Managing diabetes can be a big challenge for a newly-diagnosed person. Fortunately, there are tools and trained professionals to help. A nutritionist-dietitian can teach you the basics to learn how to better manage your diabetes and support you in your efforts to change your dietary habits. It’s important to turn to qualified professionals from the start in order to begin on a solid foundation. These tips may also apply to people who have had diabetes for many years! It’s never too late to optimize, correct or modify your diet!
Basic tips for healthy eating
Here are some basic tips to learn how to better manage your diabetes. First, you need to make sure that your schedule is regular and that your meals contain enough variety, while aiming to meet the recommended carbohydrate intake.
Meals: 45 g to 75 g of carbohydrates
Snacks: 15 g to 30 g of carbohydrates (if necessary)
Ideally, you should also avoid skipping meals, but if that happens, you should know how to make up for it by opting for a satisfying snack in the hours that follow.
To successfully manage your blood sugar, it’s important to increase your intake of dietary fibre, water, and protein while avoiding overeating sugary, low-nutrient foods. These foods are called junk food or empty calories. These are generally ultra-processed foods, high in refined sugars, salt and fat that provide very few nutrients. These foods may explain the sudden spikes in your blood sugar that you may see in your automatic blood glucose log.
These tips may seem trivial, but will make a real difference in managing your diabetes. At first, the nutritionist-dietitian may ask you to complete a food diary. If you have a OneTouch VerioReflect blood glucose machine and the OneTouch Reveal application, healthcare professionals, including your family doctor, can easily help you with remote monitoring. Looking at your blood sugar readings and your food diary entries will make it easier to suggest positive changes to your eating habits.
And just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you need to cut everything out of your diet. When properly controlled, you can eat anything, including desserts! To do so, it’s important to understand the basics and key concepts of diets for people with diabetes, such as the glycemic index.
The glycemic index
The food glycemic index can be used when it comes to choosing between two foods of the same type. In fact, you should favour foods with a low glycemic index (with a score <55), such as whole grain products, legumes and most vegetables. Foods with an average glycemic index (scoring between 56 and 69) are generally good choices; these include wild rice, fruit, and some whole grain pastas. Lastly, you should monitor your consumption of foods with a high glycemic index (with a score >70) such as potatoes, white bread and pastas. These foods can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, thereby increasing the risk of reactive hypoglycemia. Remember to always add protein foods or foods rich in fibre which will regulate your blood sugar. For example, adding nuts, Greek yogurt, cheese, tofu, lean meat, fish or poultry to foods high in carbohydrates will better manage your blood sugar.
How to manage hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is usually manifested by heat, tremors, anxiety, a feeling of intense hunger, drowsiness and could even lead to unconsciousness! To avoid this stressful situation, keep a high carbohydrate snack with you at all times.
If the hypoglycemia is mild (your blood glucose meter will display a value between 2.8 and 4 mmol/L, you should follow the rule of 15-15: Immediately consume 15 grams of carbohydrate, then wait 15 minutes before reassessing your blood sugar. If it’s still low, you’ll have to start this cycle again.
Hypoglycemia can occur in a number of circumstances that are not always clearly related to diet. For example, it can be triggered by the wrong dosage of insulin or medication, during more vigorous than usual exercise, and by insufficient—or excessive—food intake, or because of too much alcohol consumption (for people treated with insulin or insulin secretagogues).
And what about alcohol?
If you’re planning a party, you can consume alcohol while having diabetes, but do so responsibly! Alcohol can cause low blood sugar for up to 24 hours after drinking! It’s therefore essential that you don’t drink on an empty stomach. Watch for any warning signs of hypoglycemia and be ready to take action when needed.
In addition, respect the following maximum quantities:
Women: 2 drinks* per day and 10 per week
Men: 3 drinks* per day and 15 per week
*One drink of alcohol is equivalent to a 340 ml beer, 140 ml of wine or 45 ml of spirits.
With all of these tips, you’ll be able to better manage your diabetes. If you have any questions, write them down so you can ask your doctor or dietitian during your next appointment. Several resources are available to you free of charge in the public sector, like the www.onetouch.ca site, where you’ll find interesting information under the "diabetes resources" tab, as well as Diabète Québec, which even offers a direct and toll-free line to easily communicate with a health professional at InfoDiabète (1-800-361-3504).
However, if you want more personalized and frequent nutritional support, then you’ll have to turn to the private sector. To find a nutritionist-dietitian qualified in the management of diabetes, search the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec website at www.opdq.org. (French only) A nutritionist-dietitian can teach you both the basics and advanced concepts such as calculating carbohydrates and managing insulin units.
In addition, for additional support and to find some comfort, you can join an association near you. You will then be able to interact with the members and learn about the various activities organized to help you improve your diabetes management. Local associations include, in particular, Les diabétiques de Québec (for the Québec City region), Centre du Diabète de Laval (Laval/Laurentides), Diabète Estrie and The Canadian Diabetes Association.
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier and Lifescan
Diabète Québec, as viewed on https://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/