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Nutrition for Diabetes Management

Nutrition for Diabetes Management

By Tina M. Marchand, SDFNS, Sr. Director, Food and Nutrition Services, Gaylord Specialty Healthcare

If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus, or if you’ve entered the stage of pre-diabetes, or even if you have increased risk factors for developing diabetes, you may be considering how to best control diabetes without medication. A healthy diet can help!

We already know that managing blood sugar is the key to living well with diabetes. So, how do we manage blood sugar? The American Heart Association agrees that eating healthy is among one of the most important components to keep blood sugar within a healthy range (in addition to exercise, weight management, stress management, and stopping smoking).

Nutrition for Diabetes Management

Unfortunately, eating well is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to diabetes management. In fact, evidence suggests there isn’t an ideal percentage of calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat for all people to prevent or manage diabetes, which means macronutrient distribution needs to be based on individual assessments. The good news is the ADA has guidelines to help us make informed decisions and there are lots of resources to help as well. This is a good place to start!

The Truth About Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates (carbs) often get a bad rap. The truth is carbs aren’t the devil (they are one of your body’s main sources of energy after all!) and they won’t derail your nutrition goals on their own. They do, however, have the greatest impact on blood glucose levels, so it’s important to understand them so you can manage them properly.

Carbs are what cause blood sugar to rise. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars, which enter your bloodstream. As your blood glucose levels rise, your pancreas and insulin production are supposed to kick in, allowing your cells to absorb sugar from the blood. If you have diabetes, your insulin production is affected and this process is impacted, which means consuming too many carbs at a time can cause blood sugar levels to rise to dangerously high levels.

“Different types and amounts of carbohydrates will affect everyone differently. Checking your blood sugar regularly can help you figure out how different carbs affect you and help put a plan in place to keep your nutrition in check.” – Tina Marchand

So, what to do? Many people use the glycemic index (a scale that ranks carbohydrate-containing food or drink on a scale of 0-100 by how much it raises blood glucose after consumption) as a tool to manage blood sugar. The lower the glycemic index of a carbohydrate, the lesser the effect on blood sugar rising. The glycemic index is an important tool to help you eat well for diabetes management, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your belt.

When developing a nutrition plan to support diabetes management, it’s important to not lose sight of the rest of the food groups, including fats, proteins, and non-starchy vegetables. We recommend getting back to basics with the Diabetes Plate Method and leaning on the ADA for more great tips for eating well.