Good Nutrition & its Effects on Blood Glucose

By: Molly Boll

Food is the fuel and energy source for our bodies. Food cannot be used for energy until the body changes it into a simple sugar called “glucose.” Our blood carries glucose (blood sugar) to every cell throughout the body. Without glucose, cells do not have the energy to work.

Glucose needs help to get inside each of the cells in our body. The helper that carries glucose inside the cells is called insulin, which is made by the pancreas. For a person with diabetes, food is changed into glucose just as it is in those without diabetes. For those with Type I Diabetes, however, the body does not generate a sufficient amount of insulin to control the glucose level. For those with Type II Diabetes, the body does not respond correctly to insulin (insulin resistance), and does not allow it to carry glucose into the cells. In both cases, the glucose that is not able to get into the cells builds up in the blood. This causes high blood sugar, which can lead to diabetic complications.

What is Good Nutrition?

Good nutrition entails eating a variety of different foods in combinations that provide both necessary nutrients and good blood sugar control. Good nutrition also means limiting your fat and cholesterol intake.

Food contains nutrients and energy. The nutrients in our food supply form the building blocks of the body. Food also contains energy, which is measured in calories. Calories come from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and alcohol. The following is a quick summary of the different types of food and how they affect the blood glucose in our bodies.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and can be found in the starches in breads, cereals, and most vegetables, and in the sugars found in fruits and milk. Complex carbohydrates should be a big part of your meals and snacks. Vegetables, lentils and legumes, beans and peas, whole grain unprocessed breads, cereals, rice and pasta are all examples of complex carbohydrates. These tend to slowly raise blood glucose, and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. The sugar that is found in candy, cake, pie, jam, jelly and honey is also a carbohydrate. One hundred percent of the carbohydrates that we digest are broken down into the energy packet glucose. This happens quickly, from five minutes to three hours.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not used for energy. It does not raise blood sugar because the body cannot digest it and break it down into glucose. Insoluble fiber is useful for promoting regularity and feeding the good bacteria in the gut; it may decrease your risk of colon cancer. Examples of insoluble fiber are whole-wheat products, vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, corn, and spinach. It is interesting to note that soluble fiber sources form gels and slow down absorption of sugars into the blood. Good sources of soluble fiber are oats, beans, fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus, green beans, cabbage, and celery.

The American Diabetes Association suggests that diabetics eat 20 – 35 grams of fiber per day. The average American adult, however, eats only 10 – 15 grams daily. To help you determine where and how much fiber is in your food choices, please note the following average amounts of fiber per serving:

Whole grain breads, cereals and crackers = 2 grams
Starch vegetables (potatoes, corn, yams) = 3 to 4 grams
Legumes (beans, peas) = 3 to 4 grams
Raw vegetables = 3 grams per cup
Cooked or canned vegetables = 2 grams per cup
One cup of fresh fruit = 2 grams
Frozen or canned fruit = 3 grams per half-cup

Protein

Proteins are used to build and repair the body. Proteins are found in meats, fish, poultry, cheese, milk, eggs, and nuts. Proteins also break down into energy. Fifty to sixty percent of the protein we consume breaks down into glucose. This process happens slowly, over three to six hours.

Fats

Fats pack a large number of calories, and therefore energy, in a small bundle. Foods that contain fats are oils, margarine, butter, meat, and salad dressings. Use fats sparingly if you are trying to lose weight or if your blood fats are high. The body will store the majority of fat and will only break it down to smaller energy packets for use in emergencies. Only ten percent of the fat we consume raises our blood sugar directly, over a period of eight to ten hours. Fat is a form of stored energy that is broken down at a later time; it is the preferred source of fuel for muscles at rest. Which fats are healthier for you? Margarine is preferable to butter, but olive oil is the healthiest choice of the three.

Alcohol

Alcohol has calories, but little nutritional value. It is interesting to note that alcohol actually lowers blood sugar levels. It is suggested that people with diabetes snack while drinking to ensure that their blood sugars do not go too low. They should also limit their intake to one drink.

Since nutrition is a key component to managing one’s blood sugar, it is important to learn to put together healthy meals from the various food groups. The food pyramid offers an easy approach to healthy eating. This guide shows that healthy meals and snacks should contain lots of carbohydrates that are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber (lentils, legumes, vegetables, and yogurt, for example). All carbohydrates become glucose in blood within five minutes to three hours after they are eaten. These foods have a significant effect on blood glucose. The best ones to choose are those that are full of nutrients instead of those that just offer empty calories (soda, cakes, and candy, for example). You should eat antioxidant-rich vegetables that are high on the glycemic index scale, such as spinach, broccoli, yellow squash, and tomatoes.

Healthy eating also means avoiding foods that are high in fat and cholesterol. These foods have been linked to atherosclerosis, the fatty build-up inside blood vessel walls. This can lead to heart disease or stroke. People with diabetes have a two to three times greater risk of getting atherosclerosis. Therefore, when choosing proteins and fats in your diet, opt for lean cuts of meat, and eat more fish, chicken, and turkey (without the skin). Use nonfat milk or low fat milk products. Limit fried foods, gravies, cream sauces, butter, and margarine.

How much should I eat?

Logically, the key to maintaining your weight is watching the amount of food you eat. For good diabetes control, you must be consistent from day to day. Plan your day to be sure that you eat the right foods, in the right portions, at about the same times every day. Here are several examples of what constitutes a serving size:

1 slice of bread
1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of non-leafy vegetables
1 medium apple
1/2 cup of cooked/canned fruit
1/2 cup of fruit juice
1 cup of milk or yogurt
1.5 ounces of natural cheese
2 ounces of processed cheese
2-3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish

In addition to eating healthily, it is crucial to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Start your day out with an eight-ounce glass of water, and continue to drink water throughout the day. Water dilutes the blood and therefore has some degree of influence on lowering your blood sugars.

Planning Your Meals

As with all things in life, use the concept of BALANCE in choosing your meal plans. Eat a variety of foods that give a balance of carbohydrates and protein. One easy approach is to take your dinner plate and have one-fourth of it filled with proteins, one-fourth filled with a starch such as brown rice or a small potato, and one-half of the plate filled with vegetables (preferably the colorful ones as discussed above).

Here are a few recipes that could be part of a healthy diet for good diabetes control.

Spiced Chickpea Salad
A high-fiber summer salad from Mayo Clinic Health Solutions

2 – 15 oz. cans garbanzos drained and rinsed
1 red sweet pepper, chopped
4 green onions with tops chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbs. white vinegar
1 glove garlic, minced
2 tbs. peeled and minced fresh ginger root
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. salt if desired
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 tbs. olive oil

Mix garbanzos, pepper, green onions, and cilantro in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, cumin, salt, pepper flakes, and olive oil. Pour the liquid dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Cover the salad and refrigerate overnight.

(Serves 8; 130 calories; 5 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 g trans fat; 17 g carbs; 250 mg sodium; 5 g fiber)

Stir-Fried Peanut ChickenĀ 
From a nutrition student at Bastyr University
2 tsps olive oil
1 small carrot, diced
A few dashes of soy sauce
2 tsps of peanut butter chunk style
A few tsps of water
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
4 oz. of cooked chicken, cut into chunks

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the carrot, and let it cook for one minute. Add the soy sauce, peanut butter, and water, followed by the broccoli and chicken. Stir-fry for about four minutes until the colors are bright and the aroma is nice. Make sure the bottom does not brown while cooking; add a bit more water as the pan dries. (Serves one; approximately 400 calories; 16 g carbs; 43 g protein, 19 g fat)

Since nutrition is such a vast subject, we will be continuing this healthy diet discussion in the next ‘Living with Diabetes’ article, where we will discuss the glycemic index, carb counting, sweeteners, and controlling your eating habits, to name a few topics.

Please email me at mollyboll@verizon.net with any and all questions about your diabetes and I will attempt to get back to you. If I do not know the answer to your question, I will obtain an answer from a healthcare provider.

CONTINUING GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR DIABETES MANAGEMENT. REMEMBER – YOU CAN DO IT!!! YES, YOU CAN DO IT!!!