What are the best diets for diabetes?

Written by: Dr Rasha Mukhtar
Published: | Updated: 27/06/2019
Edited by: Cal Murphy

Diabetes is an all-too common condition and in most cases once you have it, you’ll have to manage it for the rest of your life. With a disease affected by sugar, diet is an important factor. But what are the best diets for diabetes? Endocrinologist Dr Rasha Mukhtar explains.

What is the best diet for diabetics?

As recommended for any individual, the diet for those with diabetes should be a healthy combination of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables. There is always the misconception that those with diabetes should go for low-sugar options but it is important to understand the reasons behind this, as sugar alone is not the reason for high glucose readings.

For those with type 1 diabetes, there should be no particular food type restrictions as long as they give themselves enough insulin to cover what they have taken, as the basis of type 1 diabetes is insulin deficiency.

For those with type 2 diabetes, as this is mainly due to insulin resistance, we do recommend reducing the intake of fast-acting carbohydrates, which include sugars and starchy food. All carbohydrate-laden food increases glucose levels, and glucose is harder to utilise in someone with insulin resistance.

 

How can the ketogenic diet help diabetes?

A ketogenic diet is a diet which is so restricted in carbohydrates that it encourages the body to use fat to produce energy. Fat metabolism leads to ketosis, hence the name.

If carbohydrate intake is restricted in type 2 diabetes, then minimal amounts of glucose enter the body and as a result, blood sugar levels rise little. This allows the body to utilise energy from other sources (fat, protein), reduce glucose levels and the need for insulin. Less insulin in such circumstances is useful as insulin is what is known as an anabolic hormone and promotes not only the storage of glucose for use as energy, but also the storage of fat.

 

What foods can diabetics eat freely?

We always recommend a healthy, balanced diet for individuals with diabetes. If looking at foods that do not affect sugar levels, then those that can be taken freely are green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat, fish and shellfish, eggs and cheese. Always remember that some of these foods will be high in fat content and should also be moderated, especially in those with history of heart and circulation problems.

 

What is best to eat when blood sugar levels are too low?

If someone has an episode of hypoglycaemia, this should be treated initially with a fast-acting sugar product, such as a small glass of fruit juice, 3-4 dextrose tablets, 4-5 jelly babies, or a small can of Coke or Lucozade. Once the blood sugar has come up and the symptoms have resolved we would recommend having a longer-acting carbohydrate (like a slice of toast) to reduce the risk of sugar levels dropping quickly again if it was due to too much insulin or other diabetes medication.

The symptoms of low blood sugar are not pleasant and people tend to overcompensate on the sugar intake after the episode to avoid another one. It is important to remember to moderate how much is taken in to avoid the blood sugar rising too high.

 

What other tips do you have for better glucose control?

Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are important for all people for the benefits they provide in weight maintenance, bone strengthening, and improving cardiovascular health and hence reducing the risk of heart disease or stroke. This is particularly important for those with diabetes, which automatically increases their risk of developing heart disease.

A good recommendation is half an hour of aerobic exercise daily in the form of an activity which makes the individual mildly breathless. We encourage everyone to find the exercise that suits them, whether it is swimming, jogging, or at the gym.

 

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By Dr Rasha Mukhtar
Endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism

Dr Rasha Mukhtar is an esteemed consultant in diabetes and endocrinology based at Frimley Park Hospital. Dr Mukhtar has a busy clinical practice covering the investigation, diagnosis and management of patients with diabetes, obesity, thyroid dysfunctions, calcium disorders, pituitary disease, adrenal problems, hypogonadism, and electrolyte abnormalities. She also runs a diabetes and endocrine antenatal clinic in conjunction with obstetricians and specialist nurses, and can also provide pre-conceptual care.

In addition to her clinical practice, Dr Mukhtar is an active medical educator. Dr Mukhtar is a MRCP PACES examiner and is involved with the General Medical Council. Her research was in dietary interventions and metabolic syndrome, and she has extensive research experience in studies involving diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular risk management. She is a principal and co-investigator for a number of international and multi-centre studies.

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