Q. Do I have to buy food made especially for those with diabetes? A. Not really. People with diabetes (either Type 1 or Type 2) can eat many of the same foods as everyone else. However, you may need to look out for sugar-free versions of many types of food (particularly snack foods), as the “regular” versions have too high a level of sugar. Typical examples here are “diet” (i.e. sugar-free) soft drinks, sugarless chewing gum.
Q. Will I never be able to eat sugar again now that I have diabetes? I like sweet food? A. The right kind of food for those with diabetes is food with low sugar rather than no sugar. Yes, you have to restrict your intake of sugar and reduce the amount of sweet food you have if you have diabetes, but you don’t have to cut it out completely.
As a matter of fact, when you have diabetes, you will need to keep a supply of small sugary snacks on hand in case you have a “hypo” (which is when your blood sugar levels drop too low). This is particularly the case for those with Type 1 diabetes who inject insulin. In this situation, you will need to eat a small amount of sugary food such as jelly beans to raise your blood sugar levels back into the normal level.
Q. When you have diabetes, does it make any difference if you eat food that is sweetened with something other than sugar? A. It depends what you are using as a sugar substitute in your food. If you are using something like honey, treacle or molasses, this will have the same effect on your levels as cane sugar or corn syrup. These foods can also be used for treating the hypoglycaemia that often comes when taking insulin to treat diabetes.
Artificial sweeteners can be added to food in place of natural sugars. These are often recommended to those with diabetes who still have a “sweet tooth”. However, be aware that excessive intake of some types of artificial sweetener can cause diarrhoea.
Q. What sort of food should I eat a lot of now that I have diabetes? A. You should eat the same sort of food as those who don’t have diabetes should be eating: a good balanced diet that’s low in fat, salt and sugar (especially the sugar). The ideal diet for those with diabetes is one that contains plenty of non-starchy vegetables (salads are great!), a good amount of complex carbohydrates such as potatoes or wholegrain bread, a reasonable amount protein food like fish, lean meat, chicken, dairy products (but ice cream is not a good food on an everyday basis for those with diabetes or anyone else) and eggs.
While fruit has a sizeable sugar load, it is still a good food for those with diabetes if eaten in moderation. An apple, a slice of watermelon or pineapple, a banana, a bunch of grapes… these are all great snack food ideas that are healthy and tasty for everyone, not just those with diabetes. However, eating large amounts of fruit can cause a large rise in blood sugar levels. Eating a whole kilo of cherries may give you a wonderful amount of vitamin C, but will send your blood glucose right up, so this is not a good idea (pity).
Q. What sort of food intake pattern is recommended for those with diabetes? A. To avoid sending blood sugar levels either too high or too low, it is best to eat regular meals and regular snacks. Making sure that you eat your meals and take your insulin at the same times each day is an important part of managing your diabetes. Eating a good breakfast with plenty of complex carbohydrates and not too much sugar is important (wholegrain toast and eggs is great). It is also important for those with diabetes to make sure that they have some good healthy snack food at planned times for morning tea, afternoon tea and before going to bed.