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It seems obvious that a healthy diet should be a part of anybody’s lifestyle, especially in the case of diabetes.
Much is said and written on the topic, with different arguments. Some are on a crusade based on eliminating processed foods. Others just recommend the acclaimed Mediterranean diet represented by olive oil. Finally, the influence of the latest trends means that many do not understand a healthy diet if it does not include avocado, coconut oil or quinoa.
We should probably keep an open mind regarding what a healthy diet means, which is based on following a set of dietary rules and habits, which is much more than including the latest trendy food on the menu.
Next, we go through some of the characteristics that must be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes:
Reduce sugar consumption
This seems like logical advice: if diabetes causes an increase of blood glucose, reducing our sugar consumption seems quite reasonable. This section includes added sugar (which is added to coffee) but also sugar that is part of foods such as biscuits, breakfast cereals or baked goods. Special attention must be given to hidden sugars, such as in sauces (ketchup), industrial bread, packaged products and even food products designed for children. Sugar is so ingrained in food (to a greater or lesser extent) that it is difficult to eliminate it completely from your diet.
Choose food with a low glycaemic index
This is particularly important in the case of starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta or breakfast cereals, which should be consumed as wholegrains. Also include pulses frequently in your diet because, despite their high carb content, the fibre and type of starch that they include raise blood glucose levels slowly. Despite choosing low glycaemic index foods, adapting the amount consumed to each person may be required, according to their characteristics and usual physical activity.
Include fats, but only good fats
For many years people with diabetes have been advised to limit their fat consumption as much as possible (it has even been demonised). We often hear about saturated fats, unsaturated fats, omega 3, etc. but it is better to talk directly about foods. Foods rich in fats such as (extra virgin) olive oil, nuts, blue fish or dairy products (in small amounts) must be included in the day-to-day of people with diabetes.
Add vegetables to meals.
It can be as easy as adding a side of vegetables to a main course, filling your cannelloni with spinach instead of meat or having gazpacho as a starter. Any excuse to consume vegetables, both cooked and raw with any meal of the day, is a good one. Even for breakfast, how about adding some fruit or even some tomato to your sandwich?
Be your own chef
Learning cooking techniques, new recipes, trying different foods, shopping often all help you to know more about cooking and food. This will help you to follow a better diet. For example, which is the best season for each fruit or vegetable? Buying seasonal foods helps to increase their nutritional value and reduce their cost slightly.
STOP eating processed foods
Choosing quality foods is basic for following a healthy diet. Nevertheless, it is equally important to reduce our consumption of processed foods as much as possible, such as baked goods (including all kinds of biscuits), ready-made meals or prepared meat products, ice creams and dairy products containing added sugar, sugary drinks and milkshakes among others. They all have something in common, they are rich in sugars, refined flours, salt and fats. You can start by doing a simple test: How many products on the list are in your fridge or cupboard?
These are the basic dietary characteristics for people with diabetes. As with any change in behaviour, it requires a little effort at the beginning to turn this advice into your daily routine. Lack of time or organisation, the price of some foods or eating out are often used as excuses. Nevertheless, the benefits of following a healthy diet are well worth it with a significant improvement in quality of life, which is an essential commitment when you have diabetes.
Written by Mr Serafín Murillo García, with a Diploma in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, a Master’s in Sports Performance and a Master’s in Diabetes Education by the University of Barcelona. Associate Professor at the University of Barcelona. Diabetes Educator and Nutritionist at Fundació RCF and Institut Diabetes Activa. Author of the manual ‘Diet for children with diabetes’ and ‘Type 1 diabetes and Sport, for children, adolescents and young adults’ and co-author of the website www.diabetesalacarta.org. Mr. Serafín is part of the editorial committee at SocialDiabetes.