The key to good nutrition for diabetics is to eat a wide variety of foods and focus on balanced meals. Follow these 10 simple guidelines, compiled by Woolworths dietician Maryke van Zyl, for healthy food choices:
- Eat a wide variety of foods and focus on balanced meals
A balanced meal consist of a small portion of protein and carbohydrate (a quarter of your plate each), and a large portion of vegetables or salad (half of your plate).
- Follow a consistent meal plan and schedule
Try to eat roughly the same amount of food at the same time each day to keep blood glucose under control. Avoid skipping meals and space your breakfast, lunch and evening meal over the day.
- Include starchy carbohydrate foods at each meal
To better control your blood glucose levels, it’s important to pay the most attention to the amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal. Sources of nutrient-rich carbohydrates are fruit, whole grains and starches, starchy vegetables (sweet potato, fresh sweet corn and potato), dairy and dried legumes. How much you have will depend on your personal needs – a dietician will be able to determine this. When you choose a carbohydrate, go for wholegrain, "unrefined" or lower glycaemic index (GI) (slow release) carbohydrates. These are carbohydrate sources that are less refined and as close to the natural state as possible, like seed or whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain or bran cereals and sweet potato.
What about sugar? Sugar is also a carbohydrate but does not contribute any other nutrients to the body. Diabetics may have sugar and foods containing sugars, but should limit their total daily intake. Rules for using sugar includes always having a sugary food or table sugar with a balanced meal, not having more than 1-2 tsp of sugar at a time, and limiting high sugar foods like sweets, chocolates, cakes, desserts, juice and soft drinks.
- Cut down on fat, particularly saturated fats, and focus on having healthy fats
A low fat diet is beneficial to health. As fat is the highest contributor of energy (kilojoules or calories) compared to carbohydrates and protein, eating less fat will help you to lose weight if you need to. Focus on having plant fats (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated) and limit your intake of animal and processed fats (saturated and trans fatty acids). Have avocados, olives, raw nuts (especially almonds and cashews), sesame and pumpkin seeds, olive-, canola- and palm fruit oil, and sources of omega 3 fats like oily fish, flax seed (called linseed in SA) and omega containing yoghurt and eggs.
- Eat at least 5 portions of vegatables and fruit a day
Vegetables and fruit provide you with vitamins, minerals and fibre to help you balance your overall diet. One portion is, for example, a small banana or apple, a handful of grapes, a tablespoon of dried fruit, a small glass of fruit juice or fruit smoothie, ½ cup of steamed vegetables or a cereal bowl of salad. Include vegetables at each meal – half your plate should be filled with them!
- Limit sugar and sugary foods
This doesn’t mean you need to eat a sugar-free diet. Diabetics may have sugar and foods containing sugars, but should limit their total daily intake. Using reduced or no sugar beverages, spreads and other treat foods is an easy way to reduce the sugar in your diet. If you do have a sugary treat, keeping to a small portion and having it after a balanced meal is vital for blood sugar control.
- Reduce salt and salty foods
Reduce salt to no more than 6 g (or 2 400 mg of sodium) per day. You can do this by using more fresh or dry herbs in cooking, checking labels for sodium content of convenience foods, and only adding salt at the table OR while cooking – not both. Limit intake of high salt convenience foods like sauce powders, canned or dry soups, stock powder, ready-made sauces, canned vegetables and fast food. If you have a high salt convenience meal, limit salt intake at your next meal.
- Include more beans and pulses
One of the most unappreciated foods in modern western society is probably the humble bean. Examples include baked beans, soya beans, chick peas, split peas, kidney beans, four bean mix and red, green or brown lentils. They contain a wide variety of micro nutrients (B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and magnesium), are low-fat, low glycaemic index and high in fibre! These have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels and may help to control your blood fats. Try adding them to stews, casseroles and soups, add them to a salad or use as a spread on bread.
- Have at least 2 portions of oily fish per week
Examples include salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, sardines and pilchards. Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids assist in reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease and auto-immune diseases such as arthritis. Some studies also suggest that they improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control.
- Use alcohol sensibly
Having alcohol in moderation means having a maximum of 1 unit of alcohol per day if you’re a woman or 2 units per day if you’re a man. One unit is a single pub measure (25 ml) of spirit, half a pint of lager, ale, beer or cider, or ¾ glass (125 ml) of wine. Remember, alcohol contains empty energy (kilojoules or calories) so think about cutting back further if you are trying to lose weight. Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely to occur when taking certain diabetes medication.
- (Woolworths press release)