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If you’re diabetic, you probably already know how important it is to pay close attention to your diet. Not only do you have to eat to maintain a healthy body weight, but you also need to eat for optimal heart benefits. On top of that, you’re constantly aware of your blood sugar level, avoiding hypoglycemia but being sure not to become hyperglycemic. If you eat right you can make your diet work for your health and learn to live comfortably with diabetes. Diet is one of the major components of a diabetes treatment plan. Many diabetics think of their prescribed diet as restrictive, but it’s actually a healthy diet that all people should follow and that allows for consistent meals that can be very satisfying. Many of the aspects of a diabetic diet are similar to a heart healthy diet. This is important because diabetics are at an increased risk for heart and circulatory disease.

There are two types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2. Both involve your body’s ability to carry glucose (basic sugar) from your bloodstream to your cells via insulin. This is the way your body gleans energy from your food. Sometimes, type 2 diabetes can be brought on by obesity, when your cells stop responding to insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are born with the inability to produce insulin and have to inject it into their bloodstream. With diabetes, there are a few key elements to the proper diet, which will be expanded and personalized by your healthcare provider depending on your specific case.

Manage your weight. Especially if you have type 2 diabetes, the first step in managing diabetes is to manage your weight. Your healthcare provider will work with you to come up with a daily meal, a plan that you should follow very strictly in order to shed the pounds to get to a healthy weight. It isn’t a good idea to start a fad diet or to stop eating in order to lose the weight, especially if you’re diabetic. You can run the risk of lowering your blood sugar level to a dangerous level if you skip meals. The key to the diabetic diet is portion control and counting carbohydrate intake. It is also prudent to limit the amount of saturated and hydrogenated fats because of an increased risk of heart disease. Some of basic steps in cutting out fats and eating a healthy diabetic diet include:

  • Avoid excess fatty meats; go for fish and lean poultry over beef.
  • Stay away from fried food; bake or sauté your meals instead.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products like yogurt, skim milk and low-fat cheeses.
  • Cut out saturated fats found in processed foods, like chips or frozen dinners.
  • Use water, vegetable juice or small amounts of olive oil when cooking
  • Meet with a healthcare provider to determine your individual carbohydrate needs.

Like a heart healthy diet, a diabetic diet should emphasize fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. These complex carbohydrates help to regulate your blood sugar, but they’re also loaded with other vitamins and minerals that help your body keep a healthy balance. Fruits, vegetables and legumes all contain fiber, a crucial element in the diabetic diet. Soluble fiber is helpful in maintaining a normal blood sugar level. It helps to slow down your blood sugar level after a meal. Instead of having an immediate surge of blood sugar after a meal, if you have soluble fiber, this rise is more gradual.

Limit salt and sodium. While you’re eating for your heart because of diabetes, be thankful for the extra initiative to cut out sodium and lower your blood pressure. Watch out for hidden sodium by reading labels carefully and keeping aware. The most obvious way to cut out sodium is to pass the salt shaker on at the table or while cooking.

Control. In a diabetic diet, it’s not all about ingredients—although that is the first step. Next, you’ll need to control your portion size in order to avoid going hyperglycemic after a big meal. Your healthcare provider might be able to discuss proper portion control with you if you find this to be difficult to maintain. When cooking, prepare less food in order to ensure that you don’t go for seconds. Ask your family to help you maintain proper portion sizes at meals. Try snacking regularly throughout the day to avoid sitting down for a meal too hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself, or skip meals. It just means you need to pay attention to how much you eat and plan ahead to make sure you keep your meals under control.

Be consistent. Many diabetics forget that a fundamental aspect of the diet is to keep consistent throughout the day, and from day to day. That means getting on a meal and snack schedule, and sticking to it. This will allow your body to get accustomed to blood sugar levels, and help you avoid hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels. Your healthcare provider might advise you to pay close attention to your body and blood glucose levels in order to establish specific times when you feel it is particularly low, so that you may plan on eating small meals to curb hypoglycemia.

A diabetic diet is highly individualized for each case. However, the above guidelines are a firm foundation in the healthy fundamentals to eating with diabetes. You might notice that all of the guidelines are also highly advised for non-diabetic people who wish to be healthy. That’s because proper nutrition is universal. A diabetic diet should be accompanied by moderate exercise to optimize the health benefits. Some diabetics are prescribed medication for treatment as well.

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