Diabetes is a disease characterized by the body’s inability to produce or metabolize the hormone insulin. Insulin is critical in processing the sugars in our body. People with diabetes can suffer from high blood sugar, unless they pay careful attention to their daily sugar intake. High blood sugar (also called high glycemic index or high GI) can lead to many health complications, including heart and liver disease.
If you’re a parent with diabetes, or your child has this condition, consider the following tips:
Manage Carbohydrates in Your Meals
For most people, sugar refers only to the sweet crystals from the sugar cane plant, the one we add to our coffee and tea. Thus, when asked to limit sugar intake, they only avoid these sweeteners. But the fact is, our body transforms almost all of the food we eat into sugar. If you want to be able to manage your blood’s glycemic response, you have to be aware of what foods contain natural sugars.
Know that foods rich in carbohydrates and starch are rich in a type of sugar called glucose. Thus, people with diabetes, whether it’s Diabetes Type 1 or Type 2, should limit their intake of breads, pastries, pastas, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Heavily processed foods, such as those which underwent various treatments to be better preserved, can release these sugars quickly into the bloodstream and must be avoided at all cost.
Contrary to popular belief, people with diabetes are not required to abstain totally from sugar. After all, our body gets energy from carbohydrates. The critical thing to remember is to eat only enough to maintain normal blood glucose levels. If one is taking insulin injections, then it’s important to match one’s carbohydrate intake with insulin dose. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) must also be avoided. To get the exact amount of carbohydrates and sugar you should consume in a day, it’s best to consult a licensed doctor and dietitian for advice.
Fiber and Water
People with diabetes are encouraged to include in their diet rich sources of fiber. These foods include whole grain and whole grain products, fruits and vegetables. These natural products are less likely to impact the body’s glycemic level. More so, they provide vitamins and minerals integral in over-all health.
Liquids are also important in helping manage our blood sugar. Aside from the recommended 8 glasses of water a day, people with diabetes are advised to have more, especially if they just ate sugar. Drinking lots of fluids can help flush down the sugar in one’s system.
Consider Artificial Sweeteners
Having diabetes need not necessarily mean that a person has to totally avoid sweet food and food products like cakes and soda. Today, there are many artificial sweeteners that can provide flavor to many meals, and thus create sugar-free options. Many of these sweeteners are approved by the Food and Drug Authority. Note though: the label “no sugar added” is different from “sugar-free.” If there are natural sugars in a product (like orange juice which naturally contains sugar from the orange fruit), “no sugar added” simply means that there’s no additional sugar than what’s naturally found in the product. To be safe, always read the nutritional information on product packages.
Regulate Protein Intake
How about protein, such as those found in beef, pork, mutton, fish and poultry? Do diabetics have a restriction regarding including these meals in a diabetic’s diet? The good news is: there are no recommended restrictions on protein-rich foods for diabetics, no more than the restrictions imposed on people without diabetes. The usual dietary allowance of protein, around 20% of the person’s total source of energy, is recommended for diabetics. Make sure though that fat intake is limited to what is called good cholesterol as hypertension and obesity are additional health risks for people with diabetes.
Helping Your Child with Diabetes
While parents can understand the need for nutritional control in managing diabetes, many children cannot! They want to eat what they want to eat and they want to eat what their friends are eating. Parents can help reduce resistance to dietary management by showing understanding and empathy. “I know it’s hard and frustrating. It seems so unfair.” By acknowledging the child’s feelings out loud, parents can help the child release those feelings and move on. Parents need to be aware that because children lack maturity, they will often be tempted to “cheat” on their dietary restrictions. Because teens perceive themselves as invincible, they will do the same. Parents need lots of patience! Realize that this is all a normal part of life for diabetic youngsters. Eventually they will come to terms with their health condition and learn to be responsible for themselves. Meanwhile, parents can try to guide their children without resorting to heavy duty criticism, supervision or scare tactics. If necessary, have your pediatrician or nutritionist speak to your child directly. Sometimes the authority of a medical health professional is more powerful than the coaxing of a parent.