What can I eat if I have Diabetes?

Diabetic diet is the kind of diet recommended for people with diabetes mellitus to control high blood sugar level. This diet encourges diabetics to eat healthy foods composed of complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, while avoiding simple sugar, saturated and transfat.

You can't control diabetes without a proper diet.
You can't control diabetes without a proper diet.
@healthbiztips by Arlene Gentallan

I'll share with you foods that you can eat and also foods you should avoid if you have diabetes, but let's first look at what diabetes mellitus is.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the cells of the body is unable to use glucose (which is it's primary energy source) because it is unable to enter the cells, resulting to accumulation of glucose in the blood stream (high blood sugar level). In order for glucose to enter the cells of the body and be converted to energy, insulin is needed.
Insulin is a protein which facilitates the transport of glucose from the blood into the cells of the body.
In type 1 diabetes mellitus, cells builds resistance against the effect of insulin. Even when there is enough insulin produced by the pancreas, the cells no longer responds to it's effect. It is said that there is an insulin resistance.

Amyloid damage to the pancreas can also accumulate over time leading to a significant reduction in the number of functional beta cells that can produce insulin.

In type 2 diabetes mellitus, the pancreas produces little insulin or no insulin at all. This can be due to an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.

Diabetes could also be brought about by pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy.

Since diabetes is a chronic lifelong disease, it is crucial to  properly manage it. One way to effectivity manage it is through a healthy balanced diet. Prolong high blood sugar level (hyperglycmia) and sudden spike in blood sugar level can lead to unwanted symptoms and undesired complications, therefore keeping it within normal range is the goal of a diabetic diet.

Diabetes and Sugar

Glucose is our cell's main energy source. Glucose is a form of simple sugar. We primarily obtain it from carbohydrates. In order for the body to use glucose as an energy source, it must fist be transported to the cells of the body through the aid of insulin. However, diabetic people are either resistant to the effect of insulin (as seem among those afflicted with type 2 diabetes mellitus) or produce no or too little insulin (as seen among those afflicted with type 1 diabetes mellitus). Consequently, they are unable to convert glucose to energy. Glucose accumulates in their blood stream.

Diabetic people have to maintain their blood sugar level within a normal range in order to avoid unwanted symptom and complications such as kidney damage and heart attack.

What to eat and avoid in a diabetic diet?

List of foods you can eat and should avoid if you have diabetes

Diabetic diet focuses on controlling blood sugar level by limiting calorie intake, sugar, saturated and transfat. Eating foods rich in fiber and nutrients like vegetables and fruit is encouraged.

Diabetic Diet

Avoid simple sugar

Did you know that glucose, our main energy source, is actually a simple sugar? When we ingest carbohydrate, our gut digests it into a simple sugar so it can be absorbed easily by our body.

Eating simple sugar is discouraged because it could raise blood sugar level fast. Simple sugars are rapidly digested and  includes foods such as white sugar, brown sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.

In cases of hypoglycemia, ingesting a simple sugar such as candy can increase blood sugar level fast.

Choose complex carbohydrate for energy

Instead, choose complex carbohydrate like whole grain since it is digested at a slower rate, thus, avoiding a sudden spike in blood sugar level. Another advantage of eating complex carbohydrate is you'll feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Here are some of the preferred complex carbohydrate to eat:
  • Whole grain
  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Potato
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils

Limit refined carbohydrate

Refined carbohydrate is a form of carbohydrate that has undergone processing to alter it's original form. For example, a brown rice becomes a white rice (an example of a refined carbohydrate) when the brown rice undergoes a milling process in which it's husk and bran layer is removed.

When carbohydrate is refined, it is stripped away of vital nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Refined carbohydrate is more readily absorbed by the body compared to unrefined carbohydrate. A study published on The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that a diet high in refined carbohydrate but low in fiber increases a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In today's modern age, refined carbohydrate dominates the food scenery. Examples of refined carbohydrate are:
  • Bagels
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Pancakes
  • Pasta
  • Pastries
  • Pizza
  • Waffles
  • White bread
  • White rice

Count your calorie intake

Calorie is the amount of energy you get from foods that you eat. Extra calories add up to your weight and blood glucose level, therefore, you don't want too much of it. You have to watch out for the foods that you eat to properly control diabetes and avoid being overweight.

Vegetables and Fruits

Fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories but high in minerals, nutrient, and dietary fiber. These are good sources of antioxidants. Dietary fiber slows down sugar absorption in the gut. It aids in good digestion and gut motility. Eating more fruits and vegetable is an essential component of a healthy balanced diet for diabetics.

Here are some of the best vegetables and fruits for diabetics:
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Broccoli
  • Legumes
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Cucumber
  • Apple
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Lemon
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries

Take note that ripe fruits contains more simple sugar in the form of fructose, so it's best to avoid ripe and overripe fruits.

Eat fresh fruit, but dried and frozen fruits are also a good option. Avoid dried fruits that contain added sugar or salt. Also, avoid fruit juices because studies have shown that these actually increases risk of diabetes.

Choose healthy fats

Take note that fats contain about twice as much calories compared to carbohyrate or protein, so small portion is advisable for consumption even if it's considered as healthy fat.

Not all fats are the same. Choose healthy fats over saturated and transfat. Healthy fats includes:
  • Avocado oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil

Omega-3 fatty acid

Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of essential fatty acid we have to get from the foods that we eat because our body can not make it on it's own. Research has shown that it's consumption reduces risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Eating fatty fish is a good source of Omega-3.

Omega-3 rich foods includes:
  • Achovies
  • Cod
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines

Choose low fat dairy products

Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium which aids in building and maintaining strong bones, but dairy products are also high in saturated fat. Choose low fat dairy products like unsweetened yogurt and skimmed milk. When choosing low fat dairy product, read the food label and check for calorie and added sugar. Choose:
  • Unsweetened greek yogurt
  • Skimmed milk
Watch out for low fat milk that adds more sugar as substitute for fat content.


Your protein source should be healthy. Avoid processed meats because these often contain lots of saturated fats and salt. Get your protein from:
  • Lean meat
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Lentils
  • Seeds

In addition , proper food preparation is equally important. Frying a lean meat adds unhealthy saturated fats so avoid these as much as possible.

Foods that can reduce blood sugar level

When it comes to home remedies for diabetes mellitus, there are several spices that can help bring down blood sugar level. If you are planning to use these as an alternative medicine, it's better to talk to your doctor first because this can interact with your anti-diabetic medicine. When consumed together with anti-diabetic medications or insulin, this can lead to low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia).

Here are several foods or spices that can help bring down blood sugar level:
  • Cinnamon
  • Tumeric
  • Garlic
  • Olives
  • Maitake mushroom
  • Banaba

Scheduled meal

It is important for diabetic people to stick to a regular mealtime schedule. Mealtime is set at regular hours to ensure blood sugar level is kept under control throughout the day. This will make it easier to plan the administration of anti-diabetic medications throughout the day, thus avoiding a sudden rise or drop in blood sugar level.

Portion size serving

Eating a large portion all at once in a single meal can lead to a sharp rise in blood sugar level which is dangerous especially among diabetics so this is discouraged in a diabetic diet. Instead, eat sufficient calculated portion of well balanced food that contains sufficient macronutrient and micronutrient.

Diabetic people are encouraged to eat small frequent meals scheduled at a fix time throughout the day.

Avoid fasting

Starving yourself when you have diabetes is a dangerous idea. It can lead to too low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) which can lead to ketone build-up. Avoid fasting, instead plan servings of small meal divided throughout the day to keep your blood sugar level at a steady pace.

No to unhealthy fats

Avoid foods that contain high amount of saturated and transfat since these contain high amounts of calories. These also increases risk of blood aggregation which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Foods high in saturated and transfats includes:
  • Processed meat such as bacon, ham, hot dog, and sausage
  • Baked goods such as cookies, pastries, and cakes
  • Margarine
  • Butter
  • Sweet chocolate
Avoid fried foods

Fried foods, especially fast foods, can contain staggering amounts of fats. A good way to cut down on saturated fat is to avoid eating fried foods. Instead, you can steam, stew, or boil your food. Limit:
  • Fried chicken
  • French fries
  • Pork chop

Limit salt intake to 2,300 mg per day

Salt is something you'd would like to take in moderation. A diet high in salt can lead to hypertension and water retention, adding up to the list of complications that could have been avoided.

Don't forget exercise

Following a diabetic diet is crucial to control and manage diabetes, but exercise also plays a huge role to effectively treat diabetes mellitus. Exercise increases the sensitivity of our cells to insulin, thereby, decreasing blood sugar level. Caution should be taken when you are using insulin or anti-diabetic medications. If combined with exercise, it can lead to hypoglycemia.

Diabetic diet is a healthy diet plan for diabetics. Talk to your doctor and dietician to create a customized diabetic diet  plan for you. Factors like age, gender, levels of physical activity, weight, and prescribed anti-diabetic medications all have a bearing as to how much you can eat when you have diabetes mellitus.



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