The diabetes diet
Wednesday, 6 January 2021
Is there a special diet for people with diabetes? Should you avoid carbs? Can you eat watermelon?
There are so many myths surrounding what people with diabetes should or should not be eating, there’s no wonder people are confused! Let’s delve into the truth behind some common diabetes food myths and debunk them once and for all.
1. People with diabetes should follow a special diet
There is no such thing as a diabetic diet, nor the need to choose special foods or products labelled for diabetes. People living with diabetes are advised to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes the five food groups from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE). This includes:
- Wholegrains, grainy breads, rice, pasta, high fibre breakfast cereals
- Fruit, ideally whole fresh fruit
- Lean protein such as fish, chicken and meat, or vegetarian alternatives including legumes, nuts and tofu
- All vegetables, including the leafy green, red/orange, and starchy ones
- Dairy foods – milk, yoghurt and cheese, or calcium-fortified plant-based alternatives
- A little unsaturated fat such as extra virgin olive oil, canola oil or margarine
- Water is the best choice for a drink
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating applies to all people, including those living with diabetes, and each food group provides essential nutrients to help you meet your nutritional needs.
2. I should avoid all carbohydrates
It is known that carbohydrate-rich foods will raise your blood glucose levels. These foods include bread, cereal, rice, pasta, grains like quinoa, spelt, barley, fruits, yoghurt, milk, legumes, potato, sweet potatoes, corn, and foods with added sugars such as chocolate, biscuits, cakes, lollies and ice cream. Carbohydrates are found in all food groups but if you cut out all carbohydrates, you could miss out on some important nutrients. If you would like more advice around how carbohydrates may affect diabetes, call our team of dietitians on 1800 177 055.
3. I must avoid sugar
Many people assume that it’s important to reduce or eliminate all sugar from their diet. But sugar is found in many forms and in many healthy foods. For example, sugar is found naturally in fruit, plain yoghurt and milk. These foods are part of the healthy five food groups and make up an important part of a healthy diet. All of the quality evidence shows these foods have a positive impact on health.
Some foods are high in added sugars and provide little other nutrition. Foods such as lollies, soft drink or cordial, biscuits and cakes can certainly be reduced. It is recommended all Australians limit these foods.
4. Avoid watermelon and bananas
There seems to be a common misconception that bananas and watermelon are best left untouched. Fruit are carbohydrate-rich foods, meaning they can raise your blood glucose levels; however, all fruit provides valuable nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, and phytonutrients. These nutrients give you many health benefits and can help improve your immune system and improve wound healing. See here for more information on the carbohydrate content of commonly eaten fruit.
Most fruits have a low glycaemic index (GI) – meaning they break down slowly into glucose. While watermelon is higher in GI it does not mean you should avoid it, but be mindful of your portion size. We recommend you choose two serves of whole fruit everyday.
5. Low fat foods are high in sugar
Some low-fat foods may have added sugar to help balance the taste and texture when fat is reduced. This can include low fat yoghurts and ice-cream. It is therefore important to compare products to find a product with the least added sugar. Take a look at the ingredients list, as this allows you to see what exactly has been added into your foods. Ultimately, it is better to eat low fat to lower your intake of saturated fat, which can increase LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, and therefore increase your risk of developing heart disease.
6. People with diabetes should only eat low GI foods
Lower Glycaemic Index (GI) foods can assist in managing blood glucose levels and often this is one of the most common changes people living with diabetes make, and it is a good place to start.
It is important to consider not only the carbohydrate quality (as in lower GI carbohydrates), but the quantity and timing of the foods eaten too. Lower GI foods can help promote improved post meal blood glucose levels, since low GI carbohydrate foods tend to digest more slowly and produce a more gradual rise in blood glucose levels compared to those of high GI carbohydrates.
Not all low GI foods are the healthiest choice, as some low GI foods can be high in saturated fat and low in nutrients, such as chocolate and ice-cream. Similarly some high GI foods can still be an important source of fibre, minerals and vitamins, such as potatoes and watermelon. Ultimately it is the total amount of carbohydrates you eat that has the biggest impact on your blood glucose levels and not the GI alone.
7. You need to give up desserts if you have diabetes
Just because you are living with diabetes, it does not mean you have to miss out on all desserts. As long as you maintain an overall healthy balanced diet, are mindful of portion size and follow a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, there is still room for these foods. Enjoy them without feeling guilty.
By Michelle Tong APD CDE