The foods consumed with each and every meal have a huge impact on blood sugar. Diet can be one of the best tools to prevent diabetes. And if a person already has diabetes, the diet helps keep it under control. Improving the diet can decrease the need for diabetes medication. In fact, a 2006 study published in the Age and Aging journal found that diabetes can be reversed with a combination of diet and exercise. This is how powerful the diet can be.
How food affects the blood sugar levels
Carbohydrate-rich foods have the greatest impact on blood glucose levels. When an individual eats or drinks food with carbohydrates, the body breaks it down to glucose. The pancreas is in charge to help cells absorb sugar, by releasing insulin. In the case of diabetes, the body does not produce enough or is resistant to insulin. As a result, excess glucose stays in the bloodstream, leading to high sugar levels. Not all carbohydrates have the same impact on blood sugar levels, thus a low glycemic index diet has been found beneficial for managing diabetes.
Protein and fat-rich foods such as meats, fish, nuts, seeds, butter, and oils typically contain less or no carbohydrates at all, having minimal impact on the blood sugar.
Low and very low carb (ketogenic) diets
Low carb diets are commonly recommended for diabetes management. Depending on the individual needs, blood sugar levels, and weight, there are different options available. Moderate carb diet includes about 130- 225 g of carbohydrates daily and low carb diets below 130 grams of carbohydrates daily. The ketogenic diet is a very low (ie less than 30 grams of carbs/day) moderate protein high-fat diet. Low carb diets emphasize the consumption of low carb (nonstarchy) vegetables, lean proteins from eggs, meat, fish, good fats from olives and avocados, and fruits in moderation (or very low amounts). While more research is needed to prove the benefits of low carb diets for diabetes type 1, there are plenty of studies supporting low carb and ketogenic diets for diabetes type 2- to improve blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart complications, and weight management.
Low Glycemic Index Diet
The glycemic load (GL) and glycemic index (GI) indicate how much a specific food will raise blood sugar levels. As a general rule, food with low GI is a healthier choice for someone with diabetes, compared with food that has a high GI. The rates at which different foods can increase blood glucose levels are labeled by comparing them with the absorption of 50 grams of pure glucose (which has a GI value of 100). Foods are classified as either having low GI (55 or less), medium (GI of 56-69), and high (GI of 70 or more). The cooking process and food combinations can also influence the GI of a meal.
Based on this concept, the low GI diet has been created. Individuals with diabetes are encouraged to eat low GI and some moderate GI foods while limiting the high GI foods. Research studies suggest that a low GI diet can benefit those with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes to maintain blood sugar levels within recommended ranges and also improve other health markers.
The Meditteranean diet
The foundation for the Meditteranean diet includes a variety of plant foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, with very few processed and grown locally. Salt is replaced with herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of fat, sugary foods and desserts are consumed only a few times a week. Fish and poultry are consumed more often, while red meat is recommended in small amounts. Daily servings of yogurt and cheese are also on the menu. Wine can be enjoyed in low to moderate amounts. This diet goes beyond a food list- it recommends daily exercise and enjoying dinner with family and loved ones.
Furthermore, this diet helps protect against heart diseases, obesity, and fatty liver diseases, conditions that are more prevalent in those with diabetes. The Mediterranean diet may also protect against certain types of cancer, depression and is a great choice for those looking to improve their overall health.
Beyond a food list
It is important what you eat, but also how you eat your meal. It is best to consume portion-controlled meals, eliminate processed foods, and practice mindful eating. Intermittent fasting (i.e. avoid eating before meals, and 3-4 hours before bedtime) can also be a great tool for some people with diabetes. However, fasting and any restrictive diets should be medically supervised to avoid big fluctuations in blood glucose levels. It is also important to closely monitor blood sugar levels. As the readings improve, the doctor may need to adjust the diabetes medication.