Given the large number of people in the United States who are overweight (71%-73% of the population according to most recent statistics), the vast majority of our population can benefit from following nutritional programs appropriate for diabetics. Although it should be easy, many people do not understand, or adhere to this kind of program. Part of the problem is lack of desire to change long-standing eating habits, lack of support, and the fact that medications for diabetes are constantly improving. After all, why adhere to a strict dietary regimen if it is easier to take medication? Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is becoming part of the American culture. Dietary compliance is further sabotaged by patients being told they are doing better on two, three, or even four diabetes medications, just because their blood sugars are only mildly elevated, and/or their Hemoglobin A1C has improved moderately. The sad truth is that even mild sugar elevations cause damage.
I always tell my patients that there is no such thing as “better” control, or mildly elevated. The only condition that will stop the degenerative diseases of diabetes, is complete control, and normalization of blood sugar. This is very rarely achieved, and requires strict dietary adherence, maintenance of proper body weight, and exercise.
The Diabetic diet is quite simple: eliminate as much sugar as possible, preferably all of it. Avoid adding sugar to foods, avoid all sweet foods with sugar added, including high fructose corn syrup. Beware of sugary vitamin water, soda, fruit drinks, sugared iced tea and lemonade. Limit sugar in the form of white carbohydrates (for example bread, rice, potato), and processed carbohydrates and foods. Eat more fiber: allowable fruit, most vegetables, and salads (without bottled salad dressings). Some fruit, such as melon (except watermelon) and banana, have a high sugar content. Berries are great.
The general rule for diabetics, is the same as for any good nutritional program: high fiber, more protein, good fats, and less carbs, combined with exercise. That said, diabetics, or those predisposed to diabetes, should be followed by a nutritionist, and would be well served by investing in a trainer and gym membership, for a monitored exercise program. In addition, many hospitals are now sponsoring health and athletic facilities, with personally designed and disease specific teaching and monitoring. Seek out a physician monitored lifestyle program in order to combine all of these modalities.