The food you eat directly affects how well you manage diabetes. When you eat food, it is turned into blood sugar or glucose. Glucose is what our body uses for energy. After we eat, the glucose in our blood rises. The pancreas then makes insulin which unlocks the key to let glucose into the cells. The cell then uses the glucose for energy.
When there is not enough insulin to let the glucose into the cell or the cells do not respond to the insulin, the glucose cannot enter the cells. The sugar in your blood will then stay there, causing high blood glucose.
What happens when the sugar in your blood is high and your cells cannot make energy?
If your blood glucose levels are too high for too long there can be long term side effects.
Signs and symptoms of high blood glucose are:
- Increased hunger
- Trouble concentrating,
- Blurred or changed vision
- Increased thirst
- Frequent peeing
- Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
- Weight loss
Long term effects of high blood glucose levels are:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage or kidney failure
- Vision changes that can potentially leading to blindness
- Foot problems that can lead to serious infections, and in some severe cases, amputation
- Bone and joint problems
- Skin problems, including bacterial infections
- Fungal infections and non-healing wounds
- Tooth and gum infections
What foods should you eat to manage your diabetes?
First, it is important to understand that food is made up of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates have the most direct impact on blood glucose. Do not be afraid of carbohydrates. Managing the amount of carbohydrates you eat can help to balance your blood glucose levels. Each person needs a different amount of carbohydrates based on their age, exercise levels, and weight. To find out your appropriate carbohydrate allowance, it may help to speak with a dietitian or diabetes nurse educator.
Some foods that contain carbohydrates are breads and cereals, grains (wheat, pasta, and rice), starchy vegetables, fruit, juices, milk, yogurt, ice cream, sugars, and sweets. No sugar added and sugar-free foods still contain carbohydrates.
Protein is important for repairing and building cells in your body. Protein takes longer for your body to digest so it is absorbed more slowly into the blood and helps you stay full for longer. Protein foods are meat, fish, poultry, pork, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, peanut butter and tofu. Beans, milk and yogurt also contain protein but also contain carbohydrate.
Fat is important for your body’s immune system to function well. It is also important for brain development and helps you absorb some vitamins. Fat also takes longer for your body to digest and can help you stay full for longer. It is best to choose heart healthy fats such as oils (olive, canola, and vegetable), mayonnaise, nuts and seeds.
Both protein and fat have little or no effect on blood glucose. Combining them with carbohydrates helps to build a balanced meal.
Here are some tips to get started:
- Eat meals on a regular schedule (every 4-6 hours)
- Do not skip meals
- Include a lean serving of protein at each meal
- Select one ounce at breakfast
- Select two to three ounces of protein for lunch and dinner
If you are concerned about your blood glucose or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, talk to your doctor about meeting with a registered dietitian. For more information, please contact the nutrition department at (508) 852-6175.
Written by Inmay MacNeil, MS, RD, LDN Nutrition Education Specialist