Understanding how food affects your blood sugar
Blood glucose is affected most by carbohydrates. And insulin dosing is typically based on food intake, especially carbohydrates. Knowing what foods contain carbohydrates and the amount of carbohydrates in a meal is helpful for blood glucose control. You should aim to include carbohydrates in each meal. Carbohydrate sources like vegetables, fruits and whole grains (high fiber) are preferred over carbohydrate sources with added fats, sugars and salt.
Proteins are a necessary part of a balanced diet and can keep you from feeling hungry. They also do not raise your blood glucose like carbohydrates. However, to prevent weight gain, use portion control with proteins. In people with Type 2 diabetes, protein makes insulin work faster, so it may not be a good idea to treat low blood sugar with protein shakes or mixes.
Fats are necessary part of a balanced diet, especially healthy fats like olive oil and fatty fish.
The five food groups
Some people believe that a diabetes diagnosis means “goodbye” to good food. Not so. Having diabetes does not mean that you can no longer enjoy good food, or that you have to give up your favorite foods.
Living with diabetes means eating regular, healthy meals from the following five food groups:
- Grains and starches
- Milk & alternatives
- Meat & alternatives
Making healthy food choices
Your dietitian or diabetes educator can help you to develop an eating plan that is right for you and fits into your lifestyle.
Here are some guidelines for healthy eating:
- Healthy eating for diabetes is healthy eating for the whole family.
- Enjoy having regular meals, starting with breakfast, then lunch and dinner. Space meals no more than 6 hours apart.
- Eat a variety of foods in each meal, including healthy fats, lean meats or proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
- Choose fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains as much as possible, like brown bread, bran cereals, whole wheat pasta and brown rice.
- Explore alternatives to meat such as lentils, beans or tofu.
- Choose calorie-free liquids such as unsweetened tea, coffee or water.
- Choose sugar substitutes.
Visualizing food portion size: it’s in your hands
Your choice of food and how much you eat is relative to your blood glucose level. If you eat more than you need, your blood glucose will rise. To help manage your diabetes, you have to watch what and how much you eat. Having a good sense of portion control is an important skill. Luckily, you already have the tools – your hands.
The Canadian Diabetes Association4 suggests using this portion size as a guide:
Check your blood glucose level before your meal and two hours after to find out how your food choices and portion size affect your blood glucose.
- Skip meals.
- Eat heavy and fatty meals.
- Eat saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil and palm oil.
- Eat salty food.
- Choose foods that are high in sugar, such as cake, pie, doughnuts, sweetened cereal, honey, jam, jelly, ice cream, or candy.
- Choose sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and fruit juices.
- Add sugar to your foods.
Before you shop:
- Plan your meals for duration of time (e.g. several days to a week) and include a variety of foods from the food groups.
- Create a grocery list from your meal plan.
At the supermarket:
- Bring your list and stick with it.
- Never shop hungry, since this often leads to impulse choices of less healthy foods.
- Avoid the sugary soda, sweets and chips.
- Check food labels to help you make healthy choices.
Healthy dining out
Having diabetes is not a reason to stop enjoying dining out with family or friends. Even when eating out in a restaurant you can be in control of what you eat.
Here are some quick tips for dining out:
- Choose not to eat the bread while you wait. Instead, eat a little snack before you go to dinner -- like crunchy fresh vegetables, fresh fruit or unsalted nuts.
- Be green -- choose salads over "all you can eat buffets."
- Dress your salad smartly -- have your salad dressing on the side, so you use only the amount you need, and stick to low-fat or vinaigrette dressings rather than creamy ones.
- Replace foods – ask for steamed, grilled, broiled or baked foods instead of sautéed or fried options on the menu, and salads or steamed vegetables instead of heavy side dishes like French fries.
- Watch portions. Ask for an appetizer-size portion or cut a large portion in half; share or take the rest home.
- Be fruitful – select fruits as dessert, if possible. Avoid the heavy, sugar- rich desserts at the end of a meal.
- Relax and enjoy your food and the dining experience. Remember to stop eating when you begin to feel full.
- Eat before 8 pm and leave time to take a pleasant walk with your dinner companions after.
4 Portion Guide – Canadian Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.ca. Accessed April 4, 2016