Essential Nutrients to Help Manage Diabetes

July 12,2022 |
Father and son eating and cooking.

Millions of people around the world are diagnosed with diabetes, and millions more are unknowingly living with prediabetes. While this isn’t meant to scare you, it’s an important reminder that diabetes is a common condition that affects all types of people. It’s a life-changing diagnosis that will require ongoing management, but there are ways to make this easier while still living a fulfilling life. In order to reduce the risk of ongoing complications and improve your overall health, we’ll discuss some essential nutrients to help manage diabetes below.


How Diabetes Impacts Your Body

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have a serious impact on how your body functions. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in a complete lack of insulin production or a decrease of production to negligible amounts that are insufficient for successfully transferring glucose into the cells for energy. Type 2 diabetes is a condition that tends to develop later in life. It’s linked to environmental factors and lifestyle choices, but also carries a genetic risk factor. In type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to metabolize sugar properly due to an insulin resistance that’s developed.

However, all types of diabetes have a serious effect on how the body functions. Due to its impact on blood sugar levels, nearly every system can be affected if diabetes isn’t properly managed. This includes problems with the endocrine, excretory, and digestive systems, circulation issues that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and infection, or chronic organ conditions that can severely impact an individual’s quality and duration of life.


The Importance of Developing Healthy Eating Habits

Diabetes affects your body in hundreds of ways, which is why it’s absolutely essential to engage in healthy lifestyle habits, manage blood sugar levels, and seek professional assistance at early signs of complications or mental struggles. In addition to using continuous glucose monitors and administering insulin, one of the best ways to manage diabetes is to develop healthy eating habits. This can be done with the assistance of a dietician or nutritionist for the most impactful outcomes.

Consuming excess calories and fat can result in undesirable rises in blood glucose levels. When this is left unchecked, or continues in vicious cycles, it can lead to hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia increases your risk of nerve damage, heart disease, kidney problems, and more, and should therefore be avoided at all costs. When you make healthy food choices, you reduce the risk of uncontrollable changes to your blood glucose levels, which carry several cascading benefits. Losing weight can also contribute to a healthier lifestyle and fewer diabetes-related complications.


Understanding a Diabetes Diet

While many people think that adopting a diabetes diet means completely eliminating all of their favorite foods, that’s not the case. Maintaining a diabetes diet includes eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day. The primary goal is to create a healthier approach to food that helps you stabilize your blood glucose levels. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to enjoy sweets again, only that you need to do so in moderation. By adopting a diabetes diet, you’ll enjoy more stable blood glucose levels, less insulin administration, and a reduction in risks of complications. A balanced diet should include healthy portion sizes that reflect your activity level in addition to plenty of essential nutrients.


Essential Nutrients to Manage Diabetes

Everything that you put into your body can either help or hurt your diabetes management plan. That’s why creating a balanced diabetes diet is focused on eating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals that support your body and help stabilize your blood glucose levels. Some of the most important components of a diabetes-friendly meal plan include the following:

Fiber-Rich Foods

Eating a diet that’s high in fiber can help slow the digestion of food. This, in turn, works to control your blood sugar levels and improve overall diabetes management. Some great options for diabetes-friendly, high-fiber foods include whole grains, beans, legumes, peas, low glycemic fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Healthy Carbohydrates

Healthy carbohydrates are defined based on how fast the components break down into glucose. Simple carbohydrates are filled with higher amounts of sugar, which break down quickly and cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Complex carbs are comprised of more starch, which slows digestion and leads to more stabilized glucose levels. Healthy carbs include fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.

Good Fats

Good fats tend to include monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. When eaten in moderation, these can help reduce cholesterol levels and support healthy joints and muscles. However, good fats should still be limited in your everyday diet, as they have a high caloric count. Some examples include avocados, nuts, olive oils, and peanut oils.

Heart-Healthy Fish

Since diabetes is closely related to heart disease and an increased risk of heart attacks, it’s important to eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. These can help protect the muscles in your heart while simultaneously supporting healthy diabetes management. Try to eat a serving of heart-healthy fish at least twice a week. Some options include salmon, tuna, and sardines. Avoid eating fish that’s high in mercury and order your fish baked or broiled instead of fried when at a restaurant.

Lean Proteins

Lean proteins are a great way to stabilize blood glucose levels and keep you full throughout the day. Some options include chicken breast or lean ground turkey. There are plenty of ways you can add vibrant seasonings and flavors to these dishes, so get creative to keep things exciting and satisfying at mealtime.


Foods to Avoid with Diabetes

Reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods when living with diabetes is an important part of ongoing management. Ultra-processed foods are foods that are often directly related to a series of health complications. They include various ingredients that lack any nutritional value, such as flavoring agents, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring, and more. Additionally, you should avoid—or drastically reduce your intake of—the following:

  • Saturated Fats – foods that are high in saturated fats include high-fat dairy products, animal proteins, and coconut oil.
  • Trans Fats – this is commonly found in processed foods, baked goods, margarines, and shortening.
  • Cholesterol – foods with high cholesterol include high-fat dairy, high-fat animal protein, liver, organ meat, and egg yolks. Avoid eating more than 200mg of cholesterol per day.
  • Sodium – the American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day, less if you have high blood pressure.


How to Create a Diabetes-Friendly Meal Plan

While living with diabetes can seem overwhelming, it’s important to stay positive and take things one day at a time. Luckily, there are a few different methods to approaching a diabetes-friendly diet. By working with a dietician, you can find something that fits your lifestyle without restricting your needs. The American Diabetes Association recommends beginning with a simple meal planning strategy called the plate method. For each meal, try to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein, and a quarter of your plate with some type of whole-grain. You can add “good” fats sparingly and a serving of fruit or dairy on the side. Other people find success with counting carbohydrates or using the glycemic index when selecting foods. The important thing is to find something that works for you and stick with it. During this time, if you need any assistance or begin to feel symptoms of diabetes distress, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.

Diabetes requires long-term care and management to avoid complications, but it is a possible to live a robust, healthy life. To help, Byram Healthcare carries a wide variety of continuous glucose monitors, diabetes testing strips, and more. Visit our diabetes product guide today or reach out to one of our customer support specialists for further information on diabetes management.