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The way people with diabetes eat can improve their health

16 November 2020

There are a huge number of cooking programs available now, which capture the attention of millions of people worldwide. However most people often do not have the time to spend hours in the kitchen every week. In 2020 however, things changed. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, working from home became the new normal for most people. The restrictions on where people could go and what they could do gave people the opportunity to try new things and have a go at the things they’d never had the time for before. Some people started a new exercise routine, some learnt a new language, others started trying new things in the kitchen. Creating or improving habits around preparing and eating healthy foods is important for everyone, with healthy eating providing many benefits for people with diabetes.  

According to the 2019 Atlas of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), more than 463 million people have diabetes around the world. The majority of cases of type 2 diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet and regular exercise.. A healthy diet includes: 

  • Reducing the amount of calories if you are overweight

  • Reducing the amount of fat you eat, as well as replacing saturated fats (eg. cream, cheese, butter) with unsaturated fats (eg. avocado, nuts, olive and vegetable oils)

  • Eating dietary fibre (eg. fruit, vegetables, whole grains)

  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol

  • Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet

When you’re the chef you know all the ingredients and this can make managing your blood sugar and counting calories much easier. Preparing your food at home can also allow you to have healthier options to choose from with less temptation, which can make it possible to make better choices. 

This is a learning process, so don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. When trying to cook healthier at home, there are some food categories that are true allies. A great example is dietary fibre - found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and pulses such as beans. For people with diabetes, fibre — particularly soluble fibre — can slow the absorption of sugar to help manage blood sugar levels.  Try to include oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley where possible when preparing meals. 

On the other hand, it is important to know what to reduce or limit in your diet. Intake of foods that are high in saturated fat (such as fried foods), and salt should be limited wherever possible. Another good tip when following a healthy diet is to look at your portion size and make sure it is not too big…even too much of a good thing can be too much. Talk to your healthcare team regarding alcohol intake as recommendations may vary.

There isn't one meal plan that will work for everyone with diabetes. The best approach is to seek the guidance of a diabetes educator and/ or nutritionist to learn how to prepare practical, tasty, balanced dishes that work best for you and your diabetes management. The habit and the ability to cook healthy, highly nutritional meals is vital to your health and can bring many benefits. Eating well is an important step in self-care. 

Keep in mind, change doesn't happen overnight and it's unrealistic to expect perfection in your diet. Set a goal of cooking at least one dinner at home each week and then gradually work your way up. Every step you take toward improving your health is worth it.