What is healthy eating?
Healthy eating is important to everyone but is even more important if you have diabetes. This is because some foods that you eat will affect your blood glucose levels. If appropriate, you may be referred to a dietitian for individual dietary advice tailored to meet your own needs.
Weight management and healthy eating go hand in hand, watch below for more.
Healthy eating guidelines for diabetes are based on the same guidelines that are applicable to the wider general population. There’s not a special diet for diabetes. It’s really about balancing healthy eating food choices, and achieving good blood glucose control and weight management.
Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods in the correct portions from different food groups each day. Regular meals with consistent quantities of nutrients may be important in stabilising blood glucose levels and to help control the appetite, whereas an erratic meal pattern with variable quantities of carbohydrate can result in fluctuating glucose levels.
People with diabetes may have different dietary requirements depending on how long they’ve had diabetes and the treatments that they have been prescribed. For people with type 2 diabetes treated with diet alone or with tablets, the emphasis may be on general healthy eating and on for some on weight loss and calorie reduction.
The Eatwell guide shown above is the recommendation for proportions of different food groups for the general population. For people with diabetes, a reduction in carbohydrate may be beneficial and there is evidence that a Mediterranean style diet with nearer 50% vegetable, 25% protein/fat, 25% starch (carbohydrate) balance can improve blood glucose levels.
Here are our top 10 tips for healthy eating:
1: Regular meals
Key Message: Aim for three meals each day and avoid skipping meals.
A typical day’s intake should be based around breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Following this will help to keep you feeling full, keep energy levels up and help you avoid snacking.
2: Starchy carbohydrate
Key Message: All carbohydrates will break down into glucose and will impact your blood glucose levels. When eating starchy carbohydrates try to choose higher fibre options.
Carbohydrates come in simple forms such as sugars and in complex forms such as starches and fibre. The body breaks down all carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar, that the body will use for energy. The larger the portion of carbohydrate, the higher blood glucose levels will be. In reverse, if you eat smaller amounts, your blood glucose levels are likely to be lower.
Examples of starchy carbohydrates include pasta, rice, potato, bread, chapatti and plantain. Choosing starchy carbohydrates which contain higher levels of fibre and whole grains can have less of an impact on your blood glucose levels as they take longer for your body to break down into glucose. This can keep you feeling fuller for longer.
The Glycaemic Index is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrate which shows how quickly each food affects your blood glucose levels. Starchy carbohydrates that are high in fibre and whole-grains are classed as a low GI, whereas sugary carbohydrates such as sweets and sugary soft drinks have a high GI as they cause a rapid increase in your blood glucose levels.
3: Sugary carbohydrates
Key Message: Limit added (free) sugar.
Reducing or completely cutting out the amount of free refined sugar such as sugary foods, drinks and table sugar will help blood glucose control. Switching to sweeteners and sugar-free options can help.
4: Fruit and vegetables
Key Message: Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of fibre, are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a wide variety and aiming for a minimum of five portions each day (2-3 fruit, with at least 2 – 3 vegetable portions), can help to reduce your risk of developing many health conditions such as; high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and certain cancers.
An added bonus is that fruit and vegetables are naturally low in energy (calories) and high in fibre, meaning they can help to maintain a healthy weight. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned fruit in juice and canned vegetables in water, with no added sugar and salt all count towards your daily target. Although fruit is high in vitamins and minerals, large portions of fruit and especially juice can cause high glucose levels so these are best kept to 150ml per day.
Key Message: Aim for no more than 6 grams of salt each day.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, particularly if you are overweight or if high blood pressure runs in your family. This is concerning, as high blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Key Message: Drink no more than 14 units per week, with several alcohol-free days.
The risk of developing a range of illnesses, including increased blood pressure and certain cancers increase if you consistently drink more alcohol than the recommended amounts. Having diabetes does not mean that you need to avoid drinking alcohol. In fact, government guidelines for sensible drinking are the same if you have diabetes or not. Remember alcohol is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain.
7: Omega 3 fatty acids
Key Message: Aim to include 2 portions of oily fish each week.
Omega 3 fats are essential fatty acids that cannot be made by the body in sufficient amounts. They can lower blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and help protect against heart disease. Examples of oily fish include fresh tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Key Message: Aim to reduce total fat intake, whilst also replacing saturated fats with unsaturated equivalents.
To achieve or maintain a healthy weight, it is important to reduce total fat intake as all oil has the same calories. Replacing saturated fats with moderate amounts of monounsaturated (olive and rapeseed oils and spreads) and polyunsaturated fats (soya, sunflower and corn oils and spreads; nuts, seeds, oily fish) can have a beneficial impact the health of the heart. Remember to help with weight loss, it is important to reduce the total amount of fat eaten. Measure the oil in cooking with a tsp to prevent large amounts in cooking.
9: Healthy weight
Key message: Achieving a healthy body weight may be beneficial in managing your blood glucose, and cardiovascular health. If you are overweight, you may need to reduce your portions, aiming for a better overall balance between the different food groups.
Almost two in every three adults in the UK are overweight or obese. For those with diabetes, being overweight has been shown to increase insulin resistance (which means your body cannot use insulin as well as it should). This will worsen glycaemic (blood glucose) control and increase the risk of diabetes progression. For more information on weight loss, click here.
10: Diabetic products
Key Message: Diabetic products are not recommended.
These foods have no benefit, can be just as high in calories and fat, are more expensive, have a laxative effect and can still impact on blood glucose levels.
For more information about healthy eating and dietary advice, have a look at Diabetes UK – What can I eat? or why not sign up for free recipe videos made by patients with diabetes for patients with diabetes, produced by Diabetes UK here.
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