The Diabetic Diet: 3 Myths to Dispel

The expert explains what to eat with diabetes and which foods to avoid, debunking false myths about foods and behaviors.

In the diabetic, diet represents the main form of therapy, together with physical exercise (150 minutes of weekly walking or 10,000 steps a day – WHO), hypoglycemic therapy (drugs or insulin), glycemic monitoring and therapeutic education.

General guidelines for a balanced diet

“A balanced diet in diabetic patients – explains the doctor – includes:

1 share of carbohydrates between 45-60% of daily calories, especially carbohydrates rich in fiber and with a low glycemic index;

a 5-10% limitation of simple sugars;

20-35% of lipids;

10-25% protein.

Finally, fiber intake is essential. The fibers present in fruit, vegetables, legumes and cereals, do not bring calories, increase satiety (filling the stomach, strengthening chewing, facilitating intestinal transit and improving bacterial flora), slow down and make the absorption of carbohydrates more constant. It is necessary to take about 30 grams / day in adults. “

It is also important to underline that in addition to the quantity of food, attention must be paid to the quality and intra-day distribution of meals.

Pizza, desserts and a strict diet: the false myths to dispel

Here are 3 myths about dieting for diabetes sufferers to dispel.

1. The diabetic cannot eat pasta, bread, pizza and rice

“Often – explains the doctor – when we find high glycemic values ​​or diabetes, we tend to eliminate pasta, bread, rice and pizza from the diet. Nothing could be more wrong. Sugars are the direct source of energy for our body and are mainly used by the main organs such as the brain, heart and muscles for the performance of the main activities. Therefore, they are important and must be an integral part of our diet.

Just think that the brain consumes about 120 g of glucose per day of the 200 g to which the daily requirement of the whole organism amounts to. If glucose is the only simple sugar (monosaccharide) able to cross the blood brain barrier and therefore able to make our neurons ‘work’, this does not mean that we must overdo it with sweets! Our body is able to obtain this sugar from the complex carbohydrates (starches) of pasta, bread, rice and potatoes.

Therefore – continues the specialist –   in case of high glycemic values ​​or diabetes, it is good to prefer complex carbohydrates or starches that are absorbed slowly and that do not cause a sudden rise in blood sugar. Carbohydrates that can be found in derivatives of cereals (pasta, rice, bread, baked goods), potatoes and legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas).

It is a good idea to reduce the intake of simple carbohydrates, which by assimilating quickly, significantly raise blood sugar. Among these sugars, those of honey, jam, fruit (fructose and sucrose), but also of milk and / or yogurt (lactose) or those added in sugary drinks. “

The indications of the WHO provide for the intake of free sugars at 10% of our daily energy intake. Several EU countries recommend a maximum consumption of 25g of free sugars per day (or 5% of the total energy intake); this corresponds to 6 teaspoons of table sugar.

2. The diabetic cannot eat sweets

There is no single food that a person with diabetes cannot eat, including sweets. “Desserts – specifies the doctor – are foods that must be consumed in moderation and in small quantities: once a week, one portion, at breakfast or at the end of lunch instead of fruit. In this way you have the time necessary to be ‘consumed / burned’ during the day.

Furthermore, at the end of the meal, the glycemic rise is modulated by the absorption of other nutrients introduced with the diet. It should be noted that desserts should not be taken far from the meal or late after dinner.” 

What to avoid

More problematic are sugary drinks, which should be avoided. “Their intake – underlines the specialist – is related to overweight and obesity, especially in children and adolescents. Just think that:

whoever consumes 2 fruit juices a day increases the risk of developing diabetes

1 sweetened cocktail a day increases the risk of disease by 20% (Inter Act Consortium 2013).

Finally, alcohol intake must be limited as the carbohydrates contained in it can spike blood sugar and are often not considered by the diabetic food. Taken together with certain therapies (insulin), fasting or in the presence of organ failure (liver disease), alcohol can promote the onset of hypoglycemia by interfering with the release of glycogen.

The same is true for sweetened drinks, which have no calories, but perpetuate the habit of sweetness and generate a biochemical and biological response that favors weight gain.”

3. The person with diabetes must always be on a diet

Weight control is essential for achieving and maintaining good glycemic compensation and for avoiding the development of complications. To do this, you must not adopt drastic or inadequate diets, impossible to follow.

“For a limited period of time and with the sole objective of weight loss – specifies the doctor – special diets can be followed under strict medical and dietary supervision.

On the other hand, ‘do-it-yourself diets’ or those created by unqualified people (relatives, friends, neighbors) are absolutely not recommended. Diabetes is a serious, multi-organ disease that can lead to severe damage to various systems or to dysfunctions also due to inappropriate or incorrect dietary measures. 

It is advisable to follow a reasonable diet to be applied regularly even throughout life: a little less pasta, a little less bread, fish and legumes as an alternative to meat, a little cheese and a few cured meats, a lot of vegetables, always fruit, very few sweets”, Concludes the doctor.

Mediterranean diet and diabetes

“The best diet remains the Mediterranean one – specifies Dr. Savulescu – balanced from a nutritional point of view, complete, rich in fiber from vegetables, fruit and vegetables and whole grains and low in fats of animal origin. It is a diet that is capable of:

reduce major cardiovascular events;

limit the incidence of diabetes by 52%.

The consumption of fish, especially blue fish, 2-3 times a week for the Omega3 intake and moderate quantities of seeds and nuts for the Omega6 should be encouraged. Green light for all vegetables: leafy vegetables such as salads, beets, kikker vs pad, spinach, chicory, root vegetables, carrots, beets, turnips, broccoli, fennel, cabbage and cabbage.

Legumes and vegetables, in addition to ensuring the nutritional supply of vitamins, mineral salts and fiber, contribute to increasing satiety in the face of a low caloric intake.”

Food tips for diabetes sufferers

The head of the Endocrinology and Diabetology Outpatient Department of the City of Pavia Institute of Care provides some dietary advice for those suffering from diabetes.

In particular, it approves the consumption of:

whole meal products: because they are rich in fiber and because they give greater satiety, considering that whole meal does not mean ‘sugar-free’ and that we do not mean a type of bread enriched with seeds or seasoned.

sweeteners: in low quantities to sweeten, both natural ones such as stevia and synthetic ones such as aspartame and saccharin, as they are free of both sugar and calories. Pay attention to sorbitol and fructose, they provide 4 calories / gram like the sugar we want to limit.

The doctor emphasizes to be careful of:

‘Sugar-free’ chocolate / sweets and biscuits: these are foods that use sorbitol as a sweetener and can replace the related sugary products. Pay attention to the quantities because they are enriched with fats.

Light drinks: not recommended because they favor and perpetuate the need for “sweet”, favoring weight gain and obesity. They reduce the body’s proper hydration and contain dyes / preservatives, so better not to consume them in case of hypoglycemia.

The importance of not underestimating diabetes

“Not being aware of the seriousness and potential gravity of diabetic disease – explains the diabetologist – is the main problem. Diabetes should not be overlooked or underestimated as it cannot be considered a trivial disease.

The lack or scarcity of symptoms, both at the onset and during the course of the disease, can only be assumed. In fact, very often diabetes is diagnosed 7-8 years late or in conjunction with the finding of some of its complications. “

The absence of a real symptom or the presence of mild symptoms, negligible or not adequately understood or correlated to diabetes, even in the presence of poor compensation, are the true Achilles heel of the person with diabetes.

“Diabetes – specifies the doctor – is a potentially serious disease that requires great awareness and maximum application by the affected person who must also be supported by a care team. Unlike most diseases, diabetes cannot be treated by a single doctor, but requires teamwork, multidisciplinary (diabetologist, cardiologist, vascular, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, dietician, etc.).

The diabetic patient must be an ‘active patient’, aware of his or her pathology; encouraged and supported by the professionals who follow him, he remains at the center of his own treatment path ”, concludes the specialist.