The biggest risk factor for developing diabetes is being overweight, but not all body fat is created equal. Your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen—the so-called “spare tire”—as opposed to your hips and thighs. So why are “apple” shaped people more at risk than “pears”?
“Pears” store most of their fat close below their extremities. “Apples” store their weight around their middle, much of it deep within the belly surrounding their abdominal organs and liver. This type of deep fat is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, many studies show that waist size is a better predictor of diabetes risk than BMI (body mass index). Eating right is vital if you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes. While exercise is also important, what you eat has the biggest impact when it comes to weight loss. But what does eating right for diabetes mean? You may be surprised to hear that your nutritional needs are virtually the same everyone else: no special foods or complicated diets are necessary.
A diabetes diet is simply a healthy eating plan that is high in nutrients, low in fat, and moderate in calories. It is a healthy diet for anyone! The only difference is that you need to pay more attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat. You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:
A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more.
MYTH: You must avoid sugar at all costs.
Fact: The good news is that you can enjoy your favorite treats as long as you plan properly. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan or combined with exercise.
MYTH: A high-protein diet is best.
Fact: Studies have shown that eating too much protein, especially animal protein, may actually cause insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A healthy diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need all three to function properly. The key is a balanced diet.
MYTH: You have to cut way down on carbs.
Fact: Again, the key is to eat a balanced diet. The serving size and the type of carbohydrates you eat are especially important. Focus on whole grain carbs since they are a good source of fiber and they are digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.
MYTH: You’ll no longer be able to eat normally. You need special diabetic meals.
Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit. You can easily eat with your family and friends if you eat in moderation. Diabetes and diet tip 1: Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs
Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—but you don’t have to avoid them. You just need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat.
In general, it’s best to limit highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, and snack foods. Focus instead on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. Slow-release carbs help keep blood sugar levels even because they are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin. They also provide lasting energy and help you stay full longer.
Choosing carbs that are packed with fiber (and don’t spike your blood sugar)
Try these high-fiber options…
Brown rice or wild rice
White potatoes (including fries and mashed potatoes)
Sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, cauliflower mash
Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
Sugary breakfast cereal
High-fiber breakfast cereal (Raisin Bran, etc.)
Steel-cut oats or rolled oats
Peas or leafy greens
Making the glycemic index easy
The glycemic index (GI) tells you how quickly a food turns into sugar in your system. Glycemic load, a newer term, looks at both the glycemic index and the amount of carbohydrate in a food, giving you a more accurate idea of how a food may affect your blood sugar level. High GI foods spike your blood sugar rapidly, while low GI foods have the least effect.
You can find glycemic index and glycemic load tables online, but you don’t have to rely on food charts in order to make smart choices. Australian chef Michael Moore has come up with an easier way to regulate the carbs you eat. He classifies foods into three broad categories: fire, water, and coal. The harder your body needs to work to break food down, the better.
Fire foods have a high GI, and are low in fiber and protein. They include “white foods” (white rice, white pasta, white bread, potatoes, most baked goods), sweets, chips, and many processed foods. They should be limited in your diet.
Water foods are free foods—meaning you can eat as many as you like. They include all vegetables and most types of fruit (fruit juice, dried fruit, and canned fruit packed in syrup spike blood sugar quickly and are not considered water foods).
Coal foods have a low GI and are high in fiber and protein. They include nuts and seeds, lean meats, seafood, whole grains, and beans. They also include “white food” replacements such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat pasta.