Benefits of a Healthy Diabetic Diet Benefits of eating a healthy diet are for everyone but for a diabetic there can be even more reasons to follow a nutritious meal plan. Keeping a stable blood glucose level is the biggest reason for a diabetic to follow a diabetic diet. It takes commitment and patience to stick with the diet and plan out all meals each week. But the more that it is done the easier it will become. Another benefit of eating a healthy diabetic diet is reducing the amount of insulin that is needed. By eating good carbohydrate choices and lean meats you will lower the insulin requirements for your body. The foods you eat all affect on your blood sugars and when you do not choose the best foods for your body it will need more insulin to process them. In addition to extra insulin requirements, you will suffer from high blood sugars also known as hyperglycemia. This condition can have serious long-term effects on your body and its organs. By continuing with a healthy diet and combining it with regular exercise you can lose excess body weight. This too is good for your insulin requirements and blood glucose levels. By incorporating exercising into your daily routine you can give your body's metabolism a boost and help it process the foods you are eating. When the foods you take in are healthy choices your body is going to function better. If you do not follow a healthy diet you can suffer from: * Low blood sugar from not eating enough -- hyperglycemia * High blood sugar from eating too much or eating the wrong foods -- hypoglycemia * Gain weight and in turn increase your daily insulin requirement * Lack the energy needed to exercise on a regular basis Eating well can help control your diabetes and prolong your life expectancy. Easy Meal Planning for Diabetics Meal planning is essential to a successful diabetic diet. It will prevent times when you don't have anything ready for dinner and grab something that you probably shouldn't be eating. The planning of meals should begin before you head to the grocery store in the form of a list and meals you are going to make for those ingredients. Once a week you should sit down and plan what meals you are going to eat and make for the next week. When you are making your meal plan, don't forget to include all meals and snacks too. If you are hungry and know what your next meal is going to be you are going to be better prepared. In the beginning, meal planning will take some time. Depending on what diet your are following (the Exchange Diet, Counting Carbohydrates, or the TLC Diet) you are going to have to get used to the foods you can have, the portion sizes and how they can be cooked. Plan each day out in its entirety. Make it realistic; don't plan to make lasagna on a night that you know you won't be home until late. Save the meals with more preparation for when you have time and make extra so you can have left-overs when time is tight. When you are in the grocery store, do not go hungry. If you do, there is more chance that you will buy food that you do not need. Another trick while you are pushing around the cart is to only get what is on your list. If you are in line paying for your food and notice something that snuck its way in -- put it back. This will not only make sure you stick to your meal plan but can save you money too. The TLC Diet for Diabetics The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet was developed with more than diabetics in mind. It is a diet that is recommended to people with high cholesterol, heart or other cardiovascular diseases and those that have been diagnosed with diabetes. This diet consists of a set of guidelines that provide percentage ranges of what a patient should eat from each food group. The aim is to provide flexibility in choices while ensuring that the choices made are helpful to the condition that is being treated. In the beginning it is a good idea to partner with a dietician to ensure the calculations that you are making are accurate and that you are making the best food choice decisions. The TLC diet provides the following eating guidelines: * The total amount of fat that is eaten in a day should add up to less than 25-35% of the calories that are consumed * Of the 25-35% fat intake it should be broken down into the following categories: saturated less than 7%; monounsaturated less than 20%; polyunsaturated 10% * 50-60% of a day's worth of calories should be derived from carbohydrates * Eat at least 20-30 grams of high-quality fiber each day * The protein consumed should equal 15-20% of the calories for the day * Cholesterol should be limited and kept under 200mg per day As the diet is a set of guidelines that do not include the calculations necessary to determine if you are meeting the requirements you should book an appointment with a dietician to understand what you need to do. Once you have been shown how to make the calculations and have been given a sample meal plan you can use those as a template to create many variations of the TLC diet. You can also glean much of this information by reading the food labels on packages. The Exchange Diet The exchange diet is a method of eating that provide diabetic with a set of guidelines necessary to eat healthy. A dietician will help prepare and educate you on the exchange diet -- the food groups and what substitutions you can make. On the exchange diet all foods are divided into six food groups: * Breads and other Starches * Fruit * Vegetables * Dairy Foods * Meat and Meat Substitutes * Fats Your dietician will provide you with the number of servings you should have from each group daily and at individual meal or snack times. Within each of the categories there are many food options. Each food has a specific serving size that equals one serving, in cases such as fruits and vegetables you probably will not have to measure your foods but for meats and other groups a food scale and measuring cup is recommended. The exchange part of the diet refers to being able to swap a food in one food group for another in the same group as long as you adhere to the serving suggestion. For instance 1/2 cup of cooked pasta can be exchanged for 2 rice cakes in one meal. The list your dietician gives you will be pretty complete but there are bound to be items not listed. In that case, you can call your dietician for advice or keep a list of items that you need to know the proper serving size for. At the beginning the exchange diet may seem like a lot of work, but as time goes on and you become accustomed to the serving sizes of your favorite foods it will become less so. Proper eating habits are crucial to managing diabetes and the exchange diet is a way to eat a healthy balanced diet full of variety. Reading Food Labels On all packaged food that you buy, there is a food label that includes important information to a diabetic. You need to learn how to read them properly and know what the different numbers and percentages mean to you and your diabetic diet. Below is an overview of the basic information you need to know about food labels. Whether you are counting carbohydrates, are following the exchange diet, or you are on the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet you can increase your chances for success by reading your food labels and understanding what they mean. The ingredient list is a good place to start before looking at the numbers in the food label. Where is sugar on the ingredient list? The closer it is to the beginning of the list the more of it is present in the food. That goes the same for all ingredients; manufacturers list the ingredients in order of the amount that is in the product. If there are things in your food that do not work well for your blood sugar on the list it should be avoided or eaten in moderation. Look at the serving size and compare that to the number of carbohydrates is in a serving. Most servings of carbohydrates for a diabetic are 15 grams. If one serving is higher than 15 grams you will have to eat less than the suggested serving size to stay on track with your meal plan. Sugar-free foods may grab your attention as something safe and yummy to add to your shopping cart. But look at the carbohydrate count first. Most foods that are made sugarfree using artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes have higher carbohydrate counts. Check the fat content too, look for a low percent of your daily intake and ideally it will be monounsaturated as opposed to polyunsaturated or saturated fats. Benefits of the Exchange Diet The exchange diet is one that allows you to pick and choose the foods you eat from each of the six food groups based on portion sizes. When you begin eating with this diet, it may seem like a lot of work but as you get used to the portions sizes and the common substitutions that you make it will get easier. One of the benefits of the exchange diet it the flexibility you have in your meal planning. As long as you are eating the correct number of exchanges from each food group you will maintain better control of your blood glucose levels. If you get bored quite easily by eating the same food day in and day out, the exchange diet might be for you. There are endless possibilities to combine different foods together at meal times. You can have broccoli for dinner three nights in a row but make it a completely different meal each time. One night you can have one small potato, 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli and a one ounce pork chop; the second night have 1/2 cup of cooked pasta tossed with 1/2 cup of broccoli and one ounce of cooked chicken; and the third night try 1/3 cup of rice mixed with 1/2 cup of broccoli and one ounce of lean ground beef. The exchange diet also takes the guess work out of meal planning for diabetics. It is laid out in a very straight forward and easy to understand manner. If there are foods that you cannot find on the exchange list given to you by your dietician, call and find out which group it belongs too and what a proper portion size is. At first you should weigh and measure your foods to ensure you are using the proper amounts but as time passes you will be able to do this by sight. The Glycemic Index and Diabetic Diets The glycemic index diet is one that many diabetics find useful. The diet is based on assigning foods a ranking that indicates that food's effect on blood sugar levels. This can be a valuable tool for diabetics, especially ones that have been newly diagnosed as it can take some of the guess work out of meal planning and what foods to eat. The glycemic index (GI) diet indicates foods that have a low GI value meaning they will take a longer time to have an affect on blood sugars and ones that have a higher value -they will act quicker to raise blood sugars. A diabetic is still going to have to use another means to decide what foods to eat though -- such as the food pyramid or an exchange list as not all items on the GI diet are as healthy as they could be. Meaning a food that has a low index does not mean it is a better choice for you than some foods that are on the higher end of the scale. Using the GI diet as your sole source of meal planning is not recommended not only because the values are not indicative of the healthiest choice but also because not all foods are listed. If you are basing your diet on this method and want to add other foods that do not have GI rating you are not going to be able to properly plan. Until more information is researched on the diet or it is made more comprehensive it should be used with an approved diet for diabetics such as the exchange diet or the carbohydrate counting diet. If you want more information on how to incorporate the GI diet with your current meal plan, consult with your dietician or a diabetes educator. High-Fat Foods and the Affect on Blood Sugars All diets should use fat in moderation as it can lead to an unhealthy body weight and heart disease. For a diabetic, controlling fat intake is important for the previous reason in addition to the negative affect it can have on blood sugars. Fats can be put into many different categories -- healthy, non-healthy, saturated, non-saturated, trans-fat, and more. But the bottom line with any of kind of fat is to enjoy in moderation. When you eat food that is high in fat (for instance a cheeseburger), your short-term blood glucose reading may come back as fine. But since fat acts much like protein and it slows down the digestion of carbohydrates you may notice a higher than normal blood sugar many hours later. It is hard to plan for such a spike because it is quite delayed compared to other foods that are eaten that raise blood sugar. The best advice is to choose natural, healthy, unsaturated fats and oils whenever possible. You can do this by reading your food labels carefully as the different kinds of fats are listed on most food labels. Excessive fat intake will also cause you to gain weight and that is another way blood sugars can spiral out of control. Extra body weight that you carry around is taxing on your systems and will affect how your body uses and needs insulin. Healthy fat choices include: * Avocado -- oil or the fruit itself * Sesame, olive, or canola oil * Black or green olives * Peanuts and peanut butter (this doubles as a protein choice) * Sesame seeds Additional fat choices that should be used in moderation: * Butter or margarine * Walnuts * Salad dressings * Mayonnaise * Pumpkin and sunflower seeds If there are any questions about a type of fat and what a serving size should be, contact your doctor or dietician for more information. Tips for Revamping Favorite Recipes Everyone has their favorite dishes, ones that mom or grandma used to make or new ones that you have discovered on your own. Once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you may feel that you can never enjoy these dishes again (or not without harming your health). But there are ways that you can change old family favorites keeping the flavor but reducing or eliminating the amount of sugar or carbohydrates they contain. For most substitutions that you are going to make to your recipes, you are looking for ways to reduce the fat content. Here are some standards that you can use. When your recipe calls for: * Whole milk try substituting with 2% or 1% instead * Whole eggs try substituting with an egg substitute or use 2 egg whites for every whole egg called for in the recipe * Sour cream use low fat sour cream or plan yogurt * Baking chocolate try using cocoa powder mixed with vegetable oil (3 tablespoons with 1 tablespoon of oil will equal 1 ounce of chocolate) In addition to the above suggestions, always use light or lower fat versions of ingredients. Sometimes trial and error is necessary to get the recipe just right, but do keep trying the end result will be worth it when you create a cake or other dessert that you love and is diabetic friendly. Alternately, you can purchase a diabetic cook book that is full of desserts to make that will work with your diet. This way you can create new favorites for you and your family to fall in love with. Don't feel that just because you are a diabetic you cannot enjoy variety in your foods. Keep trying new things while keeping a close eye on your blood sugar levels to add new foods to your growing repertoire. A Diabetic Diet for Vegetarians If you are a vegetarian who has been diagnosed with diabetes, you can still maintain your diabetic diet. In some cases a vegetarian diet may be a healthy way to keep your blood glucose levels stable -- that is if you are eating lean high-quality proteins and are following other rules for eating as a diabetic. As a lot of vegans and vegetarians eat a larger amount of fruits and vegetables in a day than a non-vegetarian and their fiber intake is much higher too. An increased amount of fiber in a diabetic's diet can help blood sugars because it slows down the process of the body digesting carbohydrates. A vegetarian's diet is usually lower in cholesterol as well and it can help ward off cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes. If you are diabetic and are considering a switch to a diabetic diet some of the benefits you might derive include a higher rate of weight loss and better blood sugar readings. This is dependant on the types of vegetarian meals you choose as some meatless meals can be just as fattening as ones that contain meat. Speak to your doctor and dietician before making the switch. You will need information on how to transition yourself to your new diet. You will also get a list of meat alternatives you should eat in order to get enough protein in a day. These can include tofu, nuts, eggs, and seeds. As with any change, once your switch to a vegetarian diet give yourself and your body time to adjust. There are many recipes and ideas for vegetarian dishes and you will find a lot of variety and flexibility in the meals that you prepare. Check your blood sugars frequently to make sure your blood glucose levels remain stable during the change. Meal Planning for an Active Diabetic Physical activity is recommended for any person to stay healthy. But for a diabetic it now only increases energy levels and can help maintain an ideal body weight it also helps to control blood sugars. But an active diabetic needs to take extra care and precautions to ensure they are getting enough fuel for their body so their blood sugars do not drop dangerously low -- known as hypoglycemia. The amount you exercise is going to determine how much you are going to eat on your diabetic meal plan. The more physically active you are the higher your nutritional requirements and the higher your risk is for developing hypoglycemia. The best practice when you are just starting out is to monitor your blood sugars before and after working out and during if you feel it is necessary. It is important to listen to your body and stop if you are feeling light-headed or are experiencing any of the other signs associated with low blood sugar. Before you work out, have a snack that is going to sustain you for a long period of time without spiking your blood sugar levels. A granola bar eaten with a handful of nuts is a good choice as it combines a carbohydrate that is high in fiber and a high-quality protein. The food that you eat before working out should have a high-fiber content, this will slow down the breaking down process of the carbohydrates in your system and you will be sustained for a longer period of time. Drink plenty of fluids (preferably water) when you are working out to stay hydrated. In case of an emergency, carry glucose tablets with you at all times or some hard candy that will quickly raise your blood sugar. At other times of the day, eat balanced meals to maintain your energy. When you are Hungry in Between Meals There are going to be times when you have finished your meal or snack and you are hungry again long before your next meal is scheduled or right before bed. Depending on how much time you have to go before you are supposed to eat again and what your blood sugar levels are at you may want to move your meal time up or indulge in some free food. If this happens frequently it is time look at your eating schedule and meal plan. If you have recently added more physical activity to your daily routine, you will also have to increase your food intake to compensate for the extra energy your are using up. If this isn't the case and you are unsure why your appetite has increased or your current meal plan is no longer working, speak to your dietician to see if there are some revisions that can be made to prevent this from happening. When you have gestational diabetes, it is recommended that you have a snack before bedtime to tide you over until the morning. It will also be important to have a bedtime snack if you are taking an insulin injection prior to bed so that your blood sugar does not become too low overnight. If neither of these scenarios applies to you, you can have some free food before bed if you are finding that you are hungry at night time. A bouillon (beef or chicken broth) might stave off hunger pangs and allow you to fall asleep. If you are hungry at night time and your blood sugars are low, do have something to eat to raise your glucose level. If this is a frequent occurrence, you may not be eating enough food at dinner time. Try adding a protein or carbohydrate to see if this makes a difference. The Role of Fiber in a Diabetic Diet The role of fiber in healthy diets is very important -- it aids in digestion and keep your colon and other organs healthy and functioning properly. It is also a wonder element that should be a large part of any diabetic's diet. You will reap many benefits from including fiber in your diet. If you are pre-diabetic it can assist in delaying the diagnosis of diabetes or if you are already diabetic it can help keep your blood glucose under control. Fiber will keep you feeling fuller longer -- it slows the conversion of carbohydrates in your body which in turn can keep your blood sugars stable. The type of fiber that a diabetic needs to eat to gain these benefits is soluble fiber (dissolves in water). Some good sources of soluble fiber include: * Choosing whole grain or whole wheat products instead of white (flour, breads, and cereals) * Eating fresh fruit and vegetables instead of processed or drinking them in liquid form * Beans, use dried beans in your favorite recipes like chili for a wholesome, high fiber meal To ensure that you are getting the most benefit from eating increased amount of fiber, make sure that you are drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. Remember, this fiber dissolves in water and you need to stay hydrated for it to work properly. If you are on a carbohydrate counting diet and are using 15 grams of carbohydrates for one serving you can increase the amount you are eating if that item has high-fiber content. You can subtract the number of grams of fiber in a serving from the number of carbohydrates. For instance if you are eating an item that has 20 grams of carbohydrates (over the one serving limit) but it has five grams of fiber you can subtract the five from the twenty and it is now only a 15 gram serving.
Protein's Affect on Blood Sugar Levels Much the same as fiber, eating quality protein with your snacks and meals can have a positive affect on your blood sugar levels. By combining protein and carbohydrates you will slow the digestions of the carbohydrates in your body. This slowing down will prevent your blood sugar from spiking as the result of too many carbohydrates in your system. This does not mean that you should eat more protein than is recommended in one meal. Doing so can lead to other problems down the road. But if you are a diabetic, skipping protein in your diet is not a good idea. For diabetics who are vegetarians or that don't eat a lot of any protein it is important to find a source that can be consumed on a regular basis. There are many other sources of high-quality protein that does not include animal meats. Other protein sources can include: * Tofu is a source of protein that can be prepared in a variety of ways including dessert tofu * Nuts are an excellent source of protein but can be high in fat too. Read nutrition labels and enjoy in moderation * Seeds such as flax, pumpkin, and sunflower can be eaten as a source of protein * Beans and other members of the legume family. There are many ways to prepare beans from chili to cold salads * Protein powders are available to sprinkle on cereals or to make into shakes for drinking * Fish sources -- be aware that large fish contain high levels of mercury and should only be eaten once or twice per week When making protein choices, go for a lean cut whenever possible. Even though protein has a positive affect on blood sugars excessive fat can cancel out the benefit and turn it into a health risk. Enjoy high-fat meats or heavily processed meats on rare occasions and eat a wide variety of proteins. Good Carbohydrates and Bad Carbohydrates A lot of diabetic diets and diabetic meal planning center around carbohydrate intake -- the amount you can have and when you should have them. This is because they play such a crucial role in managing blood sugars. Too many carbohydrates or the wrong kind can cause high blood sugars. Not enough carbohydrates can cause low blood sugars or hypoglycemia. It is recommended that carbohydrates make up about 40% of your daily calories, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. You also need to pay attention to fat and sugar content. Here are some carbohydrate choices that should be made frequently: * Whole grain cereals * Whole wheat breads and rolls * Brown rice * Whole wheat crackers * Raw or lightly steamed fruits and vegetables * Whole wheat pita pockets or wraps Carbohydrate choices that should be made less often: * Potato chips * White bread * White rice * Other foods that have been processed * Cookies * Easy to eat snacks Carbohydrates are an essential part of every diet but make sure you are including the right kinds in yours. Good carbohydrates will fill you up and not create a sudden spike in your blood sugars. Bad carbohydrates are usually over-processed, create high blood sugars, create obesity and are high in sodium. As carbohydrates are going to make up almost half of your daily food choices it is important to fill you body with high-quality choices. Choose ones that will give you energy and not cause you to gain weight. The less processed or refined a carbohydrate is the better it is going to be for you. Even when baking, choose unbleached whole grain flour. It doesn't make a big difference in taste but it does in the quality of carbohydrate it creates. Try whole grain flour in pancakes, cookies and cakes. When to Eat when you have Diabetes When you are a diabetic sometimes when you eat is just as important as what you eat. Keeping a steady stream of food in your system without causing high blood sugars can be hard to do. But once you figure what works for you, you will have more flexibility and better control of your diabetes. It is recommended that diabetics eat many small meals throughout the day or three main meals and three snacks in between. A typical day may go like this: * Wake-up and have breakfast * Mid-morning snack * Lunch * Mid-afternoon snack * Dinner * Bedtime snack The timing in between each meal or snack should be two to three hours. This variation will depend on what you have eaten at the previous meal, how active you have been and what you feel like. If you are feeling hungry or light-headed and you normally wouldn't have eaten for another 30 minutes -- don't wait. Test your blood sugar and move up your meal. The time it can take for you to wait the 30 minutes can be the time it takes for your blood sugar to drop dangerously low. The only time you may want to wait a longer period of time is between dinner and your bedtime snack. Most times dinner is the biggest meal of the day and you will not need food again for a longer period of time. Another reason to wait longer is to ensure that you have enough food in your system before you go to bed to last you through the night without your blood sugars dropping too low. If eating this many times in a day is too much for you, consider eating smaller means and smaller portion sizes. Eating this way (less more often) makes it easier for your body to regulate blood glucose levels. Diabetic Diets -- Consistency and Variety It may sound like a hard thing to do -- be consistent and have variety in your diet at the same time. But it is possible and it is the best way to control your diabetes with your diet. The consistency comes in at specific meal times and the same servings from the different food groups. And the variety refers to trying as many different foods in the food groups as you can. It can be easy to find a few meals that work well with your blood sugars and are easy to prepare and just stick with them. You are more than likely to get bored with this and you probably aren't getting all of the nutrients you need from a set amount of foods. Whether you are on the carbohydrate counting diet or the exchange diet, you have a lot of room for flexibility. You can combine different foods together for something new or try foods you have never had before. You can meet with your dietician to get additional ideas for recipes and other foods that you can eat to add more variety to your diet. There will be times that you try a new food and your blood sugars are higher as a result. Think back about anything else that you had done differently that day -- less activity or taking your insulin later than usual. If the new food is the only change you experienced talk to your dietician. You may be able to prepare the food differently or eat it with something else or you may have to avoid that food if it doesn't work for your diabetic diet. Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean that you can' be adventurous and try something new, just do it at regular meal times and within the recommended portion sizes. Adjusting your Diabetic Diet for Special Occasions Birthday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and more are holidays and special occasions that are centered on food. For most people these are times to anticipate the celebration and the eating. For a diabetic it can be a stressful time, you want to partake in all of the good food too but most times it is not made with a diabetic in mind. If the frequency of these events is not too often, you can adjust your diet for special occasions so you too can have some of the treats available. The hardest part about preparing for a special occasion is if you do not know what is going to be served. If this is the case, a quick call to your host or hostess can be made. Most people will not mind you asking especially if you have dietary needs that need to be taken into consideration. Once you do know what is being served, plan your meals for that day accordingly. You may want to have fewer carbohydrates with your breakfast and snack to make up for the extra ones you will have at a birthday party where pizza is being served. Another option for special occasions is to offer to bring a dish for everyone to share. Make it something that you enjoy as a treat but still follows the guidelines for your diabetic diet. For family favorites and traditions, be creative and look for ways to make the same dishes with less fat or sugar. You can do this by substituting regular sugar for sugar substitutes or choose whole wheat flour instead of white for the extra fiber content. During the holidays and other occasions, closely monitor your blood sugars. Even with extra care, the change in your diet can still result in a blood sugar that is too high or low. Keeping on Track with your Diabetic Diet Once you have taken the time to plan your meals for the week including snacks and have gone grocery shopping you are all set for a week's worth of healthy eating. Well, if you can stick to your plan and only eat the foods that you bought you will be. This is easier said than done though. Everyone needs a break from a strict eating plan, but you need to know how to get back on track and stay motivated to follow your diabetic diet. Different people with have varying reasons as to why it is hard for them to stay on track. For some it may be they are not giving themselves enough variety in their diet from day to day or even week to week. This is an easy dilemma, do some research by talking to other diabetics and your dietician for suggestions on how to mix up your eating plan. If you are feeling alone and a bit resentful that you can't eat what you want and when you want. You should consider joining a support group for diabetics. Not only can they help you through the times you want to cheat on your diabetic diet they can also provide emotional support. If you are the only person in you family with diabetes you may feel quite alone and if they are not supportive (and eat things in front of you that you cannot have) you also may feel angry. Talking to someone that has been through the same thing will help and provide the motivation that is needed to stay on your meal plan. Sometimes money can be a factor in not being able to stick with a meal plan. The higher quality foods can be more expensive than the quick and easy convenience foods. Whenever possible, try and make foods that have been processed as little as possible like produce. Satisfying a Diabetic Sweet Tooth Life sometimes doesn't seem fair -- you love sweets and are known for your sweet tooth but now that you have been diagnosed with diabetes you are afraid you can't have them anymore. This isn't entirely true. Yes, if you previously indulged in many sweets you can no longer do that (and it may be a contributing factor to way you have type 2 diabetes). But there are ways that you can satisfy your sweet tooth and stick to your diabetic diet. Even though sugar isn't the only reason blood sugars raise the combination of a highsugar item and carbohydrates are. There are many sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners that are available to purchase on their own or in sweets such as chocolate and hard candies. Another way to add sweets into your diet is to substitute them for other carbohydrates in a meal. If you were planning on having a tuna salad sandwich for lunch instead of having the bread try eating the tuna on its own and use the saved carbohydrates on a cookie or two (depending on size and serving information). This can be done with many different variations, but should be done in moderation -- your body really will function better on those two pieces of whole wheat bread than it will on two chocolate chip cookies. Speak with your dietician too. A dietician is full of ideas and suggestion on how to improve your diabetic diet. He or she may have suggestions on snacks or meals that you would not have considered to be sweet but can certainly satisfy your sweet tooth. Such as eating a banana to satisfy a chocolate craving. As time goes on you will begin to appreciate the natural sweet things in life too -- such as a juicy apple or a fresh orange. Using the Food Pyramid in Diabetic Diets In grade school everyone was taught the food pyramid and the different food groups that make it up. It is recommended for a balanced and healthy diet to vary your diet and follow the food serving suggestions from the pyramid. As adults, people rarely pay as much heed to it if any at all. But once you have been diagnosed with diabetes it is time to take a refresher course on the different food groups. There is a food pyramid that is available specifically for diabetics known as the Diabetes Food Pyramid. It is divided into six food groups just like the standard version. The way the two pyramids differ is that the diabetic version lists foods together that have the same or similar carbohydrate content instead of the regular version that does it by food groups alone. This lay out makes it easier for diabetics to make food choices based on information that can have a negative impact on blood glucose levels. Some of the differences you will notice are that cheese is placed in the meat group instead of the dairy group as a protein and the serving size will be equivalent to other proteins in the same group. You will find starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn in the bread and grains section because they act in a similar manner by raising blood sugars. Another difference is the actual serving sizes, especially in the bread and grains group. A diabetic has to monitor the carbohydrate intake at each meal and it has been found that smaller portion sizes are a good way to manage this. You can get a copy of the Diabetic Food Pyramid from your dietician, doctor, or diabetes educator. It is a good reference material to have on hand when you are planning your meals. Benefits of the Carbohydrate Counting Diet The carbohydrate counting diet groups foods into three main groups: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You dietician will provide you with the number of carbohydrates you can have in a day and how that is divided up amongst your meals and snacks. Your dietician will also educate you on how you can determine the numbers of carbohydrates are in some of your favorite foods by reading food labels. The biggest benefit of the carbohydrate counting diet is that it does not eliminate any foods. A diabetic can choose any food they wish to eat as long as they only eat enough of it to meet their carbohydrate needs. The trick to this is to choose wholesome foods that will fill you up longer. The same amounts of carbohydrates that are in a small handful of potato chips are not equal to the two slices of bread you can have instead. But it is nice to know that if you really want to -- once in awhile -- you can treat yourself. Another benefit is keeping a consistent amount of carbohydrates in your body. This can help regulate your insulin needs and control. If your body has the same amount of carbohydrates to process at the same times each day it will be beneficial to your health and blood glucose readings. When you choose a carbohydrate counting diet it is important to make sure you are doing it correctly. If you don't you can too much or too little and both situations can be detrimental to your diabetes. Have a dietician teach you how to properly count carbohydrates and closely monitor your blood sugar levels to make sure the diet it working for you. As with any new diet, give it time for you to adjust and learn how to plan your meals properly. Free Foods in a Diabetic Diet Even though there are free foods on a diabetic diet it doesn't mean that you don't have to pay for them. What it does mean is you can eat them freely without considering them an exchange or counting them as carbohydrates. These are the kinds of foods that you are going to want around the house in abundance for times when you are hungry and meal time is still too far away to eat. Free foods have little to no affect on blood sugars and that is why they can be eaten in without counting them as part of a meal. Your diabetes educator or dietician will provide you with a complete list but here are a few items that are normally considered free foods: * Water and other water-based drinks (such as coffee and tea) that are sugar free * Bouillon (beef or chicken broth) * Sugar-free gelatin (flavored or not) * Pickles * Cream Cheese * Unsweetened cocoa powder * Rhubarb * Cranberries * Salsa Many condiments are considered free foods too. When you are planning a snack or a meal add some of the free foods such as salsa or cream cheese for variety or extra flavor. Depending on your dietician, he or she may consider most vegetables as part of the free foods group too. Vegetables that do not qualify include potatoes, corn, peas, and carrots as they are considered starchy and have higher carbohydrate content. If your dietician does allow you to have vegetables in between meals, make sure to clarify the kinds you can have and if there is a certain amount you should have. A diabetic diet can feel restrictive at times. It is nice to have some items that you can have whenever you want without having to account for them in one way or another. Carbohydrate Counting Diet Carbohydrates a very big impact on blood glucose levels as they are converted to sugar by the body in the process of turning the food into energy. Too many carbohydrate servings can increase blood sugar levels. It is important for a diabetic to control the number of carbohydrates that are eaten at each meal and balance the carbohydrates with protein while limiting fat intake. In this type of meal plan foods are grouped into three different categories: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The majority of foods that you eat contain carbohydrates and this will be the largest food group. Foods in this group include: * Grains -- breads, crackers, rice, cereal, pasta * Dairy -- milk, yogurt * Vegetables that are considered starchy -- corn, peas, and potatoes * The rest of the vegetable family * Fruit, including fruit juices * Desserts and other treats -- chosen in limited amounts This diet will require you to measure your foods for serving sizes and read food labels to determine how many servings are carbohydrates it should be counted as. It is standard to consider 15 grams of carbohydrates as one serving. For instance, if you are having crackers as a snack and are allowed one serving of carbohydrates you would look at the food label to figure out how many crackers you can have. If the serving size is 20 crackers and that equals 30 grams of carbohydrates, for a diabetic that would be considered two servings. In this example, you would half the serving size and eat 10 crackers to equal 15 grams of carbohydrates. After some time and experience you will become adept at counting carbohydrates and knowing what foods work well with your blood glucose levels and what ones don't. No two diabetics respond the same way to every food, you will need to learn what your own ideal diabetic diet is. Artificial Sweeteners for Diabetics The food industry has come up with a solution for people on diets or with diabetes that have a sweet tooth. They are known as artificial sweeteners and they are used in everything from chewing gum, coffee sweeteners, and even baking. There is some controversy over the use of them as some of them are totally synthetic and others are derived from the actual sugar plant. But to a diabetic who doesn't want to give up on their favorite pop or chewing gum they can be a life-saver. The four different kinds of artificial sweeteners are: saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium. Each of these types can be found under various product names and brands. Not all are made the same way and they have different uses. Some you can buy in liquid or powdered form for baking needs and others like aspartame is only found in foods that you purchase pre-made. The use of these artificial sweeteners will not raise blood sugar and are safe for a diabetic to use. Care and attention is still needed because the food items you put sugar in or on most likely will have an affect on your blood sugar. Still follow your diabetic diet but use some artificial sweeteners to make it a little sweeter. Some diabetics may want to use honey as a substitute for sugar. You certainly can make this substitution, however, honey is very similar to sugar in carbohydrate content and the effects it will have on your blood glucose level. It is best to enjoy honey in small moderations if at all. Aspartame has been linked in some medical studies with Alzheimer's disease. Speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of using any of the artificial sweeteners if you have any concerns about the potential health risks.
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