Diabetes is a serious disease, which is detrimental if left untreated. It is characterized by above-normal blood sugar levels with disturbances of carbohydrate, fat and protein breakdown resulting from defects in insulin secretion, action or both. When poorly managed, diabetes may lead to heart disease, poor vision, kidney failure, loss of limbs, stroke, erectile dysfunction and, more. The risk factors of diabetes increase with age.
Diabetes is the 4th main leading cause of death in the world. In 2019, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes. In Kenya, the prevalence of diabetes is 3.3% and, more than 8,700 deaths were attributed to diabetes in 2015, almost all under 60 years of age. It has been projected that this rate shall increase to 4.5% by 2025.
The good news is, Diabetes can be prevented, controlled or even reversed with just FOOD! This article explains how you can manage diabetes using dietary and lifestyle interventions. It highlights 5 key action points to be taken in battling diabetes. These include The “rule of thumb” for portion control, Plant-based protein-rich foods to naturally control blood sugar, A handful of nuts 30 minutes before a meal to prevent blood sugar spikes, Opting for whole grains for managing diabetes and, exercising to normalize blood sugar levels.
- The “rule of thumb” for portion control.
Managing type 2 diabetes can be a real challenge, especially when deciding what and how much to eat. A couple of studies have evidenced high fibre diets of plant-based varieties to be the most efficient in the management of type 2 diabetes. However, many diabetics still struggle with the type of foods to eat and the amount of carbs, proteins and even fibre to serve.
The core perspective that comes into play when making food choices among diabetics is the glycemic index (how high or low food releases glucose into the blood) of the food. The types of foods served should also be within a determined threshold otherwise known as the “rule of thumb”.
To improve their blood sugars, diabetics should consider colourful fruits and vegetables, about 5-7 servings daily, proteins should be taken moderately, about 115g per serving or palm-size when taking animal protein, while carbs should be as low as possible, an equivalent amount of proteins. When choosing carbs and starches, avoid highly refined foods like bread, pasta, white flours and sweeteners. Instead, substitute white foods with whole foods.
Generally, aim to fill your plate halfway with vegetables, ¼ with proteins and the other ¼ with starches.
- Plant-based protein-rich foods to naturally control blood sugar.
Protein is an essential nutrient found in meat, legumes and nuts. When the correct types of proteins are taken in the right quantities, they can help in controlling blood sugars. However, high protein intake can have mixed reactions for people with type two diabetes (6). A diet that contains too much animal protein may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. In controlling type two diabetes, diets with plenty of plant-based proteins should be highly considered. They can modestly decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
People who are living with diabetes should treasure proteins of plant-based origin and limit the intake of animal protein, especially animal fat. Some of the proteins that will naturally control the blood sugars are beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, tofu, nuts, seeds, fish and poultry. These proteins should be given higher preference by people living with diabetes.
- A handful of nuts 30 minutes before a meal to prevent blood sugar spikes
Did you know that just a handful of nuts taken 30 minutes before the main meal helps in preventing blood sugar spikes?
Nuts are loaded with healthy fats that help to preserve health. They are also low glycemic foods. The amount of carbohydrates in nuts is very limited making them effective in controlling blood sugars. Nonetheless, they are a high source of fibre. Fibre slows down the digestion process reducing instant spikes of blood sugar after meals.
Normally, blood sugars begin to rise 15-30 minutes after taking a meal. This happens only if your meal is exclusively carbohydrates. The speed and level of the increase depends on the type of carbohydrates and other nutrients found in the foods you eat, as well as on your body’s ability to manage your blood sugar levels. That is why taking nuts 30 minutes before the main meal may help in regulating your blood sugars, consequently preventing spikes.
A few nuts that should be highly considered by diabetics are walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts.
- Opting for whole grains for managing diabetes
Whole grains are unprocessed foods. They are complete grains with kernels, fibre and endosperm. Eating whole grains is a smart way to help prevent blood sugar spikes. The fibre component in whole grains, which is also a form of carbohydrate, is not digested by the body, hence doesn’t raise blood sugars. High fibre foods also take longer to digest, they, therefore, tend to have a delayed impact on the blood sugars, making them raise gradually.
In addition, fibre adds more bulk to your diet, making one full for quite a long time. Some of the whole grains that should be highly considered by diabetics include kidney beans, butter beans, black beans, lentils, quinoa, green grams, Chickpeas, sorghum and cowpeas.
- Exercising to normalize blood sugar levels
Physical activity is one of the ways to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Exercise helps control blood sugar spikes by increasing the sensitivity of your cells to insulin. Exercise also causes muscle cells to absorb sugar from the blood, helping to lower blood sugar levels.
Both high intensity and low-intensity forms of exercise have been found to reduce blood sugar spikes. Some forms of exercise that diabetics can engage in to regulate their blood sugars are brisk walking, running, hiking, dancing, swimming, aerobics and more.
Incorporate these five action points in your daily routine and see how transformed your life will be.