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Guest Column: Managing diabetes with diet, mindful eating


Published on: November 14, 2019 | Updated on: November 14, 2019

If you have diabetes, keep an eye on what, how much you and when you eat, and how active a lifestyle you lead. (Representational image)

Nutrition and physical activity are crucial elements of a healthy lifestyle for diabetes patients. A balanced, nutritious diet, and physical activity can directly help maintain blood glucose levels, the mainstay of diabetes management. If you have diabetes, keep an eye on what, how much you and when you eat, and how active a lifestyle you lead.

Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, in which the body produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively. Glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being absorbed by the cells to be used or stored as energy. As a result, the body demands more insulin to enable glucose to enter the cells. The pancreas increases production of insulin to meet the demand. Over time, they can no longer keep up, leading to a rise in blood glucose levels.

Of the risk factors for diabetes, some are modifiable, while others are not. Age, race, ethnicity and genetics come under non-modifiable risk factors. Diet, nutrition, exercise, and physical activity are modifiable risks that the patient can use to manage or even reverse diabetes.

The location of body fat also makes a difference. Extra belly fat is linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Merely losing weight helps insulin resistance and diabetes. There are several goals to managing diabetes, like maintaining a healthy weight, managing health metrics like HBA1 c, FBS, PPBS, blood pressure, and lipid profile, preventing complications that may occur due to fluctuation of blood glucose, and better compliance with the treatment protocol.

How can these be achieved? Understanding the macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients in your diet can be the key to managing diabetes. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are called macronutrients because they are required in larger quantities in our daily diet. Carbohydrate intake has a direct effect on the post-meal glucose of people with diabetes and is the main macro-nutrient to worry about in glycaemic management. Some studies suggest that consumption of healthy fats like virgin olive oil and fish oil is associated with improved glucose metabolism and decreased risk for type 2 diabetes. Micronutrients such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iodine, iron are all linked with prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Patients need to do dietary modifications to better manage or prevent diabetes. They should eat foods from all the food groups (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), as omitting a food group may result in skipping a nutrient in the daily diet.

Choose whole foods, whole grains, fresh fruits (rather than juices) and whole lentils (unsplit) to benefit from the fibre they contain. Switch to minimally processed, unrefined oils, while avoiding refined and chemically processed cooking oils. Lean meat, fish and a variety of lentils and beans are good protein sources.

Practice mindful eating as much as possible. It involves paying attention to the food one is eating, savouring it, taking small portions, eating slowly, chewing well and focusing on the sensual awareness of the experience. Always watch the portion sizes you are eating and be attentive to how you feel after eating a particular meal. A holistic approach to changing one’s lifestyle that involves nutrition, exercise and emotional and spiritual needs is a sustainable way to control and reverse diabetes over time.