Diabetes, or as it's fully called Diabetes Mellitus is, in fact, two completely different diseases type 1 and type 2, and from a nutritional point of view each should be treated differently, therefore we have a plan for both. Blood sugar (glucose) levels are controlled by a hormone called insulin, produced by the pancreas. Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy foods, such as bread and potatoes, from sugar and naturally sweet foods, and the liver where it is made and passed into the blood. In diabetes glucose cannot be used effectively as a fuel by the body, leading to increased levels in the blood, and the excess glucose passes over into urine making the patient pass more urine and feel thirsty. Other symptoms include tiredness, blurred vision and disorientation.
In type 1 diabetes the pancreas produces no insulin at all, so the patient has to be treated with injections of insulin as well as a suitable diet. In type 2 diabetes insulin is unable to act properly in the body. This is due to a metabolic state of the body called insulin resistance and because the insulin is not having its desired effect this can in fact lead to more and more insulin being released, and high blood glucose levels are associated with high blood insulin levels. The condition is very often, but not always, associated with being overweight and rarely in people under 40 years old, unless they are obese.
Type 2 diabetes is also called non insulin dependant diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and can be treated with diet only, with different types of drugs or in more advanced stages will actually require insulin treatment. For type 2 diabetics who use insulin or drugs which have a similar effect to insulin, please see the plan here. The plan below is aimed at type 2 diabetics who are treated with diet only or use anti-diabetic drugs like biguanides (e.g. Metformin) which help regulate blood glucose levels.
The aim of treatment is to improve blood glucose regulation and to prevent the disease from advancing and requiring more advanced treatment, like insulin. For this reason regular meals and snacks are encouraged, especially in respect of carbohydrate foods. Diabetics should aim for slow-released low glycaemic carbs as the basis of each meal and snack. See our Glycaemic Index Tables for GI values of foods.
It's important that diabetics follow a suitable diet because:
- What you eat affects your blood glucose levels
- Being a healthy weight helps control your blood sugar levels
- Diet affects the amounts and type of fats in blood, keeping these to a desired level reduces risk of heart disease
A diet for type 2 diabetes is simply based on the healthy eating guidelines which we all should be following. A word of caution though, so called 'diabetic products' such as special chocolates, cakes, biscuits, etc are not recommended. Eating a range of low fat, low sugar, high fibre 'ordinary' foods is far better. Many of these 'diabetic products' are no lower in fat or calories and are normally more expensive. Some contain the sweetener sorbitol which can cause wind, stomach upsets and diarrhoea. However 'low sugar'/'sugar-free' products, like diet soft drinks, are fine, and can be enjoyed.
The following meal plan is an example plan of a healthy diet which is suitable for a type 2 diabetic. It is aimed at weight control as the condition is often associated with being overweight. Use this to give you an idea of what are healthy nutritious foods to include, but don't forget to vary your food choices and to drink plenty of water through the day. Remember to check with your doctor or diabetes specialist nurse before commencing this plan.
As with all the meal plans this is merely a guide and you are encouraged to eat a variety of different meats / fish / alternatives, complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables every day, and drink plenty of water. Adapt the plan to suit your own needs and daily routine and vary portions and food choices from day to day.