Whether you or someone you know suffers from diabetes, there is more to this condition than avoiding sweets or testing the blood sugar levels on the daily. It affects about 1 in 10 people and about one-third of people don’t even know they have it. Crazy, huh? We’re going to go in-depth on the different types of diabetes, what happens in the body when carbohydrates and fats are consumed, list some foods to avoid and include and even explain if diabetes can be prevented!
To remember throughout the article: carbohydrates are sugar!
Type 1 Versus Type 2
There’s some important information about blood sugar that you should know before we dive into this article. High blood sugar stimulates insulin and tells the body to store the sugar as fat. While low blood sugar stimulates glucagon, which tells the pancreas to produce sugar for the body creating a “flight or fight” response. This is important for keeping blood sugar balanced during times of fasting (i.e. not eating). When the blood sugar is constantly high from excess carbs and sugar in the diet, insulin is produced too often, eventually leading the body to become resistant to insulin, causing Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is usually adult onset, but that doesn’t mean a child or young adult can’t get it. Luckily, it can be controlled through healthy diet and exercise – more on that later!
When someone has Type 1 diabetes, their body attacks the beta cells that create insulin and then eventually, the body is unable to create insulin. This is an auto immune disorder and research is still unsure why it happens. Type 1 diabetics are dependent on insulin and need to take shots of it to ensure they can properly break down sugars and have a balanced blood sugar. It can affect younger people, even children and usually about 10% of diabetics are Type 1, while the rest are Type 2.
What Happens When Diabetics Eat Carbs?
In a non-diabetic person, when carbohydrates are consuming through food or drink the body produces insulin to help the body use the sugar in an appropriate fashion. This usually means for energy or to store as fat for later on when energy is needed but food is not available.
In a Type 1 diabetic, insulin isn’t produced by the body so the sugars in carbs can be used properly, causing the blood sugar level to raise dramatically. This can cause hyperglycemia in the body. When hyperglycemia is induced, the body breaks down fat as energy. When this happens, the byproduct of fat breakdown, called ketones leaves the body through urine. However, excess ketones may build up in the body leading to ketoacidosis, also known as a diabetic coma. Symptoms can be trouble breathing, dry mouth and vomiting.
This why Type 1 diabetics need to take insulin to ensure proper usage of sugars!
Type 2 diabetics will experience the same outcome because their bodies are resistant to the use of insulin. This is why their diets should contain food lower in sugars and carbs.
Can Fat Help?
As we know, there are unhealthy and healthy fats that are consumed through the diet. People with diabetes are actually more prone to develop Cardiovascular Disease and should eliminate trans and saturated fats from the diet. Eating a meal high in fat slows down digestion and make it more difficult for insulin to do its job, resulting in a high blood sugar level.
However, including some healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, fish or eggs can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels for this exact reason. Fat does take longer to break down and helps the body create balanced blood sugar levels, versus when the body has a high carb/ sugar meal and blood sugar levels drastically spike.
Fiber in foods can also be beneficial because it slows down the process of the sugar in the bloodstream!
Foods Diabetics Should Avoid
If you’re still wondering what types of foods people with diabetes should avoid, we put together a list!
- Sugary beverages including soda, lemonade, ice tea and fruit juice.
- Trans fat such as fried foods.
- Simple carbohydrates from white bread, pasta and rice. These contain little to no fiber, resulting in a spike in blood sugar.
- Flavored and sweetened yogurt – even though yogurt is normally a “good-for-you” product, the excess sugars added to them can become dangerous to a diabetic.
- High sugary cereals can have an excess amount of sugar that will drastically spike a blood sugar level.
- Healthy sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and agave nectar still have an effect on blood sugar levels and should be avoided or consumed in smaller amounts.
- Dried fruit should also be avoided because the fiber is usually removed from the natural fruit and it can cause a spike in glucose levels.
- Desserts such as cookies, candy, ice cream and chocolate!
Foods To Include On A Diabetic Eating Plan
Now that you know what to avoid, let’s talk about all the great foods you can eat!
Just like most health conditions, you can benefit from consuming more fresh, natural foods such as leafy greens, complex carbs such as sweet potato and squash, fresh fruits, lean proteins such as poultry and fish, legumes or beans and all nuts and seeds. This will ensure a proper amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals are consumed to ensure any major spikes and lulls in blood sugar levels.
Diabetics (or those looking to prevent it) may benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day to ensure blood sugar levels are balanced.
Can Diabetes Be Prevented?
Type 1 diabetes can NOT be prevented because it is an autoimmune disorder that someone is born with. (But may not be diagnosed or experience symptoms until later on in life.) However, Type 2 can very well be prevented. Proper nutrition with whole, natural foods and avoiding excess consumption of sugars can prevent Type 2 diabetes to form. Remember that Type 2 develops from the body producing too much insulin from the sugars in foods and eventually the body doesn’t respond to insulin properly. Higher risk factors to develop Type 2 are overweight, having a blood-related family member with diabetes and being 40 years of age or older.
If you are diagnosed with “pre-diabetes”, there is a great chance that you can stop diabetes from fully forming if you use proper nutrition and start working out!
Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions and concerns about diabetes, your blood sugar levels or any other medical condition!