Definition and Overview
Patients with diabetes require a special nutritional diet to effectively regulate their blood’s sugar levels while addressing their nutritional needs.
With similar nutritional needs as other people, diabetics’ greatest challenge comes in the form of their dietary limitations. This is because everything they eat has a direct effect on their blood sugar level, which means there are certain restrictions that must be taken into consideration. These restrictions also place them in danger of not meeting their nutritional needs.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A diabetic nutritional plan is a must for all patients suffering from diabetes mellitus, a condition wherein a person’s blood glucose level is higher than normal. A patient can achieve the right nutritional plan with the help of a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes management.
A nutritional plan is a crucial part of diabetes management to ensure that the patient gets proper nutrition despite his condition. These plans have been in use for disease management as early as 3500 BC. Although the development of insulin-based treatments made patients’ meal plans more flexible, watching what they eat is still necessary. A diabetic who is following a good nutritional plan as part of his treatment has a good chance of thriving despite his condition.
In addition, a diabetic nutrition plan also plays a key role in the prevention of the disease. Prevention of diabetes entails three different stages, starting with primary prevention wherein a high-risk patient is identified and critical lifestyle and dietary changes are implemented. This moves on to secondary prevention, wherein proper nutrition is used as a therapeutic technique, and tertiary prevention, wherein proper nutrition is used to manage the complications of diabetes to extend a patient’s life.
However, there is no specific diabetic diet plan that works for all patients. Although there are currently a lot of diet plans that are beneficial for diabetics such as low-carbohydrate plans and low-fat plans, certain modifications and customizations are often still necessary. Thus, in most cases, each patient are given a specially designed meal plan that takes into consideration the unique factors of their condition, medical history, and even lifestyle. The meal plan will help keep patients on the right track by detailing the kinds and a specific amount of food that they can eat both at mealtimes and in-between snacks.
How the Procedure Works?
A diabetic nutritional plan typically consists of the following:
Balanced diet recommendations - Most diabetic patients need to consume a diet consisting of 40 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent proteins, and 30 percent fats. Carbohydrates may be sourced from fruits and vegetables, dairy products, beans, and starch-based items, whereas protein may be obtained from meat, fish, dairy products, and poultry. There are certain limitations, though. For example, although meat is considered as a good source of protein, the diabetic diet prioritizes fish and poultry over red meat choices. Also, it is important that meat be consumed for its protein content and not for its fat content, which means patients need to trim off some of the fat found in most meats. Fat, on the other hand, may be sourced from butter and margarine, aside from the fat found in meat. It is also important for diabetics to consume a lot of fiber, especially plant fiber.
Limitations - Other specific limitations are also detailed. For example, a diabetic may eat dairy products for its protein and fat content, but it is best if they use products with a low fat percentage. Fortunately, most dairy products nowadays come in non-fat or low-fat versions. Also, while poultry is a good source of protein, patients should refrain from eating the skin, as this contains a lot of fats.
Food restrictions - Diabetic nutrition plans also usually list the types of food that patients should avoid. For example, they are generally advised to steer clear of fried foods and alcoholic beverages, among others. Most diabetic nutrition plans also feature an exchange list, or a list of alternative foods that can be used as substitutes for the food products that diabetics are not allowed to consume.
Sugar and sodium consumption levels - Contrary to the belief that diabetics cannot consume sugar, it is actually possible for these patients to consume sugar as long as it is incorporated into a balanced diet plan, which means the sugar intake is limited to a certain amount and frequency. The same goes for the amount of salt they can use in preparing their meals.
Eating schedule - Diabetics are also advised about the ideal eating schedule and amount of food consumed during each meal. Smaller portions that are eaten throughout the day are considered more ideal than eating big portions during the three main meals of the day.
Recommended lifestyle modifications - A change in eating habits is also best supported by lifestyle changes to better manage diabetes.
Possible Risks and Complications
Proper diabetic nutrition plays a key role in preventing the potential risks and complications of diabetes. People who are suffering from this particular disease face a high risk of both short-term and long-term health risks, such as but not limited to:
- Nerve damage
- Vision problems, such as glaucoma, retinopathy, and cataracts.
- Coronary heart disease
These complications arise when the patient’s blood glucose levels are left elevated for a long time. This highlights the importance of strictly following the right diet plan. In fact, this has proven beneficial for many diabetic patients who have been living without any complications for decades. Patients, however, who do not take their nutritional plans seriously, face a higher risk of developing complications as the disease progresses.
However, it is important that patients also understand the limitations of their nutritional plan. Although following a balanced diet can help fend off potential complications, it is not the only feature of their treatment plan. The meal plan should be supported by regular exercise, stress management techniques, and lifestyle changes, such as smoking or drinking cessation.
American Diabetes Association. Carbohydrate counting. Available at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/carb-counting. Accessed December 8, 2012.
American Diabetes Association. Nutrition recommendations and interventions for diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2008;31:S61-S78.