Eye Chat – Eating for Diabetes

ipoh echo issue 140, Dr Lee Mun Wai, Lee Eye Centre, Stem Cells in Retinal Disease

Dr Lee Mun Wai

Diabetes is fast becoming an epidemic around the world and in Malaysia, an estimated 15 per cent of our population have diabetes!! This number is projected to continue on an upward trend and before we know it, 1 in 5 Malaysians could become diabetic! That is a scary statistic!

Our population really does not know very much at all about diabetes. This is a chronic disease with a whole plethora of life threatening complications not to mention sight threatening ones as well. What I have found with my patients is also their complete lack of knowledge about how to eat properly when they have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is very common to think that taking less sugar is good enough but in reality, there is a lot more to it.

Striking a Balance

Eating for diabetes isn’t about going on a diet – it’s about making changes to your eating habits to create a healthier balance. Diabetes doesn’t change the kinds of food you can eat. The focus should be on making smart food choices to lead a healthier life; that is, eating less fat, less sugary foods, a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish. Basically, having a balanced diet.

Diabetics should work closely with their physician and dietitian to come up with meal plans. There is no one special diabetic diet – the meal plan has to be personalised to meet the unique requirements of each diabetic individual. The meal plan should aim at keeping the blood glucose levels as near to normal levels as possible – it is those large swings in blood glucose levels which do the most damage to the organs. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard my patients tell me that the reason their sugar levels have been so high is because they just had something to eat! If eating properly, the levels should not fluctuate so wildly. It is therefore, important to monitor your own blood glucose levels as well.

The Food Groups

Protein – A healthy diet should consist of 10-20% of calories from protein and sources of protein include poultry, fish, dairy and vegetable sources.

Fat – A healthy intake of fat should be less than 30% of daily calories. You should take less of saturated fats (meat and dairy products) and more of polyunsaturated fats (fish and other seafood).

Carbohydrates – the remainder of daily calories should come from carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, noodles, etc.).

Steps to Eating Well

  1. Eat regular meals at consistent times. Consider having smaller meals more frequently.
  2. Cut down on the fat you eat (especially saturated fats).
  3. Eat more fruit and vegetables – at least 5 servings a day.
  4. Aim for at least 2 servings of fish a week. Omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for the heart and eyes.
  5. Limit sugar and sugary drinks.
  6. Reduce salt in your diet – limit the amount of processed foods.
  7. Drink alcohol in moderation.
  8. Don’t be tempted by diabetic foods or drinks – they are often expensive with no added benefit and will still affect blood glucose levels.

Staying healthy with diabetes is a challenge but not totally unachievable. Eating right is but one aspect of living with diabetes; it is important to maintain a healthy weight and to exercise regularly as well. It is vital that you set health goals for yourself and work together with your health-care professionals to achieve these goals. Eating a balanced diet, managing your weight, and following a healthy lifestyle, together with taking any prescribed medication and monitoring where appropriate will ensure that you can prevent or delay the side effects of diabetes!

For more information about this topic or other eye health subjects, call Lee Eye Centre: 05-254 0095.

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