How Should Diabetics Choose their Foods?

How Should Diabetics Choose their Foods

To keep your blood sugar levels in check- regular monitoring is very important. In addition to medications, diet modifications are a must for people with high levels of diabetes. A concerning statistic for our Indian audience- India has now been labelled the “Diabetes capital of the World” and thousands are being diagnosed every day. A smart way of selecting foods is through the Glycemic Index System.

What is Glycemic Index (GI)?

The ability of a food item to raise blood sugar. Glycemic Index determines the increase in blood sugar levels on consuming a particular food. It determines how safe a particular food is for a diabetic. The greater the rise, the more dangerous that particular food is. GI levels are categorized as high (over 70), medium (56-69), low (below 55). So Diabetics, low you must go!

Glycemic Index Benefits for Non-Diabetics:

  • Helps lose weight
  • Improves heart health
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • in those prone to diabetes, it reduces the risk

Busting Misconceptions

Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.

Fact: Diabetes occurs due to a problem with the insulin in your body, not because you are eating too much sugar. The pancreas is the organ in your body responsible for insulin production- which is required to digest sugar. In diabetics, this mechanism malfunctions. We’re not sure why- perhaps its family inherited (Type 2) or virus-induced (Type 1) and very often for unknown reasons. Eating sugar did not harm your pancreas. However, once diabetes develops, eating too much sugar can make you even more sick.

Myth: The only diet change needed is to stop eating sugar/sweets.

Fact: Firstly, it is important to know that sugar & desserts are not the only foods that cause your blood sugar levels to increase. Many nutritious foods like starch (bread, pasta, corn), fruit, milk also cause blood sugar spikes. Try to have smaller servings of these. Add a variety of foods to your diet including vegetables and low fat foods. Eat at regular intervals without skipping meals (preferably small meals every 2 hourly). It is acceptable to eat foods containing sugar as long as you know how to balance it with the rest of your diet and medication.

Which foods are allowed?

Food items which may be consumed in abundance (low GI foods)

Beans & legumes- preferably sprouted or cooked with minimal fat

Grains (whole cereals, gram, pulses)

Fruits* (strawberry, peach, orange, pear etc. Controversial. See Diet tips for more.)

Vegetables- especially those rich in water content

Food items in moderation (medium GI foods)

Non-fat dairy products, i.e. milk and milk products prepared from skimmed milk like cottage cheese (paneer)

fresh homemade fruit juices, potatoes, sweet potatoes, refined cereals and some varieties of rice

Which Food Items should be Avoided? (high GI foods)

  1. Simple carbohydrates like sugar, honey, jaggery/palm sugar
  2. All non-vegetarian food and eggs- especially yellow of the egg
  3. All fried foods
  4. Cornflakes, pasta
  5. Whole milk and milk products like butter, ghee, cream, cheese, etc.
  6. Alcohol
  7. Nuts and seeds

Diet tips:

  • Foods that are white tend to have a higher glycemic index (processed foods made with white flour, white sugar)
  • Glycemic response is higher with cooked than raw food. Hence many vegetables are recommended raw rather than cooked.
  • Avoid fruits like banana, custard apple, chickoo, sweet melon, grapes, mangoes.
  • Most agree on safer fruits like- jamun, guava, star fruit, pineapple, papaya, oranges, watermelon, pomegranate, peach, strawberry, plum, cherries, pear, apple.
  • Grains to opt for- wheat, jowar, bajra, ragi, oats.
  • Some veggies that are excellent to maintain blood sugar levels- carrots, spinach, broccoli, garlic, red onions, sweet potatoes
  • Switch to a healthier oil- with mono & poly unsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil. Reduce daily oil intake to 1tablespoon/day

Begin your day with a 15-30 mins walk. You can also do yoga or simple stretching exercises.

Advantages of eating fruits

Fruits are easily digested. They may be eaten by diabetics in moderate amounts. Raw & partially ripe fruits are preferable as their sugar content is low. Riper the fruit, higher the sugar content.

Useful herbs

  • Consume fresh curry leaves on an empty stomach every night to keep diabetes at bay.
  • Jamun seeds (powdered)- in water, 15-20 mins before each meal. It slows down absorption of glucose.
  • Cinnamon (Dalchini) : powder with water improves sugar levels.
  • Amla: concentrated juice along with bitter gourd juice helps in releasing more insulin.
  • Isabgol (Psyllium husk): before meals with a glass of water- slows down absorption of sugar and aids bowel movements.
  • Ginger: extracts taken along with water- stimulates muscles to take up more glucose thus reducing blood sugar levels
  • Aloe vera juice: once a day; decreases both blood sugar & cholesterol levels