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Diabetes and Dieting

Glucose, a form of sugar carried in the bloodstream, is a vital source of energy.  For the body to function efficiently, however, levels must be kept within narrow limits.  Too much glucose in the blood indicates development of the ailment known as Diabetes.  It’s symptoms are thirst, frequent urination due to excess glucose, weight loss, tiredness, recurrent infections, problems with vision, and, in severe cases, coma.  Too little glucose, resulting in low blood sugar, or hypoglycaemia, can also result in a coma.

Diabetes takes two main forms:

Type I Diabetes or Insulin Dependent Diabetes (juvenile onset diabetes).
This usually develops in childhood, but it can develop at any age and often occurs where there is no family history of any form of diabetes.  Type I Diabetes stems from an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin because of damaged or destroyed cells.  This form of diabetes must be treated daily with insulin injections.  Diet plays no part in causing Type I Diabetes, although breastfeeding may offer some protection against it developing.  In susceptible individuals it can be sparked by viral infections such as a previous attack of mumps or German Measles.

Type II Diabetes or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes.
As it’s former description – late onset diabetes – implies, this tends to be much more common among older people and affects some 10 percent of the population over the age of 60.  Diabetes symptoms can be misinterpreted as menopause in older women.  Type II Diabetes apparently results from impaired secretion of insulin or a resistance to the hormone by the body’s tissues.  It can often be treated by diet alone, although some of those affected need medication.  People need insulin injections if other methods fail to control their condition.

Women may develop “gestational” diabetes during pregnancy.  This usually disappears six weeks after the birth, but there is a 40 percent chance that the woman will go on to develop Type II Diabetes over the next 20 years.

Diabetes and Diet

Carbohydrates – (surgery or starchy foods such as chocolates, cakes, biscuits, white bread or fruit and jam) – send up the levels of sugar in the blood.  Under normal circumstances, a proper balance is soon restored through the action of insulin – a hormone produced by the pancreas.

If the body’s output of insulin is too low, or the insulin produced is ineffective, the blood glucose remains high.  This is how hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) is caused.  Excess glucose in the blood is excreted in the urine and people with diabetes can test their own urine with reagent strips.

Treatment always involves routine tests and establishing an individualised meal plan that encourages a wide variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar.

Diabetes Diet Guidelines

There are general dietary guidelines that people with diabetes can follow to help keep their blood sugar levels under control:

  • Avoid being overweight.  Make sure you eat a balanced, healthy diet based on suitable foods.  If you do need to lose weight, it is important to get this under control.
  • Eat regular meals.  Exactly how many and how often can usually be decided by what is suitable for each individual to help stabilise blood sugar levels.
  • Eat more starch, high fibre foods such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, cereals, beans, peas and lentils.  All of these foods cause only a gradual rise in blood sugar.
  • Cut down on sugar sweetened soft drinks, cakes, confectionery and chocolate.  Concentrated sugars are best limited as they can cause high rises in blood glucose levels.  In addition, they may also be high in fat.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit daily for soluble fibre and vitamins.  Fruit makes an ideal snack or dessert, being refreshing and low in fat.  As it is naturally high in sugars, it is best to spread its intake over the day.  If you do eat tinned fruit, choose those canned in natural juices.  Only consume any dried fruits such as dates in small quantities as they are a concentrated form of sugar.
  • Ensure you have servings of lean meat, eggs or low fat cheese as part of at least two of your daily meals.  If you are worried about gaining excess weight, keep the portions small and low fat and remember that fish and pulses are alternative sources of protein.
  • Cut down on fats, especially animal fats which will increase the risk of coronary heart disease and weight gain.
  • Limit salt and salty foods, because people with diabetes have increased susceptibility to high blood pressure.  Be aware of hidden salt in many tinned, smoked and processed foods.
  • Keep alcohol consumption at moderate levels.  Low alcohol beers, dry wines and spirits are the best choice.
  • Although artificial sweeteners may be useful, special diabetic products are usually unnecessary;
    Drink water, or sugar free drinks.
  • Although not a dietary guideline per se, diabetics must take special care of their feet. Regular visits to a podiatrist and well-fitted shoes are an essential.


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