Guest Author - Julie Reeser, RN
In the past, focus for the non-insulin dependent diabetic patient has centered around counting carbohydrates. This approach is difficult to manage and sets up the client for a perception of deprivation which often leads to noncompliance. The rapid rise of blood sugar, and the subsequent spike in insulin caused by simple sugars, is damaging to the body’s organs. It also increases the feeling of hunger and can lead to overeating.
A newer tool for managing blood sugar is to choose foods based on their glycemic load. This is the measurement of how quickly blood sugar from a food is released into the bloodstream. It is directly related to the fiber content of the food. The lower the number, the slower the release. Fiber causes the stomach to delay emptying which also has the benefit of curbing appetite. Insulin is released at a gentler rate, giving the cells in the body time to react more effectively and efficiently. The lack of a burst of insulin leads to decreased cravings of higher carbohydrate foods as the slower insulin release does not trigger hunger.
There are books and websites that can give the glycemic load for most foods, but a common sense approach is to choose foods that are fibrous in nature. This would include whole grains, legumes, and foods with bright colors. Coincidentally, these are also plant based foods, which have the blessing of being mostly low in calories. Limiting the amount of processed and pale foods on a plate will naturally lead to foods lower on the glycemic load chart. Thoroughly chewing carbohydrate foods that are higher on the chart will release amylase, an enzyme in the mouth, and produce a sweet, satisfying taste. This can decrease the feeling of deprivation that is a complaint of many diabetics.
When baked goods are desired, agave nectar is a natural sweetener low on the glycemic load chart that can be converted into most recipes. An alternative for straight sugar is stevia. They are both plant based sugars, with stevia being very slow to release into the bloodstream, even though it is ten times sweeter than sugar! Mainstream manufacturers have recently jumped on this product, adding sugar alcohol to it and selling it as their own product. This defeats the purpose of the original, and it is best to buy the stevia without any additives. It comes in liquid and powder form, with the liquid being most effective for hot liquids, as the fiber in the powder will clump.
A good trick for lowering the glycemic load of a food is to add fiber to it. This can be achieved by adding ground flax, hemp, or chia seed. This has an added worth of increasing the Omega 3 content of the food, which is important to the diabetic for vessel wall integrity often damaged by years of high blood sugar.
Awareness of how the body releases blood sugar and insulin into the body, and how food choices can control this mechanism, is empowering to diabetic clients. They will find themselves eating foods with more visual appeal and flavor, with the added achievement of better blood sugar management. They will begin to explore new ways of cooking and loving food again.