Equipping yourself with the knowledge of the foods to avoid in diabetes may be what you need to live successfully with the disease. Diabetes is a condition that describes impaired metabolism of glucose leading to high blood levels.
Living with diabetes does not mean you cannot enjoy your favourite meals or delicacies; however, it does mean you would have to take them in regulated (reduced portions) amounts. Nevertheless, in some situations, you may have to say no to certain foods.
Let’s consider the intake of the following foods while living with diabetes.
Refined carbohydrate foods
Refined carbohydrate foods include white rice, pasta, refined wheat flour, refined maize flour, white bread etc. Because these refined starchy foods have no fibre, they are broken down more rapidly in the body and lead to a sharp increase in blood sugar, a situation you want to prevent. Research evidence shows that added refined carbohydrates cause diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study indicated that highly polished rice, refined wheat, highly processed foods such as cookies and pastries, fruit juice, sweetened beverages and fried potatoes or French fries are bad carbs for diabetes. Therefore, it is advisable that you replace refined carbohydrates with unrefined counterparts such as whole grain flour, bread, rye, etc. that break down slowly and have a less profound effect on blood sugar.
Findings from a systematic study suggest a significant link between high consumption of refined carbohydrates, especially white rice, and the development of diabetes.
The use of gluten-free diets has gained popularity in certain disease conditions with promises of beneficial effects. However, research evidence has shown how commercially available gluten-free pasta elevates postprandial glycemia in comparison to conventional wheat pasta in healthy adults. Therefore, the use of commercially gluten-free products should be used with caution in diabetes.
Foods and drinks high in sugar are foods to avoid in diabetes
Foods that are made with refined sugar, including desserts, candy, and fizzy drinks are generally high in sugar and lacking in beneficial nutrients. As a result, these foods can cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar. Not only do these foods lack nutrients, but they also increase your risk for undesirable weight gain. When your body experiences a sharp spike in blood sugar, your body needs extra insulin to bring your blood sugar down. With more circulating insulin in your blood, if your activity level does not match the energy produced, your body converts the carbohydrates to fat and stores them as adipose deposits.
Additionally, fizzy drinks are high in fructose, which relates to insulin resistance and diabetes. Also, high fructose levels could lead to metabolic changes that encourage abdominal fat along with harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Evidence has shown that a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may increase the risk of diabetes-related conditions like fatty liver disease. A study established how habitual fructose intake relates to insulin sensitivity and fatty liver in people with a recent onset of type 2 diabetes as well as individuals without diabetes. Participants consuming a diet high in sugar-sweetened beverages and low in fruits and vegetables were shown to have higher adiposity in another study.
Sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals may be avoided in diabetes
Many of the commercially available breakfast cereals are high in sugar and low in protein. Whereas, a high protein, low carbohydrate breakfast is more beneficial in diabetes and helps to control your appetite. Choosing the right kind of breakfast consistently while living with diabetes can be challenging.
The health claims on the boxes of most breakfast cereals are far from what people expect. This is why it is strongly advised that you read the nutrition label to get fully informed of what you will be ingesting by having a serving or two of the product.
Research finding shows that a higher fibre intake is associated with lower blood pressure levels in patients with type 1 diabetes. This ought to be true in breakfast cereals that have oats as main ingredients such as granola. Unfortunately, the high amount of added sugar often undermines this benefit. The good news here is that you can make your roast oats at home with no added sugar or preservatives.
Sugar-sweetened yoghurt may be avoided in diabetes
Yoghurt offers lots of health benefits due to its nutrient composition and the live bacteria that is good for gut health. Evidence has shown that yoghurt consumption has a potential role in diabetes prevention. Another study showed that the intake of low-fat fermented dairy products such as yoghurt was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, commercially available varieties are often laden with a high amount of sugar, flavourings and additives which undermines the potential benefits. The indiscriminate intake of sugar-sweetened and even fruit-flavoured yoghurt in diabetes could lead to a spike in blood sugar.
Avoid the deception of the label ‘fruit-flavoured’. They may be produced from non-fat or low-fat milk but loaded with carbohydrates and sugar.
Plain low-fat yoghurt is beneficial for people living with diabetes for blood sugar control.
Trans fats are to be avoided in diabetes
Trans fats are chemically altered unsaturated fats to enhance the stability of the product. They are linked to insulin resistance, inflammation, abdominal fat, and heart disease.
Trans fats are usually constituents of processed foods such as margarine, bread spreads, creamers, mayonnaise etc. They are also found in baked products such as cakes, high-fat pastries and fried foods.
Trans fats are not directly linked with blood sugar levels, however, the association with increased inflammation, insulin resistance, and abdominal fat is of importance in diabetes. It has been shown that trans fatty acids from processed foods have been linked to adverse effects on lipid profiles, metabolic function, insulin resistance. Scarier is the association of trans-fat with reduced memory function in younger adults in a study. Another study established how a diet high in trans-fatty acids is associated with increased heart disease risk and insulin resistance
Trans fat is potentially dangerous due to the associated health risks, and the most dangerous trans fats are the ones found in processed foods. This is often indicated on the food labels as trans-fat per serving or per 100grams of the product. You may also have to avoid products with the text “partially hydrogenated” in their ingredient list.
Dried fruits are concentrated in sugar and may contain up to four times as much sugar as fresh fruits. Fruits are a great source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, provitamin A, folate, and potassium. Drying fruits can provide a viable way of preserving the foods for future use, to prevent wastage and to extend the use of fruits in a variety of ways. When fruits are dried, the moisture is removed and there is a higher concentration of nutrients. For example, due to the dehydration process of sun-drying, phytonutrients are more concentrated in raisins than in fresh grapes. Also, the sugar content in dried fruits becomes more concentrated as well.
Since dried fruits contain up to four times as many carbs as their fresh counterparts, it is advisable to choose the fresh fruits if you are living with diabetes, to avoid the intake of the high amount of sugar already concentrated in dried fruits. However, if your intake of dried fruits such as raisins and prunes is in a controlled amount, you can benefit from the concentrated nutrients that are in dried fruits. A study examined the effects of dried grapes on blood pressure, fasting glucose, glucated haemoglobin (HbA1c), lipid peroxidation among people living with diabetes. It was found that the participants who consumed dried grapes (raisins) had reduced diastolic blood pressure and increased total antioxidant potential compared to the participants who did not. It should be noted that the intake of dried grapes was regulated to equal to two fresh fruit servings and was a replacement of snacks with similar energy twice a day.
The low sugar fruits, such as fresh berries, green apples, avocados, plums etc will be sufficient to provide you with the nutrients in them without spiking your blood sugar.
French fries or fried potatoes are high in calories from the oil and the moisture-reduced carbohydrate. French fries are produced by frying potatoes in oil at high temperatures. This process increases the chances of trans fat and the formation of unhealthy by-products. The by-products are toxic compounds, including advanced glycation end products and aldehydes promote inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease.
A regular intake of French fries, if you are living with diabetes, may increase your risk for diabetes complications. Also, the high-fat content puts you at risk of unwanted weight gain, a situation you want to prevent in diabetes. It is therefore advisable to stay away from them and eat your potatoes baked or boiled and in small portions. Even the healthy eating recommendation for healthy individuals discourages the frequent intake of fried foods.
Several studies have demonstrated the link of the intake of French fries with adverse health outcomes including diabetes.
Meats high in fat as one of the foods to avoid in diabetes
Meats that are high in fat include fresh cuts of parts such as skirt steak, rib-eye steaks, prime rib, pork rib, pork belly, regular mince, chicken with skin. Processed meats high in fat include salami, sausage, cured ham, bacon etc. These meats are not only high in fat but are high in saturated fats which increases a person’s risk for heart diseases. A high intake of meats high in fat is not advisable for people living with diabetes. The saturated fats in meat could potentially raise your cholesterol and promote inflammation, thereby putting you at even greater risk for heart disease and diabetes complications. Additionally, high fat would increase your chances of unhealthy weight gain. It is advisable to choose lean cuts of meat, such as lean steak, skinless chicken or turkey, fish or shellfish and lean mince.
Research evidence demonstrates the fact that the intake of meats high in fat is linked with risks for type 2 diabetes.
Avoid or limit added sweeteners
People living with diabetes are often aware of the fact that white or brown table sugar is of not much benefit to them and they need to minimise their intake. However, some believe that it is safe to use natural sweeteners such as honey, nectar, and maple syrup. While these sweeteners are not as processed as white table sugar, they are still high in simple sugars and may have similar effects on blood sugar, insulin, and inflammatory markers.
How about non-nutritive sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame, sucralose, etc. They come under different names – Nutrasweet, Equal, Splenda Sweet ‘N Low, Sugar Twin Steviva etc. The effect of artificial sweeteners on metabolism and their role in diabetes is controversial and inconclusive among the research community. However, it is advisable to use them in moderation because the food regulation bodies of different countries approve the use of many of them. A study reported inconclusive evidence of very low certainty regarding the effects of non-nutritive sweeteners consumption compared with either sugar, or nutritive low‐calorie sweetener consumption on benefit or harm for HbA1c, body weight, and complications in people with diabetes.
To be on the safe side avoid all forms of added sugar if possible. Only use sugar within the limit that your body can tolerate.
Having discussed the foods that you need to minimise or avoid in diabetes, you must also know the right kind of foods to eat.
Knowing the right kinds of food to eat in diabetes could be challenging. Nevertheless, by following a healthy lifestyle unswervingly, you can live with the disease and minimise your risk for complications. The healthy eating recommendations for healthy individuals are applicable for people living with diabetes.
It is important that you keep your diet simple so that you can carry on enjoying your meals and not enduring them. Your goal would be to control your blood sugar levels and to prevent diabetes complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure and nerve disease. The diet is one of the important strategies to control your blood sugar.
The healthy eating guidelines that emphasise, variety, least processed foods, and fresh produce are applicable in diabetes. Therefore, you can safely eat foods that fall in these categories while maintaining the correct portion size. Certain foods provide extraordinary health benefits, and you can safely enjoy in diabetes. They are as follows, but not limited to these:
Beans – a super food in diabetes
Beans are legumes that are rich in B vitamins, minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They are low cost, super nutritious and very rich in fibre. Because of the high fibre content, beans have a very low glycemic index. Glycemic index means that it does not cause a sharp increase in blood glucose, a factor that is crucial in the management of diabetes. People with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes are encouraged to consume an adequate amount of dietary fibre preferably through food such as pulses, beans, peas, lentils, and vegetables. Evidence has shown that the consumption of dry beans and other pulses is a sustainable way to prevent many of the most common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Beans are high in polyphenolic compounds which are known to have numerous health-promoting properties including antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Avocados are low in carbohydrates, but high in healthy fats and fibre. As a result, they don’t raise blood sugar levels. The intake of avocados is linked with improved overall diet quality, reduced body weight/body mass index (BMI), and invariably lower metabolic syndrome risk. The relationship with reduced body weight is very beneficial because weight loss in overweight individuals living with diabetes is desirable. You can safely enjoy avocados as part of your meals or as snacks.
Fatty fish including mackerels, sardines, and anchovies, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for heart health. Having enough of these fats in your diet regularly will be beneficial in protecting you from diabetes complications such as hypertension, and subsequently, reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Fatty fish may help in regulating blood sugar according to a study that shows how high intake of fatty fish, positively affected after-meal blood glucose in overweight adults. Moreover, fish is also a good source of high-quality protein, it could help you to feel full, thereby stabilizing your blood sugar levels.
Regular intake of an egg with your meals may reduce your risk for heart disease through its contribution to decreased inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, increased good cholesterol levels (HDL). Though eggs contain a high amount of cholesterol, earlier research findings linked eggs intake with heart disease. Recent findings are showing that eggs could be potentially beneficial when eaten in modest amounts such as not more than 6 eggs per week as part of a varied and healthy diet.
Green and leafy vegetables are very nutritious and low in calories; therefore, they don’t significantly affect blood sugar levels. Leafy vegetables are good sources of many vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B, C and K as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus. Also, they are rich in antioxidants that help to protect your heart and eye health. Because leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin C, by increasing your intake of leafy vegetables, you could increase your blood vitamin C levels thereby reducing your risk for inflammation and cellular damage. Green and leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, amaranth, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus lettuce etc. are readily available.
A regular intake of yoghurt may help in promoting healthy blood sugar levels and subsequently a reduced risk for heart disease. A study involving large participants showed that a daily serving of yoghurt helped to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, your bone and heart health would benefit from the good amount of calcium that yoghurt supplies. Moreover, your gut will benefit from the millions of health-promoting bacteria that yoghurt contains.
Chia seeds and Flaxseeds
Chia seeds and flax seeds contain high amounts of fibre, which may help increase the bulk, improve the feeling of fulness, and therefore prevent unwanted weight gain. They have been found to help maintain blood glucose levels, making them superfoods for people living with diabetes. Also, the seeds may contribute to reducing blood pressure and substances that stimulate inflammation. Additionally, Flaxseeds have a high content of omega-3 fats which makes the seeds beneficial in reducing your risk for heart disease.
Nuts are both delicious and nutritious. They’re high in fibre and low in carbohydrates. Therefore, they may contribute to reducing blood sugar and bad cholesterol. However, since nuts are high in fats, they should only be consumed in moderation. Read more on the suggested servings of nuts in healthy eating HERE.
It has been shown that regular consumption of nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts may reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar, and improve heart health among people living with type 2 diabetes.
Broccoli is a vegetable that is packed with lots of important nutrients such as vitamin C and magnesium and phytochemical compounds that help in protecting against various diseases. Because of its low carbohydrate content, it is low in calories thereby making it an excellent addition to varieties in a diabetes diet.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil contains oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that helps in the management of blood sugar. It also contains polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant. People living with type 2 diabetes can benefit from the many benefits of olive oil’s protection against hypertension, and heart disease. A study revealed that olive oil consumption was found to be beneficial in chronic non-communicable diseases namely cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Strawberries and cranberries are low in sugar but contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties which may help to improve insulin resistance. Berries are also high in antioxidants including anthocyanins, polyphenols, and vitamin C, which impart beneficial antioxidant properties such as the reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Garlic is very famous for its culinary uses. In addition to its use as a spice, garlic is packed with important nutrients such as vitamin C, manganese, selenium, and vitamin B6. Also, garlic is rich in phytochemical compounds. Its rich nutrient composition is evident in its roles in lowering blood sugar, inflammation, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure among people living with diabetes.
Though this is not food, it is a vital part of the recommendation for managing diabetes and preventing diabetes complications. If you are living with diabetes, you will do yourself a lot of good by engaging in physical activity of moderate intensity for between 30 minutes to 1 hour every day. Your body will be more sensitive to insulin thereby enabling effective control of blood sugar levels and lowering your risk of heart disease and nerve damage. A study showed how moderate to high levels of physical activity are associated with lower incidences of illness and death in people with diabetes.
Knowing the foods to avoid in diabetes or what to eat as you are living with the disease is not far-fetched. It could be as simple as following the recommended healthy eating plan for people. Living with diabetes does not mean you will not enjoy your favs, but to do so with knowledge and in moderation. Nevertheless, you may have to give up on certain foods altogether. Remember, to engage in regular physical activity. The rule of thumb is to be in control of the blood sugar and to prevent diabetes complications.