5 Nutrition Tips for Managing Diabetes

By Scott Bird

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Managing diabetes is about more than just monitoring your insulin levels. As with many things, your diet can play a significant part in maximizing your health.

While these tips won’t magically cure things, they will certainly help.

  1. Eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods

    Magnesium – in addition to playing a major part in the breakdown of carbohydrates – probably influences the release and activity of insulin (a hormone that helps to control blood sugar levels). People with type 2 diabetes are often found to have low levels of magnesium in their blood.

    Several studies (listed below) have recommended that those with diabetes eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods. Common sources include spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

  2. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids

    Omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps most commonly taken (as supplements) in fish-oil capsule form; and have a number of benefits for everyone. A number of studies [1] have also found Omega-3 fatty acids to have a favourable effect on triglyceride levels in those with type 2 diabetes.

    Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water oily fish, fish-oil supplements, walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed.

  3. Favor low GI foods

    As with the Omega-3 fatty acids above, a low GI diet (GI = Glycemic Index) can help to lower triglyceride levels. Other general benefits of a low-GI diet include a lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol levels whilst increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

    Specific benefits of a low GI diet for diabetics include lower blood glucose levels (resulting in a lower HbA1c) and potentially the need for less insulin.

    There is a wealth of information available on low GI eating; and common sources include beans, lentils and whole-grain breads.

  4. Keep the carbs complex

    Complex carbohydrates (aka ‘starches’) take a bit more work to break down than their simple counterparts, and offer a range of health benefits for diabetics and others alike. Of particular note is an ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels [2].

    Examples of complex carb foods are wholegrain breads, pasta, rice, legumes, vegetables and fruit.

  5. Get your fiber

    According to several recent studies [3], high-fibre diets and fibre supplementation both help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels; particularly in those with type 2 diabetes.

    Whilst wholegrain cereals are thought to provide the greatest benefit [4], other sources such as fruits and vegetables also have several health benefits.

References

  1. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Lipids and Glycemic Control in Type II Diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome and on Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Renal Disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and Osteoporosis
  2. Evaluation of metabolic effects of substitution of complex carbohydrates for saturated fat in individuals with obesity and NIDDM
    BV Howard, WG Abbott and BA Swinburn
    1991
  3. Fiber Supplement Lowers Cardiovascular Risk in Type 2’s
  4. Fiber May Fight Diabetes

Further reading – studies

A number of studies have looked at elements of diet relating to those with (or at risk from) both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These include :

Further reading – sites

Personally, I love wading through medical journals. If, however, you don’t happen to share this strange obsession; the following sites are a little more down to Earth.

  • American Diabetes Association (Nutrition & Recipes section)

    This site contains some excellent articles on many aspects of nutrition for those with diabetes; it also links to some great books on the subject.

  • South Dakota Diabetes Prevention and Control (recipes page)

    Once you have an idea of which food sources are beneficial, you’re probably looking for a few recipes. Head over to SD Diabetes.

  • Harvard School of Public Health (Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes)

    If you’re fortunate enough to not have diabetes, this site has some great advice on keeping it that way.

13 Comments

  1. Rob

    Tip #5, there’s that word “whilst” again

    Reply
  2. Ryan

    Mollyjade said:
    That’s impossible. Even a cup of lettuce has a gram of carb. Should people with diabetes not eat any vegetables?
    […]

    No, what I’m talking about is grain, sugar, fruit juice, etc. The heavy duty carb sources. Vegetables are not only allowable but advisable.

    Reply
  3. Mollyjade

    Ryan said:
    How about “stop eating carbs”? Seriously.[…]

    That’s impossible. Even a cup of lettuce has a gram of carb. Should people with diabetes not eat any vegetables?

    Reply
  4. Alex Baran

    This is great information! You mentioned omega-3 fatty acids. I read they are also believed to lower the risk of Alzheimer`s disease.

    Reply
  5. Jim

    Claire S. said:
    I thought a study came out citing that the low GI diet that has been favored actually wasn’t any better for you than a higher-GI one. […]

    That study was talking about weight loss rather than diabetes. GI was developed to help diabetics – not as another miracle weight loss diet.

    Some form of carbohydrate restriction should be offered as a possible dietary tool for diabetics.

    Reply
  6. frances

    I did not word my comment very well. I think the high
    carb diet is the reason we can’t control the big killers. I married a family of diabetics. I can see it happening. They can’t understand the concept of a low GI diet because they are addicted to carbs and what’s worse the ADA tells them they can have 4 servings per meal of them. I have also noticed that most doctors may not be educated about the glycemic index.

    Reply
  7. Ryan

    frances said:
    Just keep eating the carbs. The big killers won’t go away. […]

    Yeah, with that attitude. =)

    Reply
  8. Claire S.

    I thought a study came out citing that the low GI diet that has been favored actually wasn’t any better for you than a higher-GI one.
    Complex carbs still turn into sugar. The last thing diabetics need is sugar. I believe a low-carb diet is most helpful for those with diabetes.

    Reply
  9. frances

    Just keep eating the carbs. The big killers won’t go away.

    Reply
  10. Ryan

    How about “stop eating carbs”? Seriously.

    Reply
  11. Passion for Health

    Top post, fine tips.

    Interesting you mentioned magnesium being so important. I read somewhere that most people are deficient.

    The Age Power programme had folks take a magnesium supplement I remember. It stood out because that was the only supplement if I remember correctly.

    Diabetes is definately worth looking at to help answer the question “where are we going wrong,” along with cancer, heart disease and stroke. The big killers.

    Cheers
    ~Mike

    Reply
  12. Mark

    Great article. I’d add that many vegetables actually have more fiber than grains, although produce tends to be a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber (but it all helps). Good choices are broccoli, kale, chard, cauliflower, bok choy and celery.

    Reply
  13. Mr and Mrs Fat

    How about a low carb diet? Atkins, South Beach, etc?

    Reply