The Right Bite: Food tips for Diabetics

crop1_240X240_8july14The sweet news on the not so sweet condition

Diabetes. Nobody wants it, yet the sweet devil has a way of getting into our lives. In fact, according to the International Diabetes Federation’s (IDF’s) 5th edition of the Diabetes Atlas, by 2030, more than 100 million Indians will have the condition. In short, India will be the global capital of diabetes. Looks far fetched? It isn’t, given that diabetes is also a lifestyle condition, a result of a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits and stress.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that all it takes is just a few healthy eating measures and moving around to let the sweet devil stay in the bud.

We get medical nutritionist, Dr Vishakha Shivdasani and therapy dietician Sveta Bhassin and nutritionist Niti Desai to give tips that would help you tide over the not so sweet condition, sweetly. Bonus: it works even better to avoid it.

Diabetes isn’t about sugar, but dunk it anyway: True, diabetes is called a sugar disease. But it has nothing to do with sugar or your sugar consumption, says Bhassin. “Mostly, it’s your body’s inability to produce insulin caused due to various factors. The Type 2 diabetes especially is lifestyle-related. So someone who has an extra sweet tooth stands an equal chance of having diabetes as the one with a spicy palate. Having said that, one of the prime reasons to drop sugar is the empty calories that sugar has. Imagine it this way; says Shivdasani, for every spoon you give up you can add a small sliver of your favourite dessert or chocolate.

Sugar-free is not carbohydrate-free: Research has shown that more than the starch and sugar, it’s the total amount of carbohydrate of a meal or snack consumed that affects blood glucose levels. A better way to deal with this is to compare carbs – in other words recognise the complex carbs from the simple carbs. “Simple carbs like table sugar, corn syrup, refined flour (maida), products like white bread, pakodas (fritters), biscuits, etc., are easily digestible causing a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a quick slump,” says Shivdasani who advises people to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains in their diet.

“Complex carbs like barley, oat bran bread, whole meal spelt, zucchini, tomatoes, lentils, grapefruit, jackfruit and oranges are low in glycaemic index (GI) too, which means these digest slowly, while keeping you satiated for long and no blood sugar spikes!”

Build an eye for healthy portion: The five small meals a day is a good rule to follow, but how do you get the portions right? One way is carry a chunk of measuring cup, which is easier said than done. The other, train your eyes to look at your plate as a painter’s palate. Says Bhassin, “Divide your dinner plate into cake wedges – the sleeker the better – then fill one half with vegetables, then the other half into four wedges. Fill two of them quarter with a lean protein, such as fish (not prawns), chicken, beans and other non-starchy vegetables like eggplant, cabbage and radish. Of the two left, fill the bigger wedge size with whole grain and the slimmer one with the dessert/refined flour stuff. A good size is one that is over in three spoons.”

Agrees Dr Shivdasani, who says eating large portions can flood the bloodstream with glucose and insulin. The maths: Saturated fats and trans fats to not more than 7% of total fats and cholesterol levels to less than 200mg/dl.

Label says it all: When it comes to label, says nutritionist Niti Desai, “Often the ingredients are listed in the order of their usage. So the further on the ingredient is listed, the lesser is the quantity.”

This, she adds, “is a brilliant way to stave off all forms of faux whole grains like the appealing brown colour bread or the multi-grain crackers or pseudo soya chunks, which do more damage than good as refined flour is its bigger base. Instead look for natural exotic stuff like cous cous, quinoa and millet.”

Sweet, but not high sugar: Diabetic or not, sugar is always counted as carbohydrates, especially those high in sugar sweets like cookies. Instead, go for natural sucralose. Imagine, says Bhassin, “ like the watermelon feta salad, mix berry with hung curd or low-fat yogurt, strawberry with dark chocolate or topical fruits garnished with nuts and slices of tender coconut.” The secret of enjoying is moderation and occasionally, cautions Desai.

Supplement well: There will still be a few lacks in the diet, so while taking supplements is a good idea, says Dr Shivdasani, “work the plan with your doctor.” Some of the supplements that work well for diabetes in India are: Chromium, which helps in blood sugar regulation by working with insulin to help transport glucose into cells. Alpha lipoic acid to improve the uptake of glucose into the cells, and for the eyes. Magnesium to promote healthy insulin production and Coenzyme 10-COQ10 for the heart.

And while most medication need to be as per your health and doctor’s recommendation, Indian herbs and green vegetables like karela, methi, till and dhania work just as well at keeping you healthy.

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