Diabetic Diet Guidelines

By: EatingWell Editors

Tips to keep your blood sugar in check and help prevent diabetes.

Tips to keep your blood sugar in check and help prevent diabetes.
Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes and one-third of these people don’t even know it. What’s more, an additional 54 million people in the U.S. have blood-glucose levels that fall into a risky “prediabetes” range.
Basically, diabetes is a health condition characterized by high levels of glucose—a form of sugar that fuels our body’s cells—in the blood. Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose—but the sugar can’t get into cells without an escort. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, ushers the sugar in. But in people who have diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas don’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes), or the body’s cells don’t respond effectively to the hormone (type 2 diabetes). The result: glucose stays in the blood, where it accumulates. Over time, this high concentration of blood glucose—a condition called hyperglycemia—weakens blood vessels and then can damage the eyes, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and stroke.
The root cause for the diabetes “epidemic” still eludes medical researchers but most experts agree that poor diet and sedentary living are significant contributing factors. The upside of this is that eating well and moving more helps prevent the condition—even if your blood glucose level is already in what’s considered to be a “pre-diabetes” range. (And if you have diabetes already, a healthy diet helps keep glucose levels in check.) The nutrition experts at EatingWell recommend the following steps to help control blood glucose and prevent diabetes.

1. Lose weight.

Extra fat can make your body resistant to the action of insulin. Losing weight improves insulin’s activity, which reduces blood-glucose levels. Research suggests that people at high risk for diabetes who lose as little as 5 percent of their body weight (i.e., about 10 pounds, if they weigh 200 pounds) can prevent or delay onset of the condition. The most effective approach, say experts, is a structured weight-loss program, such as The EatingWell Diet, that emphasizes lifestyle changes.

2. Exercise regularly.

Studies show that physical activity improves the body’s response to insulin and helps lower blood-glucose levels. Aim to fit in 30 minutes of moderate activity—such as brisk walking—nearly every day.

3. Choose whole grains.

Selecting whole grains, such as whole-wheat breads and pastas, barley, corn and oats, over refined ones can help improve insulin sensitivity. Whole grains will help you meet your recommended daily intake for fiber (25 grams); they also provide more vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting nutrients than refined grains.

4. Don’t skip meals.

Research suggests that eating breakfast increases insulin effectiveness in lowering blood-glucose levels, and eating regularly spaced meals also has a beneficial effect on insulin response.

5. Use good fats.

Season dishes with moderate amounts of olive oil and the other “good fats” that make food tastier and more satisfying. At the same time, keep a watchful eye on saturated fat and trans fats. Limit saturated fats to less than 7 percent and trans fats to less than 1 percent of total calories; restrict cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg/day. Do this by limiting fatty meat and full-fat dairy products (which supply saturated fats and cholesterol) and processed foods (which tend to be packed with partially hydrogenated oils, a.k.a. trans fats).

6. Choose foods low on the glycemic index.

The glycemic index (GI) is a system of ranking foods that contain equal amounts of carbohydrates according to how much they raise blood-glucose levels. (The lower the GI number, the less the food boosts your blood sugar and the more diabetic-diet-friendly it is.) The GI is somewhat confusing and even a little controversial. But, in general, it does lead you to healthy foods. For example, vegetables, whole grains, beans and high-fiber foods tend to fall lower on the glycemic scale, while processed and refined foods and sweets are higher up.