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PREVENT

Can you still eat sweets if you have diabetes?

The first question I often get after a patient receives a diabetes diagnosis is, "Will I ever be able to eat sweets or bread again?"  

The answer is yes, but you need to start monitoring your carb intake to avoid spikes in blood sugar. The good news is that making healthy changes to your diet is doable with a little education.  

Eight tips to get started:

  1. Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbs. Simple carbs are easy for your body to break down and likely to spike your blood sugar level. They tend to be processed foods high in added sugar and low in fiber and nutrients. Some simple carbs found in nature, like fruit and milk, are generally OK to eat because they offer vitamins, minerals and/or fiber. But simple carbs like candy, soda and other sweets should be eaten rarely.

    Complex carbs are starches made up of longer chains of sugar molecules that take longer to digest. Generally, they don't raise blood sugar as quickly as simple carbs. Complex carbs have fiber, vitamins and minerals. Examples of complex carbs are whole grains, beans, legumes and starchy vegetables.

  2. Use a glycemic index to help you make food choices. The index ranks food on a scale from 1 to 100 based on their effect on blood-sugar levels. The smaller the number, the less impact the food has on blood sugar:

    55 or lower = lower and slower rise in blood sugar and insulin levels
    56-69 = moderate effect
    70 or higher = faster spike in blood sugar and insulin

    Here are examples of where some everyday foods fall on the glycemic index:

    Breakfast cereals:
    Low: Rolled oats
    Medium: Wheat biscuits
    High: Corn flakes

    Breads:
    Low: Specialty grain bread, corn tortilla, white pasta
    Medium: Brown rice
    High: White bread, White rice

    This information came from Harvard Health Publishing. You can find a number of indexes online featuring different foods. If you find a particularly helpful one, post it up on your fridge and refer to it for meal planning, shopping and cooking. 

  3. Eat balanced meals. Make sure each meal has a protein, healthy fat, vegetable or fruit, and a complex carbohydrate. This will help you get full while lowering your carb intake. A balanced diet also helps reduce the overall effect that carbs have on your blood sugar.

  4. It's not about zero carbs but consistent carbs. If you eat around 30 grams of carbs for breakfast (about one piece of toast and a small bowl of oatmeal), try doing something similar every morning. The same goes for lunch and dinner. This makes managing diabetes more predictable. A general recommendation for carbs per meal is 30-45 grams for breakfast and 45-60 grams for lunch and dinner.

  5. Learn how different foods affect you. Each of us processes carbohydrates differently. The best way to know how the food you've eaten affects you is to test your blood glucose two hours after eating. If you see a spike after eating a granola bar, consider choosing something healthier next time. An app called mySugr can help you track your blood glucose. Many apps even link to a blood glucose meter, a medical device that reads the estimated concentration of glucose in your blood.

  6. Cut out sugar soda. Pop offers no nutritional value and shoots blood sugar up quickly. If you like bubbly beverages, reach for mineral water instead. If you just have to have a soda, drink diet pop in moderation.

  7. Set realistic goals. It's too much to ask anyone to completely overhaul their diet in a matter of weeks or even months. Set realistic goals to start making food choices to lower your blood sugar. If you don't like certain low-carb foods, don't eat them. Experiment to find foods that are both tasty and good for you.

  8. Indulge once in a while. Though indulging may seem counterintuitive, doing it occasionally and in moderation helps you succeed long term. If you deprive yourself completely, you may end up returning to a worse diet or bingeing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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