You are what you eat – whatever you take in is what your body will use for its various functions, which is why adequate nutrition is so important for overall health. For diabetes, proper nutrition plays an important role particularly for regulating blood sugar levels. Listed below are 10 of the most important nutritional habits that everyone should be aware of (the last 4 are a repeat of tips mentioned in the “Health Tips” section).
1. Include healthy fats
Healthy (unsaturated) fats are necessary for cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol levels, prevention of arthritis and vitamin absorption. Sources of healthy fats include olive oil, almonds, fish and avocado. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) are important for the brain and are a key contributor to proper cognitive functioning (memory, attention) and mood management. Avoid trans fats and limit the consumption of saturated fats.
2. Include a variety of protein sources
Proteins are the most abundant molecule in the body and are needed by every cell in the body (as hormones or enzymes) for normal functioning. They maintain the structure of hair and nails, maintain and repair muscle tissue and are necessary for the formation of red blood cells. It is recommended to take in protein from a variety of sources (different meats, eggs, beans, dairy products, and nuts) to balance the amino acid profile.
3. Eating healthy carbs and whole grains
Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal are slow digesting carbohydrates, which are released slowly into the bloodstream, providing a steady supply of energy throughout the day. This reduces appetite, prevents weight gain, but more importantly, reduces blood sugar spikes.
4. Eating a variety of colored fruits and vegetables
The colour of a fruit or vegetable is often an indicator of the nutrients it contains, therefore eating fruits and vegetables with a variety of colours is important for a well-balanced diet. For example:
· Red: Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant
· Orange: Carrots and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, which supports the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant
· Yellow: Citrus fruits (Oranges, lemon) contain vitamin C, which also supports the immune system
· Green: Many green vegetables (spinach, kale) contain folic acid, which helps build healthy cells and genetic material
· Blue and Purple: Blueberries, blackberries and plums contain anthocyanins, which destroy free radicals and flavonoids, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
5. Dairy products
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are necessary particularly for their calcium and vitamin D content. Calcium is needed for maintaining strong teeth and bones and preventing osteoporosis, whereas vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium. The recommended daily intake of calcium for an average adult is 1000-1200 mg, equivalent to 3-4 cups of milk.
6. Avoid sugars
Sugars and other refined carbohydrates have the opposite effects of what is listed above and are detrimental to health, especially for diabetics. Candy bars, soft drinks, fruit juices and doughnuts cause blood sugar spikes, leading to drowsiness, and since they absorb quickly, they further increase appetite, leading to weight gain. Fruits, however, are okay since their fibre content slows down digestion.
7. Drinking enough water
It is recommended to drink at least 2 litres of water every day (and more if exercising). Drinking water is essential for many simple body functions such as flushing toxins out, joint lubrication, cognitive functioning, and strengthening of the immune system. It also helps maintain healthy skin, normal bowel and kidney function, and balance of body fluids. Carrying a water bottle with you as much as possible is one of the best habits to overcome this problem.
8. Eating a healthy breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After a long sleep, your body is in starvation mode, reducing your metabolism. A healthy breakfast is necessary in order to give it a kick-start and energize you for the rest of the day.
9. Eating smaller meals, more frequently
Your body needs a constant supply of energy, as opposed to large and spread-out feeding periods. It is recommended to eat 6 meals a day, 2 or 3 hours apart. This helps control blood sugar levels, reduces insulin spikes and post-meal drowsiness, and is optimal for your metabolism.
10. Eating plenty of fibre
Foods high in fibre are important for proper bowel function, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. They are especially important for those with diabetes since it slows down digestion, reducing spikes in blood sugar after a meal. It is recommended to eat 26 to 35 grams of fibre daily, which can be attained by eating 5-6 portions of fruits and vegetables. Fibre can also be obtained from whole wheat foods such as brown rice, quinoa or oatmeal.