The rise in blood sugar levels after food can be blunted by restricting carbohydrates and emphasizing fibre and protein consumption.
By Anand Subra
For people with diabetes, eating carbohydrates raises blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels more than in normal people. In certain situations, their livers can also produce glucose and cause blood sugar levels to rise. After eating the carbs, they can exercise – to burn off some of the calories, raise base metabolic rates, and more importantly, improve insulin utilization in the body and thus try to bring down blood sugar levels. They can also take oral or injectable medications – that bring down blood sugar levels by reducing the absorption of carbs, improving insulin utilization, reducing the release of glucose by the liver, eliminating glucose from the body and so on.
But the main reason for high blood sugar is what they eat – this affects their blood sugars the most! The rise in blood sugar levels after food can be blunted by restricting carbohydrates and emphasizing fibre and protein consumption. It sounds simple, but the majority of diabetics find it very difficult to put into practice.
Many diabetics take the help of dietitians and draw up detailed diet plans. However, circumstances change daily, and they find it quite difficult to adapt and end up abandoning the plans after a while. There are other reasons as well why diets fall by the wayside – boredom, frustration due to diet restrictions, cheating, binging, etc.
The effort to eat properly – planning, preparing, portioning, tracking, counting, etc. – is onerous; most people are unable to diligently maintain the effort to figure out, meal by meal, what to eat and what to reduce or avoid. They try very hard to stick to it but give up after a while.
Why is nutrition important for diabetes?
A huge problem is not being able to eat like they used to, or like how others are eating at wedding feasts, office lunches, buffets, eating out with a group, etc. – they can only watch with envy. In due course, most diabetics succumb to the enormous gastronomic peer pressure, bid goodbye to their diet plans, and eat more than they should, and that causes their blood sugar to sky-rocket.
Another big problem is that most people prefer to consume foods they typically eat rather than special ‘diet’ foods. Also, in many so-called ‘low-carb’ foods, lots of unhealthy fat and salt are added to make up for the lost taste, which causes other problems for diabetics.
Nutritional Recommendations for Diabetes: Challenges & Grey Areas
Most diet planning and advice comes in the form of giving nutritional information, e.g. the carbohydrate content in food items, some advice regarding portion sizes or food substitutions, but relying entirely on the individual to diligently make proper judgements at every meal based on the advice. They are on their own!
Some dietitians may give additional information that may be helpful, such as ‘mindful eating’, eating methods (e.g. chew 20 times, take small mouthfuls…), or reorder the eating sequence (e.g. fill up on fibre first, then eat the protein, then the carbs…).
Most dietitians recommend apps that provide detailed ‘after-the-fact’ information, i.e. tell people what all they ate yesterday, last week, etc., and detail out the nutritional facts – how much of it was carbs, protein, fat, etc. This is like driving by looking in the rear-view mirror – you know where you were, but you don’t know where you’re going.
All this is fine, but they’re missing out on the one meal that has the most impact on blood sugar: the one that is about to be eaten – the current meal. It is the only meal that can be modified right now before it is eaten, and it can be modified to blunt the rise in blood sugar.
Nothing can be done about the meals already consumed! And a future meal can only be planned, and things can change before it becomes the current meal!
So, what can be done? Let’s look at other fitness fields for an answer: there is an excellent model that works very well in the area of physical fitness, i.e. the ‘Personal Trainer’.
The personal trainer not only provides specific workouts & instructions but also actively monitors the workout, makes adjustments, coaches and guides individuals as they are performing their workouts…in order to achieve the desired results. Can we do the same for eating?
What if a nutritionist could tell an individual with diabetes how to modify the plate of food that is in front of him/her right now, in order to minimize the rise in blood sugar? Now, wouldn’t that be really effective?
Nutritionists can also coach the user on problems with their eating patterns and how to change them. Not just immediately before a meal, but also before the next meal. In short, they will have a personal nutritionist looking over their shoulder at every meal! When diabetics are given this kind of thoughtful hand-holding, they will be able to manage their diabetes better.
(The author is Chief Knowledge Officer and Co-Founder, PurpleTeal Inc. Views expressed are the author’s own.)