What is Diabetes?

In the UK, it is estimated that about 6% of the population, or 4 million people, are living with diabetes[1]. World Diabetes Day is on the 14th November and serves to not only highlight this disease but also to acknowledge the co-founder Sir Frederick Banting’s birthday, who along with Charles Best, discovered insulin in 1922[2]. The day is a global event, recognised by a blue circle and aims to highlight the affects of diabetes has across the globe.

Diabetes is a condition which affects blood sugar levels. There are 2 main types; type 1 which is an auto-immune disease where the body can’t produce insulin[3] and is usually controlled with insulin injections and type 2 is considered a condition where there is a resistance to insulin in the body which needs to be stabilised through diet, medication and other lifestyle changes. However, the main difference between these two types is the fact that type 2 can be prevented or delayed although, worryingly, it is now one of the world’s most common long term condition[1].

Trying to manage diabetes is hard because if you don’t, there are consequences you’ll have to deal with later in life. Bryan Adams

There are also other types of diabetes such as MODY, gestational diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes too.

Checking blood sugars levels is the only way to determine diabetic risk.

Food Can Help Manage Symptoms

Food can be considered a medicine; perhaps even the best medicine. Sourcing the best ingredients you can, will have an impact on your wellbeing; even more so if you have a lifelong condition such as diabetes. Managing diabetes can be difficult especially with foods you don’t prepare yourself. Takeaways and ready meals can be laden with hidden sugars that can be potentially dangerous for a diabetic.

Diabetes sounds like you’re going to die when you hear it. I was immediately frightened. But once I got a better idea of what it was and that is was something I could manage myself, I was comforted. Nick Jonas

In many cases, people with type 1 diabetes can generally eat what they like and just avoid foods we all should such as trans fats like margarine, processed and refined carbohydrates and fizzy, high sugar drinks. People with type 2 diabetes, must, however, change their lifestyle and diets to manage their symptoms. Educating ourselves about healthy dietary choices can make living with diabetes so much easier.

Eating fresh, local vegetables, such as this fruit & veg box from Christmas Farm, can help control diabetic issues.

Healthy Carbs

One of the food groups you should focus on the most is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a basic macronutrient food group and makes up a large portion of our daily diets as it is the body’s main energy source[4]. We are most familiar with carbohydrates being classed as being either sugary or starchy foods like biscuits or potatoes.

For a diabetic, knowledge about carbohydrates is very important. Some of the worst carbs to eat are also the most popular and easy to find such as refined cereals, white flour and bread and white sugar[5].

Carbohydrates often get a bad press in the media and from weight-loss gurus. However, carbohydrates should still make up a ⅓ of our diets according to government advice[4]. Carbs are our energy source and without them, we are left tired and moody. Importantly, too little carbs in your diet can cause blood glucose levels to drop. Which is not what you want.

Carb counting is believed to be one of the best ways to control blood sugar levels.

Whole oats

One of the best breakfasts to eat for a healthy diabetic diet is porridge. Choosing oats which are steel-cut or minimally processed make sure that you’re eating a natural product. Try Heatherslaw Mill Scottish Rolled Oat Flakes for a quick healthy breakfast or soak Heatherslaw Mill Medium Ground Oatmeal overnight. Add fresh or frozen fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon to sweeten without the need for sugar.

Try some local oats from Heatherslaw Corn Mill located between Ford & Etal.
Try some local oats from Heatherslaw Corn Mill located between Ford & Etal.

Wholesome Bread

If you can’t live without bread, avoid white bread products. Instead, look out for whole grain or whole wheat bread. If you have time, making your own bread gives you even more control over what goes into your bread and avoiding any unnecessary nasties and hidden sugars. If you’re feeling adventurous, try an ancient grain such as Einkorn from Gilchesters’ Organics to create a rustic loaf or 100% Rye Flour to make Scandinavian-style bread which are filling and nutritious. Try topping with hazelnut butter from The Nut Roaster with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds.

Peanut butter
Peanut Butter – without any nasty additives – is a great way to add healthy protein to your diet without spiking blood sugar.

Healthy Fats

Another major food group, fats, is a key component of our diets, especially heart health. Some studies suggest that a diet rich in healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fat, and limiting the intake of saturated fats can decrease the risks of heart problems as well as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes[6].

Healthy fats are important for heart health – something important for type 2 diabetics to consider.

Healthy fats include oily and fatty fish, nuts, unrefined or cold-pressed oils, eggs and beans and pulses. Unfortunately, diabetes makes heart disease an issue, therefore it is important to eat healthier fats.

Omega-Rich Fish

Oily or fatty fish such as kippers from L Robson & Sons. The herring industry is a big part of the North East coast fishing industry so not only is it healthy fish, but also local fish. Kippers are also high in protein and omega 3’s as well as several other vitamins and minerals. Other good fish to eat include salmon, trout and mackerel.

Craster kippers curing
World-renowned Craster kippers make an excellent breakfast!

Nutritional Powerhouse: Local Eggs

Another great protein source, and full of healthy fats, are local, free-range eggs such as those from Borders Eggs, which are also organic. Eggs did get a bit of a bad press about cholesterol levels, but more recent studies have shown that eggs do not contribute to a spike in blood sugar because of its high-fat and low-carb quantities[7] .

Eggs from Border Eggs, which are organic and free-range can be a fantastic source of nutrition without spiking blood sugar levels.

Blood Sugar Stable Snacks

Depending on the type and severity of your diabetes, eating smaller and more regularly can be beneficial. Keep energy levels topped up with healthy snack so your blood sugar levels don’t fall or dramatically rise with a subsequent meal.

Healthy snack ideas include:

Green apple slices with The Nut Roaster‘s Cashew Nut Butter

A small pot of Blue House Goats Greek-Style Yogurt with berries

Veggie crudités with hummus

Plain popcorn

Remember also to keeping hydrated too is of utmost importance. Avoid sugary drink and try loose leaf green tea from Bari Tea or flavour your water with cucumber slices, mint or lemon.

Sencha cherry rose loose leaf tea
Keep hydrated and blooming while sipping Sencha Cherry Rose green tea by Bari Tea

Keeping Diabetes Under Control

There are a few rules to keep blood sugar levels under control. Making smart food choices like eating healthy fats and removing refined carbohydrates from the diet has proven to keep blood sugar stable and could help to keep diabetic complications at bay. Remember to exercise as well to feel the benefits of a healthy diet. Exercise has also shown to increase the amount of glucose used by your muscles as well as assist the body in using insulin more efficiently[8] and stops it being unnecessarily stored in the body.

If you need advice or are worried about diabetes see your GP or visit the Diabetes UK website for more information. The Academy of Nutrition and Diabetes have a handy MyPlate guide to help you if you’re looking to make lifestyle changes, whether you’re managing diabetes or not.

There are so many things that you learn that you didn’t think you wanted to know, but now you have this disease (diabetes), you’ve gotta do it. Randy Jackson

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Disclaimer: if you have or think you have diabetes it is important to seek medical attention and devise a personal nutrition plan. This article is only a guide to highlight healthy foods that could help those suffering with diabetes which is locally sourced.