One of the most positive things a person with Type 2 diabetes can do is to become fitter (build more muscle tissue), lose weight (especially around the waistline) and eat foods which will regulate blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are an important food group when it comes to fuelling the body for exercise, but knowing the difference between healthy and less healthy carbohydrate sources is essential for general health and weight loss.
Healthy (or low glycaemic) carbohydrates release sugar into the blood more slowly than less healthy (high glycaemic) carbohydrates which can dump too much sugar into the blood at once - causing hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar).
People with Type 2 diabetes should be aware that some medications may cause hypoglycaemia when dietary and exercise changes are made: this doesn't mean you should avoid making healthier choices and moving more. Just speak to you doctor before you make any significant changes and track your blood glucose levels. If hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) occurs, ask your doctor to lower your dose.
Healthy carbohydrate choices for type 2 diabetics:
1. Legumes - lentils and beans are outstanding sources of carbohydrate: they release sugar very slowly into the blood preventing the high blood sugar which results from fast releasing carbohydrates. Their fibre and protein help to keep a person full for longer and they are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for optimal health. They are also very cheap.
2. Quinoa - a nutrient dense seed which is lower in overall carbohydrate then other grains, yet it can be eaten like a grain. Easily prepared, its high fibre and protein keep a person full for longer.
3. Vegetables - non starchy vegetables should make up half of the meal plate of anyone seeking optimal health, including type 2 diabetics. Starchy vegetables such as peas and butternut squash are good replacements for the more starchy pasta or rice for type 2 diabetics. Essentially, if a meal plate is almost all plant based colour, things are going well. Avoid potatoes without the skin on - new potatoes are the best choice from the potato family.
Why? – Potatoes without skin lack nutrients and have a higher glycaemic index which effects how quickly the sugars are absorbed from the carbohydrates. Mash potato is the therefore to be avoided. There is only a low amount of fibre in it leading to a high glycaemic index and also when the potato is mashed the cell structure is broken down, leading to the sugar being released quicker into the blood stream. Cold new potatoes with the skin on are the best as fewer carbohydrates are absorbed.
4. Lower carbohydrate fruits are great dessert choices for people with type 2 diabetes. Berries, such as blackberries and blueberries, are wonderful examples.
5. When eating grains, make sure they are in their whole intact form. Choose jumbo oats over processed breakfast cereal, brown rice over white and eat wholemeal pasta al dente.
Why? – The benefits of wholemeal pasta cooked al dente are all to do with resistant starch. Resistant starch is starch that is not broken down in the small intestine and as such acts in a similar way to fibre (meaning it keeps you regular). Two main benefits of eating resistant starch are improved insulin sensitivity (how well your body produces and absorbs insulin) and lower blood sugar levels.
6. And remember, drink lots of water!
Less healthy carbohydrate choices for type 2 diabetics:
1. Anything white: white bread, pasta, rice, crackers - all of these release sugar into the blood too quickly to be healthy for a person. Not only that, they are more likely to lead to weight gain and do not satisfy the appetite enough, due to their low fibre and nutrient status.
2. Processed breakfast cereals: it doesn't matter how healthy they say they are on the label - they release sugar too fast into the blood and are not satisfying. Choose something natural like boiled eggs, vegetables and a heavily seeded wholegrain toast instead.
3. Juice - do not drink fruit juice ever.
Why? - A good summary of the high level of sugar that can be found in fruit juices is present in the fact that when type 1 diabetics have hypos (low blood sugar) one of the quickest ways (but not the best - pure glucose is better) to get sugar back into the blood stream is by drinking fruit juice. As such if you are diabetic and trying to manage your levels fruit juice can cause huge spikes in blood sugar which can exacerbate weight problems as the sugar can be stored as fat.
4. Try to avoid higher sugar fruits such as tropical fruits or dried fruits - focusing on lower carbohydrate fruits such as peaches will help with blood sugar control as well as weight maintenance.
5. Biscuits and cakes should be avoided as much as possible - they contain fast releasing sugar from the flour and the pure sugar they contain. Try having a few squares of high cocoa content dark chocolate instead. Avoid chocolate labelled as 'diabetic' - the artificial sweeteners they contain can induce diarrhoea while their carbohydrate content can still be too high.
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