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   Diabetes & Diet

The diet recommended for people who suffer from diabetes mellitus is one that is high in dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber, but low in fat (especially saturated fat). Patients may be encouraged to reduce their intake of carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index. However, in cases of hypoglycemia, they are advised to have food or drink that can raise blood glucose quickly, followed by a long-acting carbohydrate (such as rye bread) to prevent risk of further hypoglycaemia.

Recently, Diabetes UK have warned against purchase of products that are specially made for people with diabetes, on the grounds that:

  • They may be expensive
  • They may contain high levels of fat and;
  • They may confer no special benefits to people who suffer from diabetes

   Early History of Diabetic Diet

Frederick Allen, in the days before insulin was discovered, recommended that people with diabetes ate only a low-calorie diet to prevent ketoacidosis from killing them. This was an approach which did not actually cure diabetes, it merely extended life by a limited period. The first use of insulin by Frederick Banting in 1922 changed all that, and at last allowed patients more flexibility in their eating.

In the 1950s, the American Diabetes Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Public Health Service, brought forth the "exchange scheme". This was a scheme that allowed people to swap foods of similar nutritional value (e.g. carbohydrate) for another, so, for example, if wishing to have more than normal carbohydrates for pudding, one could cut back on potatoes in one's first course. The exchange scheme was revised in 1976, 1986 and 1995 (Chalmers & Peterson, 1999, p85). However, not all diabetes dietitians today recommend the exchange scheme. Instead, they are likely to recommend the same healthy diet that is recommended for every one, that is, one that is high in fibre, involves eating a good range of fruit and vegetables (ideally, five portions a day) and one that is low in both sugar and fat, especially saturated fat.

The American Diabetes Association in 1994 recommended that 60-70% of caloric intake should be in the form of carbohydrates. This is somewhat controversial, with some researchers claiming that 40% is better, while others claim benefits for a high-fiber, 75% carbohydrate diet.

An article summarizing the view of the American Diabetes Association contains the statement "Sucrose-containing foods can be substituted for other carbohydrates in the meal plan or, if added to the meal plan, covered with insulin or other glucose-lowering medications. Care should be taken to avoid excess energy intake." Sucrose does not increase glycemia more than the same number of calories taken as starch. Although it is not recommended to use fructose as a sweetener, fruit should not be avoided because of its fructose content.

Some studies show low carbohydrate diets may be effective in dietary management of Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein has a diet plan that is substantially different from the plan recommended here and he is harshly critical of the standard ADA diet plan for diabetics. His plan includes very limited carbohydrate intake (30 grams per day) along with frequent blood glucose monitoring and for diabetics using insulin, frequent small insulin injections if needed. His treatment target is "near normal blood sugars" all the time.

Recent studies have shown that a vegan diet may also be effective in managing Type 2 diabetes. For people with diabetes, healthy eating is not simply a matter of "what one eats", but also when one eats. The question of how long before a meal one should inject insulin is one that is asked in Sonsken, Fox and Judd (1998). The answer is that it depends upon the type of insulin one takes and whether it is long, medium or quick-acting insulin. If patients check their blood glucose at bedtime and find that it is low, it is advisable that they take some long-acting carbohydrate before retiring to bed to prevent night-time hypoglycemia.

   Effects on Obesity

Some people believe that if everyone (including people who are not diabetic) went on the diabetic diet, then the obesity epidemic that is currently sweeping developed countries could be stopped. More and more studies are encouraging people to pursue the equivalent to a diabetic diet. However, the diabetic diet won't stop obesity alone. The diabetic diet should be accompanied by aerobic exercise and sacrificing television for 60 minutes of outdoor activities per day. This may include yard work without using electric lawnmowers, playing outdoor games, or walking around the block or neighborhood. Government studies suggest eating at least 5 servings of fruit per day and not eating junk food everyday.

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