Diabetes and Diet

Diet plays a very, very important role in managing diabetes. Learn how your diet affects your diabetes and what minor dietary changes you can make to manage your diabetes.

You’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes and enough of what the doctor said has sunk in that you realize you need to closely evaluate your diet. Although there was probably a lot of “don’t eat this” and “be sure to watch out for that,” hopefully there was also some encouragement, because a diagnosis of diabetes is not a sentence to a future of tasteless, bland cuisine.

How Does Diabetes Affect Diet?

Normally, the body produces a hormone called insulin. With diabetes, the ability to make or utilize insulin is impaired. Without insulin, the body can’t properly use glucose, the simple sugar the body produces from the food we eat. Insulin is the key that unlocks cells and lets the glucose enter, thus providing energy for critical cell metabolism.

The regulation of blood sugar in the non-diabetic is automatic, adjusting to whatever foods are eaten. For the diabetic, however, extra care must be taken to balance food intake (and the resultant impact on blood sugar levels) with insulin injections, exercise and any other glucose altering activity.

Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes?

Some recommendations for a diabetic diet depend on the type of diabetes you have. In Type 1 diabetes the focus is mostly on matching food intake to insulin. You’ll need to know when your insulin peaks and how quickly you metabolize different foods. In Type 2 diabetes the concern may be more oriented to weight loss in order to improve the body’s ability to utilize the insulin it does produce.

In both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as well as in gestational diabetes, the overall goal is to gather enough nutritional information to maintain a healthful diet and avoid large fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.

What Is the Glycemic Index?

Not all carbohydrates are created equal, nor will they all affect your blood sugar in the same way. Researchers have created a glycemic index that ranks foods according to their ability to raise blood sugar.

Essentially, the glycemic index is based on how quickly a particular food is digested, metabolized and then released into the bloodstream as glucose. Other factors contribute to variations in blood sugar, but the glycemic index indicates which foods are likely to cause a rapid increase in blood sugar.

Glycemic Index for a Sampling of Foods

When it comes to the glycemic index, the higher the number, the quicker the rise in blood sugar.

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Whether you’re cooking a meal at home or eating out or even planning for a special occasion, you’ll enjoy your meal more if you think ahead and develop an eating strategy that takes into account the available menu and your nutritional needs.

Timing Meals and Snacks

Matching food to insulin peaks helps you achieve control of your blood sugar making living with diabetes more manageable. Type 1 diabetics must understand the action of the particular insulin product(s) they take and plan meals and snacks to avoid low blood sugar. Type 2 diabetics may have to adjust from three standard meals each day to three lighter meals interspersed with snacks throughout the day, if necessary.

  • Diabetes and Diet You don't have to be a gourmet cook or even prepare everything from scratch to follow a diabetic diet. Talk to your diabetes educator or nutritionist about dietary recommendations.