November 01, 2020
A diagnosis of diabetes can be upsetting – not just because of fears about our long-term health, but also the difference it may make to our day-to-day life. Will we be able to eat the same food as our families, or enjoy a chocolate bar again? Will our mealtimes become ‘medicalised’ rather than a time of enjoyment and pleasure?
Fortunately, while anyone with a diagnosis of diabetes will mean you have to manage your diet carefully, it doesn’t mean that favourite foods and even sugar are off the menu. Here, we look at the myths around eating when you have diabetes and show how to enjoy mealtimes while protecting your health for the long term.
Fake: I can only eat ‘diabetic’ foods
Fact: Diabetic products such as sugar-free sweets and cakes are expensive and often taste unpleasant. The sugar these foods would usually contain is replaced with sweeteners, which have a nasty flavour and can often have a laxative effect which upsets the gut – not good when you’re trying to balance the amount of food in your body to manage blood sugar. People with both insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent diabetes should be able to enjoy a little sweet stuff, in moderation.
Fake: I must avoid all sugar
Fact: Even when you’re living with diabetes, you are generally able to enjoy delicious cakes and biscuits, as long as you eat them in moderation (as we all should!) and make them as nutritious as possible. Base your bakes on wholemeal flour and fruits, which will add valuable fibre and help to slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, so your body is better able to cope with it. It’s sugars that are added to processed food that are a cause for concern – fizzy drinks, junk food and even ‘low-fat’ options, which have their natural fats replaced with sugar and fillers. Because these foods don’t contain the ‘good stuff’ that counteracts the sweetness, they quickly overload our body with sugar, triggering a cascade effect of inflammation that is a trigger for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Check food labels for added sugars – fructose, glucose, sucrose and syrup. You’ll often find more than one source of sugar listed, leaving a bitter aftertaste when it comes to your health.
Fake: I can’t eat fruit
Fact: The glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of how certain foods impact your blood sugar – high GI foods will raise your blood sugar more quickly and significantly than low GI foods. Tropical fruits, grapes and melon have higher GI levels, while berries and apples have a lower rating – Diabetes UK has a good guide to diabetes and GI here. Although dried fruits contain concentrated amounts of sugar and so have a high GI, you don’t have to take them off the menu as they also contain fibre (see above). Pair a small snack of fresh or dried fruit with a few nuts, cheese or Greek yoghurt, as the protein in these foods will slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
Fake: I’ll need to give up chocolate
Fact: Dark chocolate contains less sugar, milk and cocoa butter than milk chocolate, and instead is made with a higher percentage of pure cocoa beans. These contain high levels of flavanols and polyphenols – antioxidants that help to neutralise free radicals and reduce inflammation. A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that a daily intake of dark chocolate reduced inflammatory markers in people with Type 2 diabetes. Look for dark chocolate made with at least 70 per cent cocoa and don’t exceed 30g a day – that’s two Green & Blacks mini bars!
Fake: Naturally sweet vegetables are a no-no
Fact: Some vegetables (peas, parsnips, carrots and sweetcorn) are deliciously sweet, but these natural sugars aren’t linked with inflammation – instead, vegetables like these have an anti-inflammatory effect because of the antioxidants and fibre they contain. This is important, as inflammation is linked with a higher risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. When we eat these naturally sweet vegetables as part of a meal, it slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, preventing the energy spikes that cause our body to flood our system with insulin that can trigger inflammation.