Choices for Wellbeing: How to eat well with diabetes

Being diagnosed with diabetes is a life-changing event. As part of an organisation’s focus on the health and wellbeing of staff, we’ve already looked at how businesses can support employees with diabetes.

In this blog, we’re going to look at how someone that’s been diagnosed with gestational, Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can eat healthily and safely.

Living with diabetes

From the moment you’re diagnosed with diabetes you are likely to be faced with what seems like an endless list of changes that need to become part of everyday life:

  • Attending clinic appointments
  • Having blood tests
  • Taking medications
  • Giving yourself injections
  • Treating hypoglycaemia (hypos)
  • Being more active
  • Eating healthily
  • Stopping smoking

No wonder it can all seem so daunting and overwhelming.

One of your first questions is likely to be, “what can I eat?” and with so much to take in, you may still feel unsure about the answer.

When you add to that the fact that there are lots of myths about diabetes and food, as a newly-diagnosed diabetic you can often feel unsure about what you can and can’t eat.

Here’s what you need to know.

I have gestational diabetes. What can I eat?

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth.

This may come as a surprise, but when you have gestational diabetes you don’t have to go on a special diet.

Depending on your current diet, you may have to eat less of some foods and more of others but all you really need to do is follow the same healthy, balanced diet that’s recommended to everyone.

The main aim of managing gestational diabetes is ensuring that your blood glucose levels are under control, so your healthcare team will discuss targets that are right for you.

All carbohydrates have an impact on your blood glucose levels so you may be advised to:

  • Eat less carbohydrate
  • Choose better sources of carbohydrates
  • Spread your carbohydrates throughout the day

I have gestational diabetes. What should I avoid?

Pregnancy isn’t the time to be on a really strict diet so it’s generally safe to stick to your usual foods.

Avoid foods labelled ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’ as they can affect your blood glucose levels.

There are certain foods that you’ll need to avoid during pregnancy anyway, including:

  • Certain types of cheese
  • Raw or uncooked eggs
  • Raw or uncooked meat
  • Raw shellfish
  • Liver
  • Unpasteurised milk

Avoid fish which tend to have higher levels of mercury, e.g. swordfish, shark and marlin and limit the amount of tuna, which can have relatively high amounts of mercury compared to other fish.

There is some uncertainty about the safety of alcohol intake in pregnancy. Therefore, the safest option is not to drink alcohol at all while you’re pregnant, especially since alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (hypos) more likely to occur if you are on medication.

I have Type 1 diabetes. What can I eat?

In a word, anything.

Type 1 diabetes causes the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood to become too high. Scientists think it is caused by genes and environmental factors.

In the past, people were sent away after their diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes with a very restrictive diet plan.

This was because the availability of insulin was limited and the type of insulin treatment was very restrictive. As insulin treatments have been developed to be much more flexible, the days of “do's and don'ts” are long gone.

Nowadays, you should try and fit your diabetes and insulin around the same healthy, balanced diet that is recommended for everyone, with lots of fruit and veg and some food from all the food groups.

It is a good idea to include some carbs with your meals as, without carbohydrate, your insulin may cause blood glucose levels to drop too low. Healthier sources of carbohydrate include fruit and vegetables, pulses and wholegrain starchy foods, especially those that do not contain added salt, sugar and saturated fats.

It is very important to eat at roughly the same times when using a twice-daily insulin regime – your diabetes team can advise when this is best for you.

It is less important to eat at the same times when using a basal-bolus insulin regime because recommendations are usually to inject just before, during or just after eating.

Sometimes, you might need to eat a small snack between meals, to help keep blood glucose levels up. Fruit, rice cakes, crackers, a couple of biscuits, a small bag of crisps, a cereal bar, or yoghurt are all good options.

I have Type 1 diabetes. What should I avoid?

Before your diagnosis of diabetes, it is likely that you experienced an unquenchable thirst.

It is a good idea to avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices as a way of quenching thirst. They usually put blood glucose levels up very high and very quickly – which is why they can be a useful treatment for a hypo (low blood glucose levels).

Woman drinking water

Instead, drink water, tea, coffee or sugar-free and diet soft drinks.

You should also avoid foods labelled ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’ because they contain similar amounts of calories and fat and can affect your blood glucose levels.

I have Type 2 diabetes. What can I eat?

Despite what you might think, if you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you can eat almost anything.

About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes and it’s often linked to being overweight or inactive or having a family history of type 2 diabetes.

Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce your risk of diabetes complications, including heart disease and stroke.

As with the other diagnoses, a healthy balanced diet is the way forward.

Try and make changes to your food choices that are realistic and achievable in the long term. This will be different for each person diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes depending on their current diet and the goals they want to achieve.

Many people with Type 2 diabetes make changes to their diet in order to achieve:

  • good blood glucose control
  • good blood fat levels
  • good blood pressure
  • a healthy weight

The amount of carbohydrates you eat has the biggest effect on your blood glucose levels, so reducing portions can help.

I have Type 2 diabetes. What should I avoid?

As with Type 1 diabetes, before your diabetes was diagnosed, you may have been thirstier than usual.

Avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices as a way of quenching your thirst because they can increase blood glucose levels very quickly and make you gain weight in the long term.

Instead, drink water, tea, coffee, and sugar-free or diet soft drinks.

Again, avoid foods labelled ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’.

How to eat well with diabetes

Overall, whatever form of diabetes you have been diagnosed with, the best advice is to stick to regular portions of healthy foods.

It might feel overwhelming now, but it will get easier in the long run.

Make gradual and realistic changes over a long period of time and you’ll be more likely to cope with it successfully.

Be sure to get all of the tools you need to help you achieve these changes with the backing of your family and friends and support from a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian.

If you’d like to find out how our occupational health services can help employers support staff members with diabetes at work, give us a call today.

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Categories: Choices for WellbeingHealth & WellbeingNutritionOccupational Health

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