glucose) for fuel. It’s remarkably good at this, but it can only burn just so much fuel at any one time. So it converts the excess sugar you eat into fat and stores it as easily accessible fuel for use later on. Every cell in your body needs fuel to function.
What does good or bad nutrition have to do with this? Diabetes damages your body’s ability to produce an adequate amount of insulin, the pancreas-produced hormone that holds the key to the cells’ gas tanks. Without it, there’s no way for the glucose to flow from the bloodstream into the cells to fuel them. Diabetes may also damage the cells themselves so the insulin key doesn’t work correctly.
Without an adequate supply of glucose, the body’s cells respond like any engine that runs out of fuel: they cough, sputter, and die. And, as if that weren’t enough, all that unused sugar in the blood can damage other parts of the body, like the veins, the nerves, and organs.
By eating mindfully, you can help your body cope with the problems diabetes causes. In the case of type 2 diabetes, you may even be able to keep the disease under control through diet alone.
The best diet for diabetes is one in which fresh vegetables are the most plentiful part, followed by adequate amounts of protein, like lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, and legumes. Healthy fats like olive and canola oil are excellent choices in this diet. Then comes whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, and brown rice. Low-fat dairy foods are fine in limited quantities. Fruits finish up the list, eaten sparingly but with great appreciation.
Sugary foods and beverages don’t really have a place in this well-balanced, robust, healthy diet. That’s not to say you can’t ever have sweets, though. Just save them for special occasions and very rare treats.
There’s sound reasoning behind eating this. Vegetables are rich in the vitamins, minerals, and other substances the body needs to function efficiently. They’re also full of fiber, which takes longer for the body to digest. That slows down their conversion into sugar and its release into the bloodstream to a steady, efficient trickle. Proteins also convert more slowly, as do whole grain foods, including brown rice. Dairy foods convert more quickly, so they’re limited.
Foods made with refined white flour (flour that has had the germ and hull removed from the grain) covert almost instantly into sugar in the bloodstream. So do foods with added sugar, which, along with desserts, include most processed foods. So much sugar overwhelms the body’s ability to use it efficiently. Much of it ends up converted into fat and stored. And some of it remains in the bloodstream, where it can cause system and organ damage and disease, including type 2 diabetes.
If you have diabetes, eating this diet of whole, fresh foods can make a big difference in how you feel and how the disease progresses (or doesn’t progress). If you don’t have it, this diet can help prevent you from ever getting it.
It will make you feel good, be healthy and strong, and keep your weight easily under control. What’s not to like?
- Diabetes Diet and Food Tips. (2014, May) HELPGUIDE.org.
- Nutrition Principles and Recommendations in Diabetes. (2004, January) Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association.
- What I Need to Know About Eating and Diabetes. (2014, June 4) National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. National Institutes of Health.
- Food. (n.d.) American Diabetes Association.
- Kelley, D.E. Sugars, and Starch in the Nutritional Management of Diabetes Mellitus. (2003 October) The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.