#KnowYourFood: Type 2 diabetics and carbohydrates

Food store
Food store [Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

As one of the world’s most common diseases, diabetes is a disease that should be taken very seriously.

Diabetes occurs when the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin, a hormone which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood, is impaired, resulting in abnormal digestion of carbohydrates and leading to high sugar levels in the blood.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported diabetes to be one of the largest killers in the world, killing 1.6 million people in 2015 saying it could lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

The report also shows that of the types of diabetes, and prediabetes, Type 2 accounts for the vast majority of the world’s diabetes cases.

One of the major causes of Type 2 diabetes is an unhealthy diet, obesity, genetics, ethnicity, age, insufficient physical activity and smoking.

Although there is no proven cure for Type 2 diabetes, it can be treated and its consequences avoided or delayed through diet change, exercise, medication, regular screening and treatment for complications.

Therefore knowing the kind of food to eat as a Type 2 diabetic is critical to positive changes in one’s condition.

Diabetics and Carbohydrates (Carbs)

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body and are a crucial part of a balanced diet.

When diagnosed with diabetes, people tend to want carbohydrates removed from their diet to avoid high glucose levels in the blood and therefore opt for a ketogenic diet.

As a diabetic, you may not have to scrap carbohydrates from your diet depending on your interaction with a specialist; you could make a conscious effort to be cautious of the quality and quantity of carbohydrates you consume.

Too much carbohydrate at a time will increase your BGLs (Blood Glucose Levels), therefore it is advised that you spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day and not at once.

On the quality of carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates are considered good because of the longer series of sugars that they are made of, which the body takes longer to break down.

That means when you consume complex carbohydrates, lower amounts of sugars would be released at a more consistent rate to keep you going throughout the day.

Examples of whole grain complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat flour, brown rice, barley, corn, beans and oats, among others, provide more nutrients than processed grains, such as white rice, breads, pasta, and baked goods made with white flour.

Other carbohydrates with low glycaemic index (GI) like grainy bread, rolled oats, most fruit, vegetables and dairy foods are also good carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates that diabetics should stay away from include lollies, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, soft drink or soda, flavoured milk, candy, cookies, pastries and desserts, sweetened beverages like lemonade or iced tea, energy drinks and ice cream.

A medical practitioner in Ibadan, Akin Orunmuyi, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that diabetics should avoid simple carbohydrates and eat complex ones in moderate quantities.

He also said diabetics should avoid fruits like watermelon and pineapple, especially at night, as they have high GI.

Diabetics and a ketogenic (Keto) diet

According to Mr Orunmuyi, a ketogenic diet may help a Type 2 diabetic as diabetes is majorly a disease of impaired glucose metabolism.

“The body needs fuel (energy) for its functions. Different food groups (fat, carbs, protein etc) provide energy and the body can use any one of them. Insulin is produced naturally in the body and helps to convert carbohydrates to energy.

“In diabetes, the body has a problem of using carbohydrates to make energy because it doesn’t have insulin. A solution will be to reduce carbs, or increase insulin. Keto diet helps to train the body to switch to burning fat,” he said.

He said the diet may reduce the dose for insulin or other diabetic drugs but it does not replace medical treatment

He added that diabetics with high blood sugar engaging a ketogenic diet are at a higher risk of getting Diabetic KetoAcidosis (DKA), a condition where there are high levels of ketones in the blood.

“Ketones are by-products of fat metabolism, and the body switches to burning fat when insulin levels are low. The combined effect of high blood sugar and high ketones (acids) leads to DKA.

“If a diabetic goes on a Keto diet with high blood sugar, it raises their risk of DKA. So if a person is diabetic they should consult their doctor or closely monitor blood sugar and ketone levels.

“A keto diet, successfully done, may help diabetics achieve weight loss, reduce blood sugar and improve their health,” Mr Orunmuyi explained.

He also gave some tips on how to stay healthy as a diabetic.

“In addition to diet, drugs also help to control blood sugar. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (frequent moderate-intensity exercise) also helps to regulate blood sugar levels.

“Diabetics should strive to balance all 3 (diet, drugs and lifestyle modification), avoid alcohol and maintain a healthy weight

“Self-help and community support groups can also motivate diabetic care and awareness in Nigeria,” he advised.

Some of the signs of DKA highlighted by Mr Orunmuyi include:

1. Dry mouth

2. Frequent urination with a fruity smell

3. Fever

4. Consistently High blood sugar

5. Breathing problems

6. Fruity breath smells

Other Diet Tips

Diabetics should engage the services of a dietician who would give professional advice based on the individuals Body Mass Index (BMI) and the specific symptoms the individual experiences.

Together, you can come up with a diet plan that suits your lifestyle needs.

Based on the dieticians’ advice, diabetics should eat meals and snacks on schedule and be careful not to overeat.

They should also choose a variety of foods that are high in nutrition and low in empty calories and be careful to read food labels closely.

Consumption of foods high in saturated fats like butter, cream, fatty meat, cooking margarine, coconut oil and palm oil should be limited.

Instead, foods with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like plant-based oils and spreads are healthier options. Some examples include olive, safflower, sunflower, canola, vegetable, peanut, nut butters or pastes and avocados.

Quit smoking tobacco, if you do.

Weight loss can also help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of complications related to obesity.

Exercise is as important

Exercise is good for diabetics but it is necessary for one to check with his or her doctor to know which exercise is suitable for the particular condition.

Also, being physically active can make it easier to manage your weight and your diabetes.

One could find an activity that he or she enjoys and aim to increase physical activity to 300 minutes per week. Such activity could be walking, running, or swimming, among other physical activities.


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