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Diabetes and nutrition

Nutritional advice for people with diabetes has b developed significantly over the last decade and there is now clear dietary guidelines set out by Diabetics UK. Whilst these guidelines are suitable for the majority of diabetics, you should bear in mind that individual strategies may be required to deal with presence of diabetic complications, type of diabetes or clinical management of the disease.

In addition to paying close attention to your medication and insulin requirements, nutrition can also play a role in controlling your condition. Two areas to focus on are weight management and eating a healthy balanced diet.

Weight management

Managing your weight will help control your blood glucose levels as well as blood pressure and cholesterol. To lose weight, your main aim should be to make sure energy intake is less than energy expenditure. The quickest way to do this is to address both sides of the equation – increase your activity levels and reduce your calorie intake. You’re probably thinking this is common sense but it’s not always as easy as it sounds!

If you want to maintain your weight loss, you need to commit to small changes over a long period of time. Small changes to your behaviour and food choices will help reduce food cravings and unwanted weight gain.

Healthy, balanced diet

Eating a diet that is low in bad fats, salt and sugar and high in low GI carbohydrates, protein, good sources of fat and vegetables will help you maintain a healthy body weight and ensure you are eating sufficient macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. These practical guidelines will start you off on the right path to eating a healthy diet:

  1. Base your meals on unrefined carbohydrates that are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. These include whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain crackers, quinoa, oats, whole wheat pasta, lentils, vegetables, beans and potatoes.
  2. Minimise your intake of refined carbohydrates such as breakfast cereals, white bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, biscuits, sweets, sugar, chocolate, pastries, pies, white flour, beer. Some sugar can be eaten as long as it is with a meal and not in isolation.
  3. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Aim to eat 2 different fruits and 4 different vegetables each day. Eat a piece of fruit every breakfast time or drink a glass of fresh fruit juice, snack on raw vegetables, add vegetables to soups, stews, rice dishes and pasta dishes and add salad to your lunchtime sandwich.
  4. Eat two portions of fish each week. You can choose canned, frozen or fresh fish.
  5. Monitor your fat intake. Some fat in your diet is good for you but you have to choose the right fat. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil, oily fish, nuts and avocado should be included in your diet. Eat a limited amount of saturated fat such as animal fat found in dairy products and meat. Avoid all sources of trans fat. This is found in processed ready meals, fried foods, takeaways and some cakes and biscuits.
  6. Drink plenty of water. You should aim to drink around 2 litres of water a day. Drink a glass of water at every meal and make sure you have access to fluid throughout the day.

When trying to modify your diet, set realistic goals based on your habitual diet and lifestyle. If you barely ever eat fruit or vegetables, you’re expecting a lot of yourself if you plan on eating 5 portions a day from now on. The points outlined above are the ideal. Focus on small, realistic changes that are achievable and move you in the right direction.