Diabetes is a disorder characterized by hyperglycemia or elevated blood glucose (blood sugar). Our bodies function best at a certain level of sugar in the bloodstream. If the amount of sugar in our blood runs too high or too low, then we typically feel bad. Diabetes is the name of the condition where the blood sugar level consistently runs too high. It is the most common endocrine disorder. Sixteen million Americans have diabetes, yet many are not aware of it. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans have a higher rate of developing diabetes during their lifetime. Diabetes has potential long term complications that can affect the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves. A number of pages on this website are devoted to the prevention and treatment of the complications of diabetes.
Types of diabetes
There are two types of diabetes. They are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes mainly from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the glucose in your blood get into your cells to be used for energy. Another hormone, glucagon, works with insulin to control blood glucose levels.
In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally fights infection, attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, your pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, glucose can’t get into your cells and your blood glucose rises above normal. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.
Causes of Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists think type 1 diabetes is caused by genes and environmental factors, such as viruses, that might trigger the disease. Studies such as TrialNet are working to pinpoint causes of type 1 diabetes and possible ways to prevent or slow the disease.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes signs and symptoms can appear relatively suddenly and may include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Bed-wetting in children who previously didn’t wet the bed during the night
- Extreme hunger
- Unintended weight loss
- Irritability and other mood changes
- Fatigue and weakness
- Blurred vision
What is Type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes, once known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose), your body’s important source of fuel. With type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells — or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level. More common in adults, type 2 diabetes increasingly affects children as childhood obesity increases. There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but you may be able to manage the condition by eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. If diet and exercise aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar well, you also may need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as excess weight and inactivity, seem to be contributing factors.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. In fact, you can have type 2 diabetes for years and not know it. Look for:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination. Excess sugar building up in your bloodstream causes fluid to be pulled from the tissues. This may leave you thirsty. As a result, you may drink — and urinate — more than usual.
- Increased hunger. Without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy. This triggers intense hunger.
- Weight loss. Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, you may lose weight. Without the ability to metabolize glucose, the body uses alternative fuels stored in muscle and fat. Calories are lost as excess glucose is released in the urine.
- Fatigue. If your cells are deprived of sugar, you may become tired and irritable.
- Blurred vision. If your blood sugar is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of your eyes. This may affect your ability to focus.
- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections. Type 2 diabetes affects your ability to heal and resist infections.
- Areas of darkened skin. Some people with type 2 diabetes have patches of dark, velvety skin in the folds and creases of their bodies — usually in the armpits and neck. This condition, called acanthosis nigricans, may be a sign of insulin resistance.
10 best foods to control diabetes
Figuring out the best foods to eat when you have diabetes, can be tough. The main goal is to keep blood sugar levels well-controlled. However, it’s also important to eat foods that help prevent diabetes complications like heart disease. Here are the 10 best foods for diabetics, both type 1 and type 2.
1. Fatty fish for diabetes
Fatty fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and mackerel are great sources of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which have major benefits for heart health. Getting enough of these fats on a regular basis is especially important for diabetics, who have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. DHA and EPA protect the cells that line your blood vessels, reduce markers of inflammation and improve the way your arteries function after eating.
A number of observational studies suggest that people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk of heart failure and are less likely to die from heart disease. In studies, older men and women who consumed fatty fish 5–7 days per week for 8 weeks had significant reductions in triglycerides and inflammatory markers. Fish is also a great source of high-quality protein, which helps you feel full and increases your metabolic rate.
2. Apples are good for diabetic patients
An apple a day keeps the doctor away — specifically the cardiologist. A 2012 study at Ohio State University published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that eating just one apple a day for four weeks lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol by 40 percent. The professor leading the study explained that not all antioxidants are created equal, and that a particular type of antioxidant in apples had a profound effect on lowering LDLs, a contributor to heart disease. The study was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Apple Association, among other supporters.
This crunchy fruit also appears to offer protection against diabetes. The Harvard School of Public Health examined the diets of 200,000 people and found that those who reported eating five or more apples a week had a 23 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with subjects who did not eat any apples. A medium-size apple contains 3 grams of fiber, which includes both soluble and insoluble fiber. How ’bout them apples? Do remember, however, that one small apple has about 15 grams of carb. Some of the large apples in the grocery store are equivalent to two servings of fruit.
3. Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs for diabetes
Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat. Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods. Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. They are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.
What about the glycemic index?
High glycemic index (GI) foods spike your blood sugar rapidly, while low GI foods have the least effect on blood sugar. While the GI has long been promoted as a tool to help manage blood sugar, there are some notable drawbacks.
- The true health benefits of using the GI remain unclear.
- Having to refer to GI tables makes eating unnecessarily complicated.
- The GI is not a measure of a food’s healthfulness.
- Research suggests that by simply following the guidelines of the Mediterranean or other heart-healthy diets, you’ll not only lower your glycemic load but also improve the quality of your diet.
4. Dark chocolate good for sugar patients
Chocolate is a diabetic food that’s rich in flavonoids, and research shows that these nutrients reduce insulin resistance, improve insulin sensitivity, drop insulin levels and fasting blood glucose, and blunt cravings. But not all chocolate is created equal. In a 2008 study from the University of Copenhagen, people who ate dark chocolate reported that they felt less like eating sweet, salty, or fatty foods compared to volunteers given milk chocolate, with its lower levels of beneficial flavonoids (and, often, more sugar and fat, too). Dark chocolate also cut the amount of pizza that volunteers consumed later in the same day, by 15 percent. The flavonoids in chocolate have also been shown to lower stroke risk, calm blood pressure, and reduce your risk for a heart attack by 2 percent over five years.
5. Oatmeal controls high sugar
High in soluble fiber, oats are slower to digest than processed carbs. Eat them and you’ll release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, which will prevent spikes in your blood-sugar levels. In a 2012 study from Sweden’s Karolinska University, researchers found that eating four servings of whole grains daily reduced the risk for developing prediabetes by 30 percent. Other research shows that if you eat whole grains you experience less inflammation, which could lower the odds of your developing insulin resistance, heart disease, and high blood pressure. These science-backed strategies can work to reverse diabetes.
6. Green vegetables are great for diabetes control
Go beyond your regular salad and try kale, spinach, and chard. They’re healthy, delicious, and low-carb, Powers says. Roast kale leaves in the oven with olive oil for quick, crunchy chips. You can also mix greens in with roasted veggies to add texture and a different flavor, or serve them with a little protein, like salmon.
7. Cinnamon good for sugar control
Cinnamon is a delicious spice with potent antioxidant activity. Several controlled studies have shown that cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Long-term diabetes control is typically determined by measuring hemoglobin A1c, which reflects your average blood sugar level over 2–3 months. In one study, type 2 diabetes patients who took cinnamon for 90 days had more than a double reduction in hemoglobin A1c, compared those who only received standard care.
A recent analysis of 10 studies found that cinnamon may also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, a few studies have failed to show that cinnamon benefits blood sugar or cholesterol levels, including one on adolescents with type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, you should limit your intake of cassia cinnamon — the type found in most grocery stores — to less than 1 teaspoon per day. It contains coumarin, which is linked to health problems at higher doses. On the other hand, ceylon (“true”) cinnamon contains much less coumarin.
8. Avocados controls diabetes
Avocados are known for their heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content. When substituting these fats for saturated fat, they can improve cholesterol levels, decreasing your risk of heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. There is even a positive connection between avocados and diabetes: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2008 that found that women who reported eating the highest amount of good fats — unsaturated vegetable fats, such as those found in avocados — were 25 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared with women who ate the least amount.
Technically, an avocado is a fruit, but because of its high fat content — 4 grams in 1/4 of a medium-size avocado — it should be treated like a fat. That same serving of avocado contains a respectable 2 grams of fiber with just 2 carb grams.In addition to guacamole, you can use avocados in salads and sandwiches, or make a salad dressing by pureeing it with a little lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. If you want to speed up the ripening process, put an under-ripe avocado in a brown paper bag, close it, and leave it on your kitchen counter for a day or two.
9. Eggs for diabetes
Eggs provide amazing health benefits. In fact, they’re one of the best foods for keeping you full for hours. Regular egg consumption may also reduce your heart disease risk in several ways. Eggs decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase your “good” HDL cholesterol levels and modify the size and shape of your “bad” LDL cholesterol. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who consumed 2 eggs daily as part of a high-protein diet had improvements in cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In addition, eggs are one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect the eyes from disease. Just be sure to eat whole eggs. The benefits of eggs are primarily due to nutrients found in the yolk rather than the white.
10. Be smart about sweets when you have diabetes
Eating a diabetic diet doesn’t mean eliminating sugar altogether, but like most of us, chances are you consume more sugar than is healthy. If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert now and then. The key is moderation.
Reduce your cravings for sweets by slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust.
Hold the bread (or rice or pasta) if you want dessert. Eating sweets at a meal adds extra carbohydrates so cut back on the other carb-heavy foods at the same meal.
Add some healthy fat to your dessert. Fat slows down the digestive process, meaning blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the donuts, though. Think healthy fats, such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt, or nuts.
Eat sweets with a meal, rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets cause your blood sugar to spike. But if you eat them along with other healthy foods as part of your meal, your blood sugar won’t rise as rapidly.
When you eat dessert, truly savor each bite. How many times have you mindlessly eaten your way through a bag of cookies or a huge piece of cake? Can you really say that you enjoyed each bite? Make your indulgence count by eating slowly and paying attention to the flavors and textures. You’ll enjoy it more, plus you’re less likely to overeat.
11. Spinach is good for diabetes control
Spinach is one of many leafy greens that have been shown to drop the risk of developing diabetes; collards are another great choice. People who consume more than one serving a day of this diabetic food and other leafy greens slashed their risk by 14 percent, compared to people who ate less than 1/2 a serving daily, found one British study. This green is particularly rich in vitamin K, along with several minerals including magnesium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It’s also a good source of the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, and various flavonoids. Although spinach is technically a rich source of calcium, another nutrient in spinach called oxalic acid prevents much of that calcium from being absorbed, but you can blanch spinach (boil it for just one minute) to reduce this chemical. Here are some other benefits of spinach to convince you to eat more leafy greens.
12. Sweet potatoes good for sugar patients
One analysis found that sweet potatoes reduce HbA1c measures between 0.30 and 0.57 percent and fasting blood glucose by 10 to 15 points. This diabetic food also contains anthocyanins, which are the natural pigments that give the sweet potato its deep orange color and the antioxidants believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial qualities. (Whatever you do, never make a habit of doing these things if you’re diabetic.)
Foods to avoid for diabetic patients
Diabetes is a chronic disease that has reached epidemic proportions among adults and children worldwide. Uncontrolled diabetes has many serious consequences, including heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and other complications. Pre diabetes has also been linked to these conditions. Importantly, eating the wrong foods can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels and promote inflammation, which may increase your risk of disease. This article lists 11 foods that people with diabetes or pre diabetes should avoid.
- Sodas and sweet drinks are high in carbs, which increase blood sugar. Also, their high fructose content has been linked to insulin resistance and an increased risk of obesity, fatty liver and other diseases.
- Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically altered to increase their stability. They have been linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, increased belly fat and heart disease.
- White bread, pasta and rice are high in carbs yet low in fiber. This combination can result in high blood sugar levels. Alternatively, choosing high-fiber, whole foods may help reduce blood sugar response.
- Fruit-flavored yogurts are usually low in fat but high in sugar, which can lead to higher blood sugar and insulin levels. Plain, whole-milk yogurt is a better choice for diabetes control and overall health.
- Breakfast cereals are high in carbs but low in protein. A high-protein, low-carb breakfast is the best option for diabetes and appetite control.
- Flavored coffee drinks are very high in liquid carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels and fail to satisfy your hunger.
- Honey, agave nectar and maple syrup are not as processed as white table sugar, but they may have similar effects on blood sugar, insulin and inflammatory markers.
- Dried fruits become more concentrated in sugar and may contain more than three times as many carbs as fresh fruits do. Avoid dried fruit and choose fruits low in sugar for optimal blood sugar control.
- Packaged snacks are typically highly processed foods made from refined flour that can quickly raise your blood sugar levels.
- Unsweetened fruit juice contains at least as much sugar as sodas do. Its high fructose content can worsen insulin resistance, promote weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease.
- In addition to being high in carbs that raise blood sugar levels, french fries are fried in unhealthy oils that may promote inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Uncontrolled diabetes increases your risk of several serious diseases.However, eating foods that help keep blood sugar, insulin and inflammation under control can dramatically reduce your risk of developing complications.