Diabetes diet
Wild fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring), avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil are all sources of healthy fats Image Credit: Shutterstock

Managing blood sugar levels is paramount for those who are pre-diabetic or already have diabetes. They need to avoid foods that cause massive blood sugar fluctuations such as simple carbohydrates like sugar, cakes, fizzy drinks, sweets, white breads, pasta and rice.

Careful carb intake

Carbohydrates are all broken down into glucose or sugar in the blood, but they do this at varying speeds. The rate at which different carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels can be measured using the Glycaemic Index (GI). Choosing food with a lower GI is important. The portion size of that carbohydrate is equally critical, ensuring that it is within an amount suitable for digestion over two hours. If a starchy carbohydrate is eaten on its own, such as bread, pasta, rice or potato, blood sugar levels will tend to fluctuate, leaving a person feeling moody or fatigued.

So try to lower the GI of a meal by combining carbohydrates with a protein or a fat and staying away from eating carbohydrates alone. This slows the rate of digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes. For example, if you are eating a piece of fruit, combine it with nuts or an unsweetened nut butter. A healthy diabetic meal plan must balance blood sugar and have three vital components, protein, fibre and healthy fats, to balance the sugar levels.

Protein matters

Healthy protein includes wild fish, organic poultry, grass fed meats, free range eggs, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds. However, beware of the portion size as these also contain carbs. Each meal should have a source of protein but you don’t need to overdo it as excess protein will be converted into glucose and this will then cause an increase in insulin, which is of course bad for diabetes management.

Each meal should have a source of protein but you don’t need to overdo it as excess protein will be converted into glucose and this will then cause an increase in insulin, which is of course bad for diabetes management.

- Victoria Tipper, Nutrition and Life Coach

Fat for health

Healthy fats should also be included to meals to balance blood sugar levels, this includes wild fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring), avocados and avocado oil, nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, organic ghee and grass fed butter.

It’s important to boost certain nutrients such as chromium piccolinate and magnesium to help manage blood sugar levels. The best source of chromium is probably broccoli so include it regularly. For magnesium, boost your intake of spinach, swiss chard, homemade yogurt or kefir, avocado, cacao powder, nuts and seeds. You can also have a relaxing and detoxifying Epsom salt bath before bed, a few nights a week as the skin will absorb magnesium from the salts.

All about fibres

Dietary fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate and it is recommended that men and women consume 38g and 25g daily, respectively. The slower rate of digestion, when including dietary fibre, avoids spikes in blood sugar levels, making high fibre food choices perfect for those with blood sugar issues.

Conversely, simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar rich foods, sodas, sweets, white bread, white pasta and white rice will digest at a faster rate, leading to energy slumps, moodiness and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

There are ways to increase the fibre content of your food, for example by keeping the skin on fruits and vegetables, or by adding beans or lentils to meals and a tablespoon or two of high fibre milled flaxseeds or chia seeds to yogurts/salads/soups etc. As a general rule, at meal times at least half of your plate should be full of fibre-rich vegetables including greens, this will ensure you meet those fibre needs.

Herbs and spices

Certain herbs and spices can be used to help those with diabetes improve blood sugar regulation. Both cinnamon and turmeric are good herbs to help control blood sugar levels, as well as reduce cholesterol levels. Ginger is another great addition to the diet, as it may promote the production of insulin, helping clear blood glucose levels after meals, which can be of particular importance to those with diabetes.

If you need to add sweetness to anything, rather than using table sugar (GI of 65) you can choose the natural sweetener and herb green leaf stevia (GI of 0). Studies among type 2 diabetics suggest stevia led to a reduction in blood glucose after meals. Stevia has quite a distinctive taste and so it is not for everyone. Those who are looking for another alternative to replace table sugar they can try coconut sugar, which has a low GI of 35.

Toxins in the environment

Insulin is a hormone and environmental toxins can wreak havoc on our hormonal balance and endocrine system. For this reason it’s vital that we lower exposure to such toxins and help rebalance our endocrine system. Major sources of toxicity include cigarette smoke, canned goods, perfumed or scented candles or beauty products, non-organic meats and poultry especially chicken, non-organic fruits and vegetables, burnt meats and farmed fish.

— The writer is a Dubai-based nutrition and life coach