Diabetes mellitus is a disease characterized by abnormally high blood sugar levels. It is the result of non-production of or inadequate utilization of insulin hormones by the body to break down glucose into energy. Diabetics have special nutritional needs, and when these needs are met, they have fewer diabetic complications and better overall health. Carbohydrates have a high glycemic index, which worsens diabetes. Saturated fats lead to high cholesterol which is not good for the heart, and diabetics are particularly prone to heart complications. Proteins and fats also produce glucose when assimilated, and hence their proportion in a diabetic diet must be regulated.
How much to eat?
Diabetic women who are petite and active or medium size and leading a sedentary lifestyle need only 1200 to 1600 calories per day. Diabetic large women and small, medium-size or large men who are relatively inactive should eat about 1600 to 2000 calories per day. Diabetic Medium/large men and large women who are highly active will need 2000 to 2400 calories a day.
What to eat?
The Diabetic Food Pyramid approved by The American Diabetes Association and American Dietetic Association (ADA) divides all foods into six groups; starches, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fats and oils. The starches lie at the base of the pyramid, being its widest section. This means you have to eat more servings of starches compared to the foods higher up on the pyramid. While eating starches, diabetics must include starchy green vegetables like green peas and green Lima beans as they have more fiber, nutrients and minerals than other starchy food options. Minerals are good for controlling blood sugar.
Nutritious non-starchy vegetables and fruits lie at the next level of the pyramid.
When choosing milk products, opt for low-fat milk and dairy products to obtain a supply of proteins, calcium and vitamins without gaining weight.
Diabetics should eat lean meat and poultry to get proteins and minerals.
Fats, alcohol and sweets lie at the top or the smallest part of the pyramid. Besides polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in foods such as olive oil, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, flax seeds and walnuts replacing other unhealthy fats, these foods are best avoided altogether by diabetics.
The servings prescribed by this pyramid are six to 11 starch servings, three to five vegetable servings, two to four fruit servings, two to three milk servings and four to six ounces of meat a day.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prescribed a new system called 'My Pyramid.' The pyramid advocates eating grains (half the daily intake should be whole grains), dark green and orange vegetables as well as dry beans and peas, fruits (drink less fruit juices), low-fat or fat-free milk and lean meats and poultry.
Diabetic nutrition percentages
Diabetics should source only 20 percent of their daily calorie needs from proteins. Thirty percent of their calories should be fats, out of which only a maximum of 10 percent should be saturated fats. Only 50 to 60 percent of their calories should be obtained from carbohydrates. Diabetics should consume dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber that does not release sugar into the blood when digested. This helps regulate blood sugar levels.
When to eat
Diabetics must eat five small meals daily rather than three large meals. The carbohydrate servings required to contribute 50 percent of the total calorie needs per day must be spaced out between the various meals.
Diabetic weight and health
Diabetics need to avoid gaining extra weight. Diabetics who are overweight should lose the extra weight. Being a healthy weight improves the body's ability to use insulin to lower blood sugar levels. For adults, a body mass index or BMI of 19 to 24.9 is considered in the healthy weight range. Above that is an unhealthy weight range and a BMI of 30 or more means that you are obese. Obesity encourages high cholesterol and hypertension that cause heart ailments.