Diabetes and your diet

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 25, 2013

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WHEN it comes to treating diabetes, food choices should be one of those things that factor prominently on your need-to-know radar. That's because what you eat definitely will affect your management of the disease.

Diabetes develops when the body is unable to produce insulin — the hormone that converts carbohydrates into energy.

"In controlling diabetes, emphasis is first placed on lifestyle modification, which is simply changing some of your habits, especially those relating to eating," explained family physician and alternative medicine practitioner Dr Jacqueline Campbell in her book A Patient's Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.

"Diet — meaning what you eat — is the cornerstone of diabetes care," she said.

Here are some tips for improving your diabetes through diet:

1. Focus on healthy carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates such as candies, biscuits and cakes can wreak havoc on your body as a diabetic. Carbohydrates will have the greatest impact on your blood glucose level because it has to be converted to insulin. Trade your rice and counter flour for healthier choices such as whole grains, vegetables and ground produce.

2. Include fish in your diet. Try to have fish at least twice weekly to help with the management of your diabetes. Having fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, and herring also helps to promote heart health since they have less cholesterol than meat. However, be sure to avoid fried fish and those with high levels of mercury.

3. Stick to good fats. Replace foods with unsaturated fats such as butter and mayonnaise with foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, almonds, pecans, walnuts, olives, and canola, olive and peanut oils. Be sure, however, to consume these sparingly, since all fats are high in calories.

4. Reduce the flab. "If you are overweight, you need to lose weight until you get to your target weight, ie, the weight that is appropriate for your age, gender and body type," said Dr Campbell. She points out that fat around the waist is linked to a higher than usual risk of type 2 diabetes and other health issues. The weight circumference for women,for example, should be kept below 34 inches, while for men, it should be no greater than 39 inches.

5. Get plenty of fibre. Aim for at least 25 grams daily, as this will help to control blood sugar levels. Foods high in fibre include vegetables, whole grains and legumes and wheat bran.

6. Go for lean protein. Try to avoid having your chicken with skin, and where possible, chose fish or meats that are lean. "A portion of meat is the size of a deck of cards," Dr Campbell wrote.

7. Ditch the sodas and the sugary drinks. Limit your intake of sodas, alcohol and sweet juices, which usually have a high sugar content. "Diabetics should drink mainly water, coconut water, unsweetened fruit juice (a six ounce glass counts as a serving of fruit) and herbal teas," said Dr Campbell.

8. Have regular workout sessions. Regular exercise can help to lower insulin levels, and should therefore be included as a crucial part of the treatment for diabetic patients. Exercise also helps to reduce stress which impacts on glucose levels and also improves circulation.

9. Try meal replacement shakes. "In my medical practice I have recommended meal replacement shakes in addition to careful planning of chewing foods to my diabetic patients with great success," said Dr Campbell. The right meal replacement shake can help to maintain blood sugar levels and may curb hunger.

10. Remember portion size. It's important that diabetics control the amount of food they eat for each meal. Overeating could affect your blood sugar level.

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