Someone familiar with diabetes would already know that the condition requires the person to be careful about his/her physical activities as well as diet. Perhaps, diabetes is one of the most widely discussed conditions for diet planning. However, there still are a lot of gaps in the knowledge of diet for diabetics among the general population. Here are some of the essentials of an ideal diabetes diet.
Let’s start with the avoid list as it is shorter. Simply put, you should not eat processed, packaged and refined foods that have little fiber and a high glycemic index as they cause the blood glucose levels to rise sharply. In other words, anything made of white flour or white rice and white sugar. Does that leave you wondering about what you should eat then?
Well, every meal should consist of vegetables and fats. Please do not get scared of fat. Just make sure that you eat good quality fat such as ghee made of cow’s milk, coconut, extra virgin olive oil, and enough nuts and seeds. Accompany these with protein and grains. Some of the sources of protein are pulses, dals, leafy greens, tofu, paneer, eggs, fish and chicken. The grains should be predominately whole grains like barley, bajra, rajgira, vari (samo seeds), unpolished basmati rice.
Understand that 60 percent of the diet has to be vegetables. Do note that peas are not counted as vegetables. Also, potatoes and corn cannot be counted in because they lack fiber. Eat plenty of salads and vegetables, at least five to eight servings. The only thing that you can eat aplenty without even thinking about the glycemic index is vegetables.
Remove bad fats such as fried foods, trans fat, vanaspati and margarine from your diet. While they may not cause your blood sugar to spike, they will affect your health parameters and ability to lose weight. So limit bad fats such as chicken with skin, pork and mutton, full-fat dairy products, fried foods and solid vegetable fats that are used in cookies, savouries and other snacks. Instead munch on nuts and seeds. For example, 30 pistachios or 20 almonds have only 100 calories compared to fried savouries that have nearly 500 calories every 25 grams.
Always balance the meal by including a small amount of protein. Avoid taking too much protein as that would overload your kidneys as well as leach calcium from your body. Excess salt increases blood pressure, a condition that diabetics are already prone to. So stay away from pickles, papads, store-made chutney, packet soups, noodles and packaged chips, canned food, and savouries. Do not add additional salt to cooked food and learn to flavor food with lemon juice, spices, and herbs instead of salt.
Although diabetes is linked to blood sugar levels, you do not have to stay away from sugar altogether. In fact, you need to get it from natural sources like fruits, whole grains millets, and unpolished basmati rice. However, refrain from adding sugar to foods. Avoid all colas, soft drinks, and alcohol. And remember to stick to your meal plan even if you are eating out.
Choose foods with low glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested slowly, thus release sugar slowly and steadily in the body. This is very important for a diabetic who has to control insulin levels. Fruits should never be had with meals. It should be taken either an hour prior to meals or three hours after the meal time. To control sugar levels, especially if they are not within the recommended range, have fruits only once a day. Glycemic index is a factor even while choosing the right fruits. For example, fruits such as berries, apples, pomelo, orange, plums, peaches and apricots have low glycemic index. Most dried fruits should be avoided in case of high sugar levels. However, prunes and apricots, which are low in the glycemic index, can be eaten in moderation. If your blood sugar is in control and you have a physically active lifestyle, you can occasionally have dates and figs as well.
Vitamins B12 and D3 levels help in maintaining blood sugar levels so consult your physician before taking vitamin supplements.
Herbs and spices that help:
cinnamon, especially with turmeric, 1/4th tsp daily of each
soaked fenugreek seeds, eat the seeds and drink the water
chewing on neem leaves in the morning
boiled mango leaves soaked overnight, strained and had on an empty stomach
30 ml of amla juice before meals
Vegetables with benefits:
Garlic (small quantities)
It is easy to follow a diabetic diet. This is how you can balance an Indian meal to suit the requirements of a diabetic’s diet.
Vegetable (sabzi )
Leafy green like spinach and fenugreek
Pulses, dal, paneer, fish, eggs, chicken, curd, peas. These can be included as a cooked side dish
Roti /rice or millet