A healthy well-balanced diet is important in general, but if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, diet will play a vital role in diabetes management.
It can help to control blood sugar levels successfully, and in some cases, even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Yes, a healthy diet can be a powerful weapon when it comes to managing diabetes, but what does a well-balanced diet actually consist of?
When managing diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels is one of the main goals, and certain types of food can either raise or lower it.
As a result, many people with diabetes opt for a low carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet.
If you have diabetes, your body is unable to effectively process carbohydrates, as the carbs get converted into glucose.
This causes your blood sugar levels to rise, resulting in several health complications, including hyperglycemia.
However, this does not mean that you have to forsake all carbohydrates. You may be surprised to learn that carbs are not completely off-limits for those with type 2 diabetes.
You can still enjoy carbs, but they need to be vitamin-enriched, minimally processed, and slow-releasing carbohydrates. These include quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta, and cereals.
Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts, are a nutrient-dense, low glycemic food that has been widely recommended in diabetic diets.
A randomized controlled trial reviewed 121 participants with type 2 diabetes.
One group was encouraged to increase their legume intake by at least 1 cup per day or to increase insoluble fiber by consumption of whole wheat products, for 3 months.
Dietary fiber is extremely beneficial for people dealing with diabetes.
Fiber is beneficial for the treatment of diabetes as it helps to reduce cholesterol and improve your blood sugar levels while helping to keep insulin levels nice and stable.
As you know, this is hugely beneficial for people who have diabetes. Dietary fiber helps to slow down rates of digestion nutrient absorption, meaning that glucose sugars in foods you consume reach your bloodstream much slower than usual.
Fatty fish are an excellent food source for anyone, but especially people with diabetes.
The omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish are necessary for brain and heart health, and our bodies cannot produce them on their own.
Therefore, we can only get them from the foods we eat. Fatty fish also help you stay full for longer and are an excellent source of protein.
Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol levels.
Any oxidized fats, including oils heated to high temperatures, are contributing to the damage in the arteries that people with diabetes are prone to develop.
The ideal healthy fats are animal fats from grass-fed organic meat, avocados, nuts, canola, olive oils.
Diet’s for Diabetes
In recent years, the DASH diet has become increasingly popular for people with diabetes.
Another diet revered for its health benefits is the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil, could be of benefit to people with diabetes.
A randomized clinical trial, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that compared with a low-fat diet, a MedDiet allowed better glycemic control and delayed the need for antidiabetes drug treatment in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes.
Studies show that there are many proven benefits of the ketogenic diet when it comes to weight loss, improvement in health and performance.
A ketogenic diet can help the most because it is low in carbohydrates. In some instances, diabetics struggle to metabolize carbohydrates.
Thus, lowering them to 60 grams per day or even 40 grams a day will begin to bring blood sugar levels into normal. However, you should always work with your doctor on this if you have diabetes.
How many carbs can you eat if you have diabetes?
Determining how many carbs you can eat a day can be challenging and confusing. Meal plans created by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) provide about 45% of calories from carbs.
This includes 45–60 grams per meal and 10–25 grams per snack, totaling about 135–230 grams of carbs per day.
However, it is thought this is an overestimation, and in reality, your carb intake should be significantly less.
As discussed, your body breaks carbs down into sugar, which enters the bloodstream, causing a rise in blood glucose levels.
In people with diabetes, consuming large amounts of carbs will often require high doses of insulin to combat rising blood sugar levels.
Research has suggested that low carb diets might be the way forward. In a small, five-week study, men with type 2 diabetes who consumed a high-protein, a high-fiber diet providing 20% of calories from carbs per day experienced a 29% reduction in fasting blood sugar, on average.
The ketogenic, in particular, has been shown to be especially beneficial. The Keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet which has been shown to lower blood glucose levels effectively.
This encourages the body to break down fat, causing it to go into a state of ketosis.
As the diet restricts your carbohydrate intake, swapping carbs for healthy fats, your blood sugar levels may decrease, as carbohydrates are usually converted into sugar, which can cause a spike in sugar levels.
A further advantage of this diet is weight loss. For those who are prediabetic or at risk of Type 2 diabetes, this might be the diet for you.
Although it might seem strange to recommend a high-fat diet for weight loss, it should be noted that you are swapping carbohydrates for healthy fats, and as such your body will convert the fat into energy.
This does not include unhealthy, saturated fats but fats from food such as avocados, nuts, and fish rich in omega 3.
Overall, studies have indicated that a daily carb intake between 20–150 grams, or 5–35% of calories, may effectively manage diabetes and prediabetes.
How diet affects diabetes
How can the right diet have a positive effect on your diabetes?
Being overweight is one of the greatest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. In fact, research shows that losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can lower your risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for weight management, and if you are seeking to lose weight, restricting calorie intake and exercising regularly is vital.
You have probably come across the saying ‘You are what you eat,’ and while it can be easy to dismiss, it really is true.
Research has found that high protein, low carbohydrate diet promote weight and fat loss and have been associated with decreases in fasting triglycerides and free fatty acids in healthy subjects and with the normalization of fasting insulin levels.
Blood sugar levels
For those with diabetes, one of the most important factors to monitor is blood sugar levels. This can be stressful at the best of times, but the right diet can make it easier.
The ‘right’ diet will vary according to the individual, but for many people with diabetes, the Glycemic Index can be useful.
The GI classifies carbohydrates by the effect they have on blood sugar response and can be helpful for people with diabetes to understand which form of carbohydrates can help control blood sugar.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials reviewed all the studies that looked at the effects of GI on blood sugar control.
The review found that people with type 2 diabetes that followed a low-GI diet had greater reductions in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar levels compared to those that followed a higher-GI diet or control in type 2 diabetic.
Unmanaged blood sugar levels can result in a large number of health complications.
Research suggests that metabolic control can be considered as the cornerstone of diabetes management and its complications.
Reaching your HbA1c target minimizes the risk for developing microvascular complications and may also protect from cardiovascular disease, particularly in newly diagnosed patients.
In addition, an individual’s food choices have an effect on body weight, blood pressure, and lipid levels directly.
Through mutual efforts, health-care professionals can help their patients in achieving health goals by individualizing their nutritional needs and offering dietary and lifestyle advice.
Reversal of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes was once thought to be irreversible and progressive after diagnosis, but much interest has arisen about the potential for remission.
A study published in 2014 by the Second University of Naples showed that a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet was able to achieve significant rates of remission in people with type 2 diabetes.
After one year of following the diet, 15% of participants achieved remission and, after six years, 5% had achieved remission on the diet – a stunning achievement.
A further study by researchers at Newcastle University showed that drastically reducing calorie intake could also put type 2 diabetes into remission.
Participants followed an 800 calorie diet a day for eight weeks, and seven of the 11 participants that took part achieved remission.
The diet included around 600 kcal from meal shakes and around a further 200 kcal from non-starchy vegetables.
The study used MRI scans and showed that the reversal of diabetes appeared to be correlated with significant reductions in fat storage within the liver and pancreas.
What are the risks of a poor diet if you have diabetes?
The risks of a poor diet are very real for everyone, but if you have diabetes or have been diagnosed as prediabetic, the risks are greater.
For people with diabetes, it is essential to limit sugars and fats found in junk foods.
A poor diet, high in fat, sugar, and processed foods will contribute to weight gain and can result in high blood sugar levels.
Continuous spikes in blood sugar, which go unmanaged, can result in many diabetic health complications over time and if type 2 diabetes goes untreated, the high blood sugar can affect various cells and organs in the body. Potential complications include:
- Neuropathy (nerve damage).
- Kidney damage (nephropathy).
- Gastroparesis (issues with stomach emptying).
- Eye damage (retinopathy).
- Skin conditions (infections).
How can you effectively plan a diet to keep your blood sugar balanced if you have diabetes?
When you are making a diabetes self-management plan, like most things in life, it is easier to do with others rather than all by yourself.
Work with your health care provider to develop a management plan that is best for you. Whether it is a Medical Doctor, a Naturopathic Doctor, a dietician, certified diabetes educators, or a nutritionist.
- Count carbs
Carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate dramatically, therefore counting your carb intake throughout the day is important.
This includes carbohydrates in drinks. Start by counting carbohydrates at home using a scale and an app such as MyFitnessPal and then gradually you’ll become familiar with what the correct portion size looks like.
- Portion size
Learn what portion size is appropriate for each type of food. Simplify your meal planning by writing down portions for the foods you eat often. Use measuring cups or a scale to ensure proper portion size.
- Avoid sweetened beverages
Recently, evidence suggested a link between the intake of soft drinks with obesity and diabetes, resulting from large amounts of high fructose corn syrup used in the manufacturing of soft drinks, which raises blood glucose levels and BMI to the dangerous levels.
Safety and effectiveness of the diabetic diet
What side effects of a diabetic diet should you be aware of?
Any significant change to your diet can have an impact, and this is true of a low carb diabetic diet.
For many people, opting for a diet, such as a keto diet, that cuts out many of your usual food groups can be difficult. However, the benefits are worth it.
People that significantly reduce their carbohydrate intake may experience the following:
- Brain fog
These side effects sometimes referred to as ‘low-carb flu,’ are usually the result of the body passing out fluid and salts from the body in the initial weeks of the diet.
What effects can you expect to see and feel if you stick to your diabetic diet?
A diet consisting of high fiber, low carbohydrates, lean meats and polyunsaturated fat (as found in walnuts and sunflower seeds) and monounsaturated fats (like olive oil and avocados) helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and can even bring blood sugar levels into healthy ranges.
Here’s how… When you eat high-fiber with a meal, it acts as a buffer for the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Instead of having your blood sugar levels spike after a meal, there is a slow release of sugar and insulin over the next couple of hours as the food you ate is digested.
A slow release of sugar and insulin prevents the pancreas from becoming exhausted and regulates blood sugar stability.
Fiber also retains your body’s ability to utilize insulin. Insulin sensitivity is vital for keeping your blood sugar levels in healthy ranges.
Natural ways to treat diabetes
How can natural supplements be used as an effective part of diabetes treatment?
Treatment options for diabetes are constantly expanding, and natural supplements have been receiving increasing attention.
In past decades, public interest in natural therapies and the use of herbal medicines has also increased in industrialized countries; with 40% of adults in the U.S. have been reported to use them.
A number of plant and herbal products have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and have been described in scientific and popular literature as having anti-diabetic activity.
We will discuss some of the best natural remedies for diabetes below.
What are the best natural remedies for diabetes?
- Aloe Vera
Aloe vera had been revered for thousands of years in herbal medicine for its soothing healing properties.
As well as helping to heal skin ailments, research also suggests that consuming aloe vera juice can help to improve blood sugar levels, proving it of benefit for people with diabetes.
- Bitter Melon
Research shows that bitter melon contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties.
This includes a substance called charantin, which has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.
A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of cinnamon supplementation on people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome was carried out for 16 weeks.
The participants were encouraged to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Half the participants were received 6 grams of cinnamon, and the rest were given 6 grams of a placebo.
There was a reduction in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar in the cinnamon group compared to placebo by week 16. There was also a greater reduction in waist circumference and BMI compared to placebo.
Research has shown that Fenugreek works to lower blood sugar levels and improves glucose tolerance.
Additionally, Fenugreek is packed full of fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar. Overall it is one of the best nutrients you can take to help regulate your blood sugar levels.
Ginger is a versatile cooking ingredient, which has been renowned for its range of health benefits.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, found that extracts from Buderim Ginger rich in gingerols can increase the uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin. As a result, it could help manage high blood sugar levels.
Bilberries are a dark blue fruit, similar in appearance and name, to blueberries.
Research has shown that people with retinopathy that took bilberry extract during the study showed signs of strengthening of blood vessels in the retina and reduce hemorrhaging.
Quercetin can be found in fruits and vegetables and works to restore healthy blood pressure levels and is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Berberine, also known as Phellodendron Bark, reverses diabetes by restoring healthy insulin production, reducing blood lipids (fats) and balances cholesterol levels.
What role does exercise play in diabetes treatment?
Physical activity is an important component when it comes to diabetes management.
It offers a wealth of benefits, including improving blood glucose control, reducing cardiovascular risk factors, contributing to weight loss, and improving overall well being.
One of the most extensive randomized trials, known as the Look AHEAD trial, evaluated a lifestyle intervention in adults with type 2 diabetes, in comparison to diabetes support and education group.
The intensive lifestyle intervention group targeted a weight loss of at least 7% through a modest dietary energy deficit and at least 175 min/week of unsupervised exercise.
Major cardiovascular events were the same in both groups, possibly in part due to greater use of cardioprotective medications in the diabetes support and education group.
However, the results showed that the intensive lifestyle intervention group achieved significantly higher sustained improvements including:
- weight loss
- cardiorespiratory fitness
- blood glucose control, blood pressure, and lipids with fewer medications
- less sleep apnea, severe diabetic kidney disease and retinopathy, depression, sexual dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and knee pain
- better physical mobility maintenance and quality of life, with lower overall health care costs.
This trial provided substantial evidence of profound health benefits from intensive lifestyle intervention.
Controlling your blood sugar is key to living a long and healthy life with type 2 diabetes. While medication is helpful, the easiest way to control your blood sugar is through your meal plan.
It can be difficult to switch from eating convenient, processed foods, but the extra time in the kitchen is worth it!