Stephaney Allinson

Blood Sugar Control

Diet is a very important part of the treatment of diabetes mellitus (Type 1 & 2), involving insulin, which is what people think of when diabetes is mentioned. There are other types but I will not get into that here.

Basically an ideal diet for diabetes is no processed sugar, low carbohydrate, higher protein and higher healthy fats. (Which is in direct opposition to a lot of the standard weight loss advice, which is 'all fat is bad, don't eat any') Before processed foods became a thing, which is pretty much before the 1950's, people didn't have carbohydrates in the diet the way they do now. They still existed, all food has them in one strength or another as we need them, just not in the quantities we have them available these days. So what our bodies also use for energy are fats. Ideally, of course, healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocados etc.

The body converts carbohydrates into glucose very quickly, especially simple carbohydrates, which, when you eat a slice of standard white bread is the equivalent of eating a teaspoon of white sugar. This obviously is not great for anyone but if you are diabetic (either type 1 or 2) this blood sugar raising and crashing very quickly can have very severe health consequences up to and including comas and death. In general, diabetes is a chronic condition and as such it isn't likely that you will go into a diabetic coma as soon as you eat a slice of white bread and die. But, there are long term consequences of poorly managed diabetes.

Which is why diet is so very important, in some cases it can be enough to reverse it, however, this does depend on how severe and what type. Even type 1 insulin dependent diabetes can be influenced by changing the diet. Which makes sense if you think about it, if you eat processed foods and sugar, you will need to increase your insulin intake and if you completely overhaul your diet and take all that out then you will need to use less. All changes in insulin should be closely monitored with the help of your healthcare provider for obvious reasons.

My simple rule of thumb for the diet (*cough, cough* lifestyle change) is:

no white sugar
no white flour
no white rice

Which, in and of itself will improve health regardless of any (or no) health conditions you might be suffering from. However, with diabetes this does need to be taken further than just the three on the avoid list above. Your diet needs to consist of the following (This is the full list and it takes no consideration for dietary restrictions or preference):

Fresh fruit and vegetables - Organic or home grown as far as is practicable
Frozen fruit and vegetables - with the exception of something picked yourself, frozen fruit and veg are the freshest because they have to be frozen within 2 hours of being picked.
Nuts and seeds
Beans and pulses - All lentils, chick, garden and black eyed peas, baked, runner, fava, kidney, butter, haricot, cannellini, flageolet, pinto and borlotti beans
Fermented foods including traditionally produced tofu
Seed and nut butters
Brown rice
Lean meat - red and white
Probiotic yogurts 
Herbs and spices

Avoid all the following:

White rice -  And anything that has white rice in it

White flour - And anything that has white flour in it
Processed foods - including condiments (Make your own instead)
Golden syrup
Maple syrup
coffee - It really messes with your blood sugar levels.

This will give you a pretty wide range of food to eat. When you change your lifestyle it will involve a lot of planning and packed lunches. It is very time consuming and could be considered inconvenient but once you have done the meal planning for a week or so and then written the shopping list you'll find it is easier. If looking for recipes go more for low carb or Keto.

How and When to Eat

Traditional advice says to eat 3 meals a day and it is really important to have breakfast. (NHS leaflet - My Diabetes, updated May 2018)

In reality, that is not always practicable, people have very different life and family structures and not everyone can eat breakfast when they first get up. The idea for managing diabetes via the diet is to avoid spikes or drops in blood sugar levels as much as possible. Now, after eating, there is a natural spike in blood sugar, this is how the body works. However, the plan is for the spike not to be very high and the drops not to be very low. How you manage this is by having protein with every meal, snacking and by having smaller meals more frequently. The smaller the gap between meals the less chance for the blood sugar to drop, the more balanced the carbs are with protein the lower the spike will be. It takes planning. I am absolutely not saying it doesn't, the best person to plan for your life is you, you know your own schedule best after all. Trail mix is a godsend for people who have diabetes and people who get hangry, (angry when hungry, not everyone who has blood sugar issues is diabetic after all) mix together whatever nuts and seeds you like, making sure there is at least 3 types of each and 1 fruit. If you have dried apricots as the fruit make sure they are brown not orange. If they are still orange they have had a sulphur dioxide added to them to keep them orange, as do raisins and prunes so check your packets.

If you have frequent swings and spikes in blood sugar you might want to make sure you eat a small amount of protein every hour. This is where trail mix becomes invaluable. Especially as you can put your mix in a food bag and just have it in your coat pocket or bag so you can have it as you are going about your day. And it isn't messy so you don't need extra 'stuff'. I have found it easier to make sure that half of every meal is protein, from multiple sources as often as possible, and if you are snacking on fruit (for instance an apple/orange/banana etc) eat a few nuts at the same time.