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Diabetic Diet

Millions of people in the United States and around the world follow a diabetic diet.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy for any diabetic. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy for any diabetic.

Diabetic Diet

Millions of people in the United States and around the world follow a diabetic diet. Twenty-three million Americans live with diabetes, and of those, six million dont even know they suffer from the disease, according to the American Dietetic Association. All diabetics face the challenge of controlling the amount of sugar in their blood, and one of the most affective ways to do this is by following a diabetic diet. Controlling diet, monitoring blood glucose levels, exercising, and taking medication are the keys to managing diabetes.

Living with Diabetes

Insulin is a hormone that transforms sugars (or glucose) into energy. Patients with diabetes either lack insulin or are unable to use insulin properly, resulting in a buildup of glucose in their blood. The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Other types include gestational diabetes, experienced by pregnant women, and prediabetes, a condition usually undiagnosed.

Type 2 is the more common form of diabetes. Often called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, this condition negatively affects the way the body metabolizes sugars. Usually caused by obesity, the condition is preventable but can be life threatening if not treated. Treatment includes regulation of blood sugar levels with medications and diet. Type 1 diabetes is the least common form of the disease, affecting only 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association. Known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, the disease is caused by the pancreas producing inadequate amounts of insulin and is usually diagnosed early in life. Treatment of this form of the disease includes taking insulin and maintaining a healthy exercise regime and diet.

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination or a constant urge to urinate; feeling tired and experiencing blurred vision. Doctors use either an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) or a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) to determine whether a patient has diabetes. From these tests, doctors can tell if a patient has normal metabolism, is pre-diabetic or has diabetes.

Those who are unaware of their condition risk many complications due to the disease. The earlier diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the better a patients chances of preventing or delaying long-term complications. Patients who are not diagnosed and treated early can suffer kidney problems, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, foot ulcers, nerve damage and skin problems, including gangrene.

Control Blood Glucose Levels With a Diabetic Diet

Controlling blood glucose levels is key to managing diabetes with a diabetic diet and medications. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse recommends that patients with diabetes maintain a glucose level of 70 to 130 before meals and less than 180 after meals. The only way to keep blood glucose levels within the standards is to eat healthily, exercise and take all medications prescribed. Most doctors recommend patients follow a strict routine of meals, snacks, exercise and medications to keep the glucose levels within the guidelines throughout each day.

Feeling weak, shaky, irritable, hungry, tired or confused is a sign of low blood glucose levels, or hypoglycemia. To treat the low level, a patient should take prescribed glucose tablets, drink juice, eat hard candy, drink soda or follow any other doctor recommendations. Eating too many starchy foods causes the opposite condition known as hyperglycemia. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include frequent urination, increased thirst, high blood glucose and large amounts of sugar in the urine. Hyperglycemia can be treated by exercising, controlling diet and taking medications.

Eat a Healthy Diabetic Diet

Monitoring food intake and maintaining an appropriate diet are both crucial to the management of diabetes. Diabetics should eat foods rich in fiber, watch their fat and carbohydrate intake and limit the amount of cholesterol they digest each day. Because those with diabetes are already pre-disposed to heart disease, cholesterol monitoring is also very important. Every diabetic patient needs to maintain appropriate blood glucose levels. While medication helps, the best way to balance levels is to watch carbohydrate intake. Since carbohydrates break down into glucose during digestion, carbohydrates in food raise blood glucose levels. Therefore, carbohydrates need to be balanced with protein and fat in every meal. The amount of carbohydrates each person needs is based on their physical activity and medications.

Roughly half of a diabetics daily calories should be comprised of carbohydrates. Eating the appropriate amount of healthy carbohydrates at meals and for snacks is crucial to controlling blood sugar levels. Vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and low-fat dairy products are all good sources of carbohydrates. When a diabetic eats the same amount of good carbohydrates each day and spaces these out throughout the day, better blood glucose levels can be maintained.

Balancing the remainder of the meal is also important. According to the Mayo Clinic, a maximum of 7 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat, and the best way to avoid eating too much saturated fat is to minimize the intake of solid fats such as margarine, butter and shortening. Eating too many fats can clog the arteries, adding to a patients risk of heart disease.

Balancing the Plate With a Diabetic Diet

Eating healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks is the goal of an appropriate diabetic diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends a simple divided plate method be used each time a patient eats. The guidelines include:

  • Sectioning off half the plate for non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips or any other non-starchy vegetable
  • Cutting the other half of the plate into two equal sections and filling the first section with starchy foods such as pasta, rice, whole grain breads, potatoes, corn, oatmeal or others
  • Filling the second equal section with a meat or meat substitute such as beef, chicken, fish, tofu, eggs or low-fat cheese
  • Finishing off the meal with a piece of fruit and a glass of milk

Prevent the Onset of Diabetes

Eating right, exercising and living a healthy life are key to preventing diabetes. Those who are genetically pre-disposed to the condition or have been told they are on a path to type 2 diabetes should follow the same type of diet and exercise routine as someone with the disease. The diabetic diet is actually overall a very healthy and well-balanced choice for everyone.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 57 million Americans suffer with prediabetes. Those diagnosed with prediabetes have higher than normal blood glucose levels but dont meet the levels to be diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes. Prediabetics may occasionally experience signs of diabetes such as frequent urination, thirst or tiredness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a Diabetes Prevention Program study found that, with a lifestyle intervention, people at high risk for developing diabetes reduced the development of the disease by 58 percent over three years. Those over 60 years old reduced their chances by 71 percent.

The American Diabetes Association, provides a Diabetes Risk Calculator for those who want to find out if they are predisposed to diabetes, have prediabetes or may actually have diabetes.

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