Creating A Healthy Diet Plan For Diabetics

By:    Published: March 15, 2012

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Following a strict diet plan is very important for those who are diabetic. What many people don't know is that a diabetic diet plan is nearly the healthiest diet people can live by, whether they are suffering from diabetes or not. If you are interested in adapting your lifestyle with a healthier diet, you might want to check out the information listed below.

The Importance Of Having A Diet Plan

For diabetics, their diet plan is considered part of the treatment for their condition. Known as medical nutrition therapy (MNT), the diet helps keep the body from being overwhelmed by the things it can't handle efficiently, which are mainly sugar and carbohydrates that turn into sugar in the body. Diabetics also frequently have secondary health problems such as dyslipidemia, and problems with the levels of cholesterol in the body. A healthy diet plan is essential for managing blood sugar and maintaining a healthy weight, which is often a problem for diabetics.

When a diabetic eats excess amounts of fat, carbohydrates and calories, the body responds with a dangerous rise in blood sugar. Over time, this can lead to chronic health concerns such as nerve, kidney and heart damage. In fact, diabetes and its complications plays a role in more than 231,000 deaths each year, so maintaining a healthy diet is essential.

In addition, those with type 2 diabetes often find that the diet required to keep their diabetes stable is also a healthy way to keep their weight under control, since type 2 diabetes is often the result of obesity.

Factors To Consider

There are a few factors to consider when creating a diabetic diet plan. They include:

  • Current body composition: Weight and body mass index can help determine if a person needs to lose weight. Since up to 90 percent of people with diabetes are overweight, body composition plays a major factor in determining a diabetic diet as weight loss can often improve the condition.
  • Activity level: Active people require significantly more calories than those who are relatively inactive, so active people will need to consume larger amounts of certain nutrients than those who are less active.
  • Special dietary needs: Those who suffer from other health conditions, like food allergies, will have special dietary needs that need to be incorporated into their diet plan.

When meeting with a dietician, he or she will get a complete medical history to ensure that all of the person’s dietary needs are met while keeping the diabetes under control.

What To Include

There are some foods that are great for the body and they should definitely be included in a diabetic diet plan. When it comes to a MNT diet plan such as this one, the quality of what is eaten is just as important as the quantity. These include;

  • Fiber: Fiber works like a broom in the cardiovascular system to help rid the body of excess cholesterol as well as absorbing water in the digestive tract to ensure that it is functioning properly. Fiber also doesn't cause the wild blood sugar spikes that other forms of carbohydrates do.
  • Healthy carbs: Not all carbs are created equal. The sugars that a person eats are called simple carbs. The starches that a person eats are called complex carbs. Both types of carbs break down in the body into blood glucose, but the more processed the carbs are (such as white flour or white sugar) the faster they will break down, which means the body will experience a spike in blood glucose. The healthiest carbs are those that are the least processed and contain fiber such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and dairy. These also provide the majority of the nutrients that the body needs to be healthy.
  • Heart healthy protein: The best forms of protein are chicken and fish. Both are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, where fish, in particular, is rich omega-3 fatty acids that aid in heart health by lowering triglycerides. This is important because triglyceride levels tend to be quite high in diabetics. Chicken should be served without skin and baked, broiled or grilled to avoid consuming excess fat. Most types of fish are considered healthy, but the best are salmon, mackerel and herring because they are highest in omega-3 fatty acids. People should be careful though because there can be concerns about high levels of mercury in some fish.
  • Good fat: Good fats are those that help lower cholesterol such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. These include foods like avocados, nuts, olives and certain oils. Diabetics still need to be careful when using them, however, because all fats contain a large amount of calories.

What To Avoid

Because diabetes increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, there are some things that diabetics need to avoid:

  • Cholesterol such as that from full fat dairy, animal based protein, organ meat, eggs and shellfish should be consumed sparingly.
  • Saturated fats such as that found in full fat dairy products, beef, deli meats, and pork products should also be consumed sparingly.
  • Trans fat such as those found in processed foods, shortening and stick margarine should be completely avoided.
  • Sodium is important to several functions of the body, but too much can cause problems such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver and kidney problems, heart attack and stroke.

Putting It All together

With the help of a dietician, diabetics can find an approach to healthy eating that works for them. Learning to read food labels is essential as well as careful monitoring of what is eaten and careful testing of blood glucose as recommended.

Some find it easier to count net carbs, which subtracts the amount of fiber and sugar alcohols (found in some diet products) from the total carb count to give a more accurate idea of the affect that food will have on blood glucose level.

Others find it easier to use the "exchange" system which uses food groups with similar values to select meals. This system can be difficult for some people to use because it is a different way to think about foods from the traditional food groups that people learn as children.

Still, others use the "glycemic index" system, which assigns a glycemic value to foods making it easier to select foods, but there is a problem with this system. Frequently, the foods with the lowest glycemic index aren't necessarily the healthiest. Foods that are high in fat, for example, have a low glycemic index, but should still be avoided by diabetics.

A healthy diet plan isn't just good for diabetics, it's good for everyone. So for those who are concerned about their health or their weight can also consult with a dietitian and create a diet plan that can be easily followed. The improved health that follows will surely be worth the effort.

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