Diabetes is a deadly, disabling disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces (Type 2 diabetes). It is one of the top chronic diseases in the world and it has become an epidemic affecting both developed and developing countries.
With the surge of diabetes, other chronic diseases, and food allergies, families are beginning to find ways in being observant and creative with the foods they buy and consume. For those dealing with diabetes, having the knowledge and skills regarding a diabetic diet is essential because as disabling as it is, it can be managed. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that ‘living with diabetes does not have to mean feeling deprived’. Learning what a diabetic diet is all about and how to plan a diabetic diet meal requires an awareness and understanding of these three key factors: balance, moderation, and variety. A combination of these three factors will help minimize the signs and symptoms associated with diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a ‘diabetic diet is a healthy eating plan that is naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. Recommended foods that make a diabetic diet rich in nutrients include a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), heart-healthy fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel), nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts), and whole grains (barley, quinoa, millet, freekeh, bulgur). Simply put, a diabetic diet means a meal that contains the healthiest foods in moderate amounts. Mayo Clinic also suggests that sticking to regular mealtimes should be a routine for diabetic diets’. The ADA has stated that many types of fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are good for diabetics. The fiber contained in fruits help regulate blood sugar levels and decrease one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Most fruits are naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium, and high in essential nutrients such as potassium and folic acid. However, when it comes to fruits, caution should be taken because of the natural sugar found in whole fruits. Whole fruits that are suitable for diabetic diets include apples, apricots, berries, and citrus. In addition to being high in fiber, they help fight inflammation. Other ways of adding fruits to a diabetic diet are juicing whole fruits, having a fruit salad bowl, or simply whipping up a diabetes-friendly smoothie. Fruit juices (even 100% fruit juices), syrups, or any processed fruits with added sugar should be avoided in a diabetic diet. The reason being that none of them has all the natural fiber, minerals, and vitamins found in whole fruit.
Diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, are all related. Diabetes has a tendency of increasing one’s risk of heart disease and stroke by speeding up the development of clogged heart arteries. Thus, reading and understanding food labels is key to creating a healthy diabetic diet. Food labels have nutritional information known as nutrition facts, which are relevant to one’s health. All foods can be part of a balanced, healthful diet. However, when it comes to a special diet, in this case a diabetic diet, it is necessary that a food label meets certain nutrient criteria such as the serving size, the ingredients listed on the label from most to least, the calories, as well as minerals and vitamins.
Label words like ‘fat free’, ‘low fat’, ‘cholesterol free’, ‘low cholesterol’, ‘sodium free’, ‘low sodium’, and ‘calorie free’, should be monitored while food shopping for a diabetic diet. Foods to avoid include those that are high in saturated fats such as hot dogs and sausage; foods high in trans fat such as processed snacks, baked goods, margarines, and shortening; and foods high in cholesterol such as liver and other organ meats. Mineral salt use should be minimized or avoided. Monitoring one’s diabetic diet starts by accepting that a healthy eating plan is the best way to keep the blood glucose level under control to prevent any complications. Again, learning how to inculcate the keys of balancing, adding variety, and eating in moderation, turns out to be a lifesaver for many diabetic patients.
Planning for a diabetic diet can be as simple as planning for a regular meal, with guidance and suggestions from your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and/or physician. As a reminder, consider the three key factors of balance, variety, and moderation when creating a diabetic meal plan. In addition, take into account your size and activity level. Here is an example of a diabetic meal plan:
For breakfast: A small or medium-sized baked potato, ½ cup of cooked beans, 1 cup of berries, and 1 cup of yogurt.
For lunch: 1 cup of cooked lentils in a fresh tomato sauce, 1 banana, a small bowl of freekeh salad made up of 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts and ½ cup of olives, 1 teaspoon of dry basil leaves, 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest, and 1 cup of water.
Dinner: Salmon, veggie pasta, and banana and berry smoothie with added black seeds and quinoa.
Snack: Fruit salad and 1 cup of low-fat milk.
Maryam Funmilayo is a freelance writer and a certified food literacy educator. With a background in public health nutrition and health promotion, she is always fascinated with the Quranic and prophetic teachings regarding food, health, and nutrition. She is the CEO and co-founder of Scholarship Plaza.