The type and amount of food you eat each day is reflected in your sugar levels and your weight. But how much is too much? And how often do you really need to eat?
The key is to eat regular meals and never skip a meal. Skipping meals, for whatever reason, will do your sugar levels no favours and will not help you lose weight if that is your aim.
Irregular meals upset your metabolism (the rate that you burn up calories) and can actually lead to weight gain in the long-term.
For most people with diabetes timing of meals is important too, for example:
- Breakfast 8am
- Lunch 1pm
- Dinner 6pm.
Although, those on the newer fast-acting insulin regimes can be more flexible.
Each meal should contain some starchy carbohydrate, eg. cereal, bread, rice, potato, pasta. It is important not to overeat these foods as big portions can lead to raised sugar levels and weight gain.
The more active you are the more portions of these carbohydrates you can include in your diet.
Generally, it is not necessary to snack between meals (this depends on what diabetes tablets or insulin regime you are on) check with your dietitian.
For those who do require a snack, a piece of fruit or a diet yogurt is usually sufficient unless you have a very physical job or you are taking part in exercise then you may need a little more. We all know what we should eat - the hard part is doing it!
No single food can supply all the nutrients we need. To help us understand how to have a balanced healthy diet the Food Pyramid is useful. Foods that have similar nutrients are grouped together on the shelves of the pyramid, for example, starchy carbohydrates are all on the same shelf. It is better to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid and less from the top.
The bottom shelf is the bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf. These foods provide energy, fibre, B vitamins and iron and are a major source of starchy carbohydrate. Go for the high fibre varieties of these foods.
A bowl of cereal (the non-sugar coated variety!) is a great start to the day. Cereals are low in fat, high in starchy carbohydrate and most are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The high fibre varieties promote a healthy gut and some types such as porridge and muesli, can help reduce cholesterol levels and promote good blood sugar control too.
You will find the average serving size (portion) on the side of the box - stick to this if you're watching your weight.
A serving from this shelf is:
- One bowl cereal
- One slice bread
- Three dessert spoons cooked pasta/rice
- One medium potato - boiled or baked.
Have six servings per day. Eat more if you are quite active or trying to gain weight!
These foods provide most of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre we require. You need to eat two fruit and two veg per day.
To increase your fruit and vegetable intake: add a banana to your cereal; drink a small glass of fruit juice with one of your meals; add cooked or raw vegetables to your meals; have fruit for dessert (raw or stewed). Tinned fruit in its own juice is also suitable. Remember, frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh.
A single serving of fruit and vegetables is:
- A glass of fruit juice
- Three dessert spoons cooked vegetables or salad
- A bowl of homemade vegetable soup
- One medium size piece of fresh fruit
- Three dessert spoons cooked or tinned fruit (in own juice).
Aim for four servings daily.
Milk and milk products are on the next shelf. These are rich sources of calcium, protein and vitamins. It is advisable for most people with diabetes to go for the low-fat varieties of these foods. Low-fat milk contains slightly more calcium than full-fat milk.
Older people or pregnant women are advised to use fortified milks, which contain added vitamin D and calcium and are also low in fat. It is not recommended that low-fat products be used in children under two.
A single serving is:
- 200ml (1/3 pint) milk
- One pot diet yogurt
- 25g (1oz) hard cheese.
Have three servings from this group and choose low fat varieties.
These are the protein and iron rich foods. They can be high in saturated fat if you are not careful. Trim the fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry before eating to reduce the fat content.
Oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna, and pilchards are a good source of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega 3 fat.
This type of fat can help protect against heart disease. It is recommended that we eat one to two portions of oily fish per week (this can include tinned varieties). Oily fish is also a good source of vitamins A and D.
Eggs can be scrambled, boiled or poached, or occasionally fried in a little oil. Eggs are a good source of vitamin D. If your cholesterol is high three to four eggs per week is permissible, and if your cholesterol is normal - seven per week. Choose beans, peas or lentils for variety.
A serving from this group is:
- 60g (2oz) lean meat, poultry or fish
- Two eggs
- Six tablespoons peas/beans
- 60g (2oz) cheddar cheese (low fat preferably)
- 90g (3oz) nuts.
Eat two servings daily.
The top shelf - these foods are usually our favourites and contain a lot of calories, sugar and fat. Eat as little as possible from this shelf.
Use small amounts of fats and oils daily. Go for mono- (olive or rapeseed oil) and poly- (sunflower oil) unsaturated, as these are more beneficial. Sweets, chocolate, toffees, cakes, biscuits and high fat snacks should be restricted to small amounts and only on special occasions.
If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly and never on an empty stomach! Remember alcohol is high in calories and can increase your weight.
For all age groups, an active lifestyle has many healthy benefits.
Regular exercise not only helps us to maintain a healthy weight, but:
- Improves blood-sugar control
- Improves blood cholesterol
- Improves mood and reduces stress
- Decreases risk of heart disease
- Keeps your muscles and bones strong and healthy.
Aim to be active throughout the day, exercising for at least 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
In summary, if you stick to a few basic rules everyday there is no reason why you can't enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, whilst keeping your diabetes well controlled.
- Keep your weight down
- Eat regular meals, do not skip meals
- Always eat average portions, do not overeat
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Exercise every day.
- Reduce fat
- Increase oily fish to two to three times a week (fish can be fresh or tinned)
- Increase fruit and vegetables - aim for two pieces of fruit and two veg per day.
- Keep alcohol to within the healthy limit. (two-three units per day for a man, one-two units per day for a woman)
- Remember that alcohol contains lots of calories, so if you are trying to lose weight, keep alcohol to a minimum.