If you have developed diabetes, your number 1 priority becomes controlling your blood sugar levels. In the absence of proper care and management, it slowly and gradually affects all the other organs of your body. However, managing diabetes is not that challenging. Dietary and lifestyle changes can help you control your blood sugar levels.
Some foods elevate your blood sugar levels and are not suitable for people with diabetes. So naturally, you should avoid consuming them to manage diabetes. This article focuses on various foods you should avoid when you have diabetes.
Diabetes and its Mechanism
Diabetes is a condition that occurs when your pancreas stops generating insulin or the generated insulin is insufficient or ineffective. Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that facilitates the breakdown of glucose for energy production. All carbohydrate foods break down into glucose with the help of insulin. However, when the body cannot make or utilise insulin properly, blood glucose levels rise (known as hyperglycaemia). High blood glucose levels lead to long-term physical harm and organ and tissue failure.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
Although type-1 diabetes (also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes) is most frequent in children, teenagers, and young adults, it can affect you at any age. However, it is less common than type-2 diabetes, accounting for about 5-10% of the total cases. The primary cause of type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune reaction (when the immune system attacks the body) that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. In addition, some people are prone to type-1 diabetes due to genetic factors and environmental triggers like viruses etc. However, diet and lifestyle are not significant contributors to causing type-1 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type-2 diabetes is a medical condition that arises when the body fails to use, doesn’t generate or generate inadequate insulin. Uncontrolled type-2 diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels, causing various health complications. In the long run, if uncontrolled, it injures pancreatic cells, preventing the pancreas from generating any insulin. In addition, it leads to cardiovascular issues as well.
What is the Glycemic Index?
Glycemic Index is an effective tool to monitor a food’s effect on your blood sugar levels. It measures the spike in blood sugar after consuming a particular food. The GI of any edible item can range from 0 to 100, 0 being no sugar spike and 100 representing sugar spike due to pure glucose. Based on these numbers, there are three kinds of food groups:
- Low GI Foods: Their Glycemic Index is 55 or less.
- Medium GI Foods: Their Glycemic Index ranges from 56 to 69.
- High GI Foods: Their Glycemic Index measures more than 70.
Foods to Avoid when you have Diabetes
Certain foods, especially those with a higher GI, tend to cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. There are also foods that adversely affect heart health which is already a risk when a person is diabetic. Hence, there are certain foods and food groups that need to be avoided when battling high blood sugar levels.
Trans and Saturated Fats
Fats are very high in calories, with each gram of fat providing more than double the calories than protein and carbohydrates. Overeating fats lead to more calories than your body needs which leads to weight gain, affecting your diabetes control and overall health.
Some fats such as unsaturated fats found in cold pressed oils, fatty fish and nuts are healthy and are needed by your body to function but saturated fats found in foods like butter, cheese, ghee, red meat, bakery products and fried and processed foods, can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Depending on your blood sugar control, alcohol can adversely affect your body in different ways. Moderate intake can cause sugar spikes. Also when people drink they tend to consume a lot of food which then causes higher blood sugar spikes. An excess intake can also cause your blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels, especially if you have type 1 diabetes. In general, you should avoid consuming alcohol if you are diabetic.
Red and Processed Meat
Both red meat and processed red meat like pork, beef and cold cuts hamper type 2 diabetes. Processed meats like bacon, sausages, and deli meats are particularly harmful due to their high salt and nitrites levels.
Researchers observed that eating one 3-ounce meal of red meat each day, roughly the size of a deck of cards, increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 19%. In addition, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released research in 2011 that found the rise was 51% for an even lower amount of processed red meat.
Highly Processed Carbohydrates
Heavily processed carbohydrates like those prepared with white flour, white sugar, or white rice are devoid of critical bran, fibre, and vitamins and minerals. Hence, you should avoid such foods. Limit your intake of processed carbs such as bread, muffins, cakes, crackers and refined pasta. Instead, you can consume foods with whole-grain options to lower your risk.
Below are the carb rich foods you should avoid:
Refined carbohydrates include foods made from refined wheat flour. These foods are devoid of fibre and vitamins and elevate the blood sugar levels rapidly without providing other nutritional benefits. Foods with refined carbohydrates are:
- Pasta made with refined flour
- Noodles made with refined flour
- White rice
- Bread made with refined flour
- Cakes, patisserie, pastries etc. made with refined flour
- Chocolates and sweet treats
Sugar-Sweetened or Carbonated Drinks
According to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2010, drinking one to two sugary drinks per day elevated the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26% compared to having less than one serving per month. Therefore, limiting your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly fruit drinks, is one of the best methods to reduce the adverse effects of sugar on your health.
Sweetened and carbonated beverages have refined sugar. It is usually sucrose which is table sugar or glucose syrup. Both are devoid of any fibre and nutrients and have “empty calories”. These empty calories raise blood sugar levels. That is why you should avoid them altogether. Instead, you can drink water to stay hydrated. You should also avoid adding sugar and cream to your coffee and tea.
It’s also wise to stay away from carbonated drinks which have sugar alternatives like aspartame. Products like coke zero might not have sugar, but excessive intake of the sugar alternatives can harm the body in other ways.
Fruits with High Sugar Content
As per studies, fruits and dried fruits with a high glycemic index increase the blood sugar level after consumption and can be harmful. Fruits and dried fruits that you should avoid are:
- Dates (fresh and dried)
- Dried Cranberries
- Canned Fruits
Also ensure to avoid fruit salads and fruit bowls which have sugar or sugar syrup in them. The fruits mentioned above, can be consumed in small quantities if your blood sugar levels are in check. Your nutritionist will be able to guide you on portion sizes and whether or not you can have these fruits.
Juicing removes all the essential nutrients and fibre from fruit. As per studies, the juices liquid elevates blood sugar levels almost immediately which is why they are give when a person is experiencing low blood sugar levels of hypoglycemia. Hence, you should avoid consuming such products.
Ice Creams and Fruit Yoghurt
Ice creams use full cream milk, sugar, preservatives and sweeteners in their preparation. As per studies, there is a direct relationship between ice creams and the risk of diabetes. Fruit yogurt also contains a ton of sugar. Instead you can mix fruits with plain greek yogurt as a healthier alternative. Since these foods contain so much sugar, you should refrain from consuming them.
Highly Processed Foods
Highly processed foods have added sugar. Sometimes, it is not raw or processed sugar; it is a preservative that helps to give it longer shelf life. Hence you should avoid processed like:
- Sweet cereals
The Importance of a Healthy Eating Strategy
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will almost certainly send you to a nutritionist to help formulate a healthy eating plan. Blood sugar (glucose) control, weight management, and the treatment of heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood lipids are all aided by healthy eating which is essential because consuming too many calories and the wrong nutrients makes your body experience an unfavourable rise in blood glucose.
What Should a Diabetes-Friendly Diet Contain?
An ideal diabetes diet should focus on making better use of the insulin that your body generates. Hence, it allows you to have adequate meals at regular intervals. However, since every individual has different needs depending on their medical condition, an expert nutritionist will help you with a customised plan that will advise you on portion size, meal frequency, foods to eat and avoid, and the physical activity you need to indulge in.
Green Leafy and Non-Starchy Vegetables
Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are plentiful in leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables. As a result, they impact on blood sugar levels positively.. Plant-based potassium, vitamin A, and calcium are abundant in leafy greens like spinach and kale. There’s also protein and fibre. Some studies prove that eating green leafy vegetables can help people with diabetes because of their high antioxidant content and starch-digesting enzymes.
Millets and Grains (Whole)
The Glycemic index (GI) of whole wheat and whole grains is lower than refined ones. It means they have a less significant effect on blood sugar levels. Hence, you can include them in your diet. Some of the healthy options are:
- Whole grain pasta
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread
- Buckwheat and whole wheat
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says that a diet rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats is beneficial. That is because it assists people with diabetes manage their blood sugar and cholesterol. Certain fish varieties have a lot of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These are:
- Albacore tuna
Seaweed, such as kelp and spirulina, can provide these fatty acids in a plant-based form. People can bake, broil, or grill fish instead of frying them. You can also mix it with a variety of vegetables.
Low Fat Dairy and Dairy Alternatives
Milk, curd and plant based milks are all rich sources of protein. COnsuming them helps control blood sugar levels and you can reduce the GI of carbohydrate rich foods when you combine them with dairy products and their alternatives.
The Bottom Line
A diabetes-friendly diet is not as challenging to follow as it seems. It is a myth that if you follow a diabetes diet, you are left with very few food options to eat. However, it is essential to be aware of what you should eat and avoid. Since foods play an important role in diabetes management, eating right is vital. You should also note that besides dietary management, staying physically active also plays a crucial role in managing diabetes. Hence, you should focus on exercise and physical activities also.
Information and awareness are the most significant factors when planning a diabetes-friendly diet or meal plan. Hence, it is essential to know about the food categories you should refrain from consuming. It is best to consult an expert to help you plan your meals. An expert’s assistance will help you eat right without risking any adverse effects.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What fruits can diabetics eat freely?
A. Although most fruits contain some amount of sugar, you can eat some fruits when you have diabetes. For example, pomegranates help keep blood sugar levels under control; apples are high in fibre and contain a lot of vitamin C; guava has a low glycemic index. In addition, pears are a great addition to your diabetes diet since they are high in fibre and vitamin k. So, you can eat fruits with a low glycemic index value. Besides apples, guava and pomegranate, you can also have jamun as it has a low GI value. However, you should consume all these fruits in moderation.
Q. What bread can diabetics eat?
A. Whole-grain foods are one the best food options for people with diabetes. Hence, you should choose bread made of whole grains. Choose a high fibre bread, with at least 3 grams of fibre per slice. A good portion of fibre improves glycemic response.
Q. What can a diabetic drink?
A. Staying hydrated is essential as it helps regulate blood sugar levels. Water dilutes your blood, which helps to reduce blood sugar levels. In addition, you can consume cow’s milk, which is high in protein and calcium. You can replace the sugary fruit juices with tomato juice and can also have unsweetened coffee and tea in moderation.
Q. What time should diabetics stop eating?
A. For most people with diabetes, your meal plans should spread throughout the day as it is best to eat regularly for proper insulin management. Generally, it is safe to eat a few hours before bedtime for a healthy individual. However, if you have diabetes and have an issue with low early morning blood sugar levels, a healthy bedtime snack is suggested.
Q. Can diabetics eat potatoes?
A. Although not all potatoes are suitable for diabetes, you can consume potatoes with skin in moderation as they are nutritious. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are the best choice for a diabetes-friendly meal as they have a low GI value and contain more fibre. Potato consumption is best when combined with protein, fibre and healthy fats so that the sugars release at a slower pace in to the body.
Q. Can diabetics eat fried foods?
A. No, people with diabetes should refrain from eating fried foods. Fried foods can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, especially LDL. In addition, fried foods are high in saturated and trans-fats, making them unhealthy for diabetics. Several studies suggest that boiling, steaming, and poaching are the safest preparation methods to regulate blood sugar levels.
Q. What foods can diabetics eat?
A. A person with diabetes can choose from various food options. Foods from the whole-grain food category are healthy for diabetes. So, you can eat brown rice, oats, quinoa, millets etc. In addition, you can consume green leafy vegetables as they are beneficial. Furthermore, you can also consume foods rich in healthy fats like fish and other seafood. You can also include low-fat dairy in your diabetes-friendly diet. However, the portion size and preparation methods are essential.