When you have diabetes, it’s important that you know how to use food and exercise to manage your blood sugar levels, weight and cholesterol (a fat-like substance your body uses to create hormones, vitamin D and substances that help you digest food).
Here are our tips for managing diabetes, to help you avoid serious health complications.
Know how food impacts you
The aim of any diabetes meal plan is to prevent your blood sugar from spiking too high or dipping too low.
While no one diet will work for everyone with diabetes, careful carbohydrate selection and consumption can help you keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about diabetes diets. We recommend the Mediterranean style of eating for general health. It comes out on top for people with diabetes because it’s reasonably low in carbohydrates compared to a traditional western diet (which helps prevent huge blood sugar spikes) and protein portions are smaller.
The Mediterranean style of eating involves:
- Lots of vegetables and fruit daily
- Whole grains
- Legumes, nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Moderate portions of dairy
- Fish, 2-3 times a week
- Lean chicken and eggs, 1-2 times a week
- Limiting your intake of red meat (beef, lamb, pork)
Interested in trying Mediterranean style eating? The following tips from accredited dietitian Tracey Higgins will help you get started.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7 or more servings a day of fruit and vegetables. Start by adding an extra vegetable at lunch, or make morning tea a piece of fruit.
Opt for whole grains. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. Experiment with other whole grains, such as bulgur or quinoa. Check nutrition labels and make sure the first listed ingredient in bread is whole meal flour or grains. Generally, aim for at least 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams.
Use healthy fats. Try olive oil as a replacement for butter when cooking. Instead of putting butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in flavored olive oil. I do this if I am having bread with soup or with eggs and mushrooms on toast on a Sunday morning.
Eat more seafood. Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Grilled or pan seared fish tastes great and is quick to cook.
Reduce red meat. Substitute fish, poultry or beans for meat. If you eat meat, make sure it’s lean and keep portions small.
Enjoy some dairy. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses. A glass of milk, hot chocolate (made with 100% cocoa) or a latte can be a filling and healthy snack.
Spice it up. Add herbs and spices to boost flavor and reduce the need for salt. Herbs such as oregano, thyme and rosemary are easy to grow. This makes them cheaper and a great garden project.
Exercise is important too
The traditional Mediterranean lifestyle involves being physically active. Don’t overlook how much a regular exercise pattern including resistance training can help improve your blood sugar levels – not to mention its many other health benefits.
Here’s Inspiro Exercise Physiologist Mitchell Wright explaining the science behind exercising for diabetes, and how he can help you come up with a safe diabetes exercise program.
Learn how to read food labels
Food labels can help you make good choices about what you eat and how you manage your diabetes. The information on the back of food packaging gives you nutritional measurements of total fat, protein, carbohydrates and more for a standard serving.
That said, the food that’s best for you doesn’t come with labels or packaging at all!
Speak to our dietitians about how to look for foods that fit into your meal plan and help keep your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight at healthy levels.
And, watch Inspiro Masters student Alex explain how to read food labels so you can avoid the common food marketing traps.
Limit your alcohol intake
If you’ve heard that red wine is alright – even good for you, well… it’s OK if you have 100ml with a meal while socialising with family and friends. That’s a little different than most glasses of red that are poured around an Australian table!
Get individual advice
How you manage your diabetes will depend on medications you’re on and any other health conditions you may have. We recommend that you visit your GP or diabetes specialist at least once a year for personalised care and advice.