Diabetes and Nutrition

Diabetes health care is primarily self-care. It is important to achieve and maintain health through a well-balanced and healthy diet. Food must be balanced with insulin, hypoglycemic agents and general activity levels. If maintained correctly this achieves and sustains as near to normal blood glucose levels as possible. Optimal blood lipid levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides must also be achieved.

Adequate calories must be provided in order to maintain reasonable weights for adults, normal growth and development rates in children and adolescents. The goal is to control one’s blood glucose levels and to prevent any large fluctuation. Risk factors include poor glucose control, high blood fat levels, hypertension, cigarette smoking and lack of knowledge.

For all persons with diabetes, a healthy, well-balanced diet and weight control are key to managing their condition. No single food supplies all the essential nutrients. The principal nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet will include foods from each of the following groups:
- Fruits and vegetables (apples, oranges, carrots, spinach, etc.)
- Whole grain cereals and breads (wheat, rice, oats, etc.)
- Dairy products (milk, cream, yogurt, etc.)
- Proteins (eggs, meat, fish, dried beans, nuts, etc.)

Fat is an essential nutrient, and any healthy diet must include some fat. But too much fat is unhealthy for anyone, particularly people with diabetes. To limit the amount of fat in your diet, you can:
- Choose lean meats, removing any visible fat
- Eat more fish and poultry (without the skin)
- Drink low-fat milk
- Substitute non-fat margarine for butter
- Limit the number of eggs to 3 or 4 in a week.

Salt is another nutrient that, while essential, should be used sparingly. Too much sodium (salt) in the diet can worsen high blood pressure. While the taste of salt may be obvious in some foods such as pickles or bacon, it may also be a hidden ingredient in many foods, particularly convenience or packaged foods such as soups.

People with diabetes will also have to watch their sugar consumption. A single 12-ounce serving of a regular soft drink has 9 teaspoons of sugar. Breakfast cereals frequently have very high sugar content, as do dessert foods such as cakes and pies. Fortunately, as awareness of health concerns increase, more and more of these foods are available in sugar-free versions. Sugar substitutes such as Aspartame are also widely available and may be substituted for sugar in baking.

When it comes to alcohol, people with non-insulin dependent diabetes should follow the same precautions as non-diabetics. Under normal circumstances, and if the diabetes is well controlled, the moderate use of alcohol should not affect blood sugar levels. People with insulin-dependent diabetes may be able to enjoy a drink with dinner, though alcohol may increase the risk of hypoglycemia. If there are other medical conditions such as neuropathy or pancreatitis present, the person with diabetes should abstain from alcohol. If alcohol is part of your lifestyle, consult a dietician for advice about allowable quantities, and for calculating the calories in any alcoholic beverage as part of your overall meal plan.

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