In 2019, the International Diabetes Foundation estimated that 463 million adults between the ages of 20 and 79 were living with diabetes mellitus (DM), more commonly known as diabetes.
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 DM (insulin dependent diabetes) and Type 2 DM (non-insulin dependent diabetes).
Type 1 DM occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps blood glucose, or blood sugar, enter into cells to create energy for the body. Often times Type 1 DM develops during childhood, but it can develop later on in life as well. Type 1 DM treatment includes regularly checking blood sugars, eating a carbohydrate-controlled diet and taking insulin as prescribed by a physician.
Type 2 DM or non-insulin dependent diabetes is when the body is not able to absorb the amount of insulin needed to control blood sugars. Type 2 DM is usually associated with poor eating habits, obesity and an inactive lifestyle. Type 2 DM can often be managed with diet and exercise without the need for prescribed insulin. However, uncontrolled blood sugar management can lead to the need for prescribed insulin in addition to oral medications.
Carbohydrates, or starchy foods such as rice, dairy, breads and fruits, make blood sugars rise. This does not mean they should be avoided. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. It is important to eat carbohydrates that are nutrient dense, meaning they are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Limit foods with added sugars such as sweetened beverages and desserts, as they are low in nutrient and commonly cause spikes in blood sugar. Some nutrient dense carbohydrates that are recommended include potatoes, brown and wild rice, whole wheat bread, beans, peas and fruits.
Try to fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables (any vegetable with the exception of beans, peas, corn and potatoes). The rest of your plate should contain half nutrient dense carbohydrates and half protein (meat, nuts, eggs, fish and cheese).
Eating protein with your carbohydrates will help prevent blood sugar spikes and keep you full for a longer period of time. A snack example of carbohydrates with protein would be eating peanut butter with an apple.
The good news is that anyone with diabetes can live a healthy life by following a carbohydrate-controlled diet, exercising regularly and using medication as prescribed.
Uncontrolled blood sugars can lead to serious health problems, such as kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, loss of eyesight and nerve damage. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you can still eat tasty food. Just be more aware of how your food choices affect your blood sugar. Make sure you speak with a registered dietitian if you have any questions about how to change your diet to better manage your diabetes.
Source: About diabetes. International Diabetes Federation. idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html.
Caroline Thompson is a registered dietitian and director of nutrition systems at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. If you would like further information on healthy eating strategies, MUSC Health provides free one-on-one outpatient nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian. Call 843-674-4525 to schedule an appointment or find out more about free diabetes and nutrition counseling at MUSC Health. Victoria Butler, MS, RD, LD, collaborated on this column, as did dietetic interns Katie Parker and Andie Haan, soon-to-be graduates of Winthrop University.