So, you found out you are Diabetic. You are not alone. According to Statistics Canada, over 1.8 million people have diabetes (that doesn't include children under 12). But what does this mean for your diet and lifestyle?
Diabetes is a disease where the body cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels either because insulin production or use is impaired. Insulin is a hormone that decreases the blood sugar level. The hormone glucagon has the opposite effect; it causes the blood sugar levels to increase. These two hormones work together to keep the blood sugar levels in a normal range.
There are two forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes (5-10% of cases) usually starts at an early age and is the result of the body attacking the insulin-producing cells. Type 2 diabetes (90-95% of cases) has been called "adult-onset" diabetes in the past but is becoming more common in younger people, and is largely a diet/lifestyle disease. In type 2 diabetes the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells are resistant to its effects.
Prescription for Nutrition Healing, (5th ed.) states, "The major danger with diabetes is not the disease itself, but the complications that can arise if insulin levels are not maintained at a constant level." (p 371). Some of the common complications are damage to blood vessels and cardiovascular health, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
The Good News: Most diabetics can control the disease with a proper diet and lifestyle!
A diet containing high-fiber, complex carbohydrates is important for managing diabetes. The fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates so the blood sugar levels do not rise too high too rapidly. As well, fiber assists with the cells taking glucose from the blood. In general, whole grains will digest much slower while simple carbohydrates (like white flour, white bread, white rice or sugar) will cause a surge in blood sugar. For example, for breakfast, steel cut oats would be a better choice than rolled oats which would be better than quick oats. A helpful tool, called a Glycemic Index (GI) can help you choose foods that will not cause a rapid increase in blood sugar. The lower the value on the index, the less it will cause blood sugar to rise. For more information on the glycemic index, look here (www.glycemicindex.com). You should also limit the amount of carbohydrates you consume at one time, since even a large quantity of a low glycemic food can cause a substantial blood sugar increase.
Even though simple sugars should be limited/avoided, fortunately there are some alternatives to sugar available, so you can still enjoy something sweet.
- Stevia is a natural, non-caloric sweetener and it has no effect on blood sugar levels. It is an extract from the leaves of the naturally sweet, stevia plant.
- Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is low in calories. It has a much more mild effect on blood sugar levels than table sugar. Our on-site gluten-free bakery also has some sugar free treats sweetened with xylitol.
At Healthy Foods and More we also have a line of sugar free sauces/condiments by the Green Valley Ranch company. It includes ketchup, BBQ sauce, a variety of salad dressings, fruit flavoured sauces & more.
Cardiovascular disease is one the potential complications with diabetes so it is wise to watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and avoid any trans fat and hydrogenated fats, which clog your arteries.
In addition to modifying your diet, there are some important lifestyle changes for managing diabetes well:
- Alcohol stresses the blood sugar control mechanisms and should be avoided.
- Smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis (the hardening of the blood vessels) which is a possible complication.
- Exercise! Exercise! Exercise can help improve glucose metabolism, and strengthens the cardiovascular system which is very important for preventing heart disease. Maintaining your healthy weight is an important part of managing diabetes and your overall health, so exercise is vital!
There are also many herbs and natural remedies for balancing the blood sugar and supporting the needs of diabetics. Some examples of herbs, supplements, and foods that may help with diabetes are chromium, vitamin C, vitamin B complex (and especially B6) vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and zinc; cinnamon, gingko biloba, fenugreek, gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, onion, garlic, and brewer's yeast.
Come on in and we would be happy to help you find the right foods, herbs and supplements for managing diabetes.
Phyllis A. Balch (2010). Prescription for Nutritional Healing (5th ed). New York: Penguin