A common myth about diabetes is that one needs to avoid all carbs. This is completely incorrect. We need to distinguish between highly processed products such as cornflakes, crackers and potato chips and whole foods such as beans, sweet potatoes and whole grain products.
The glycemic index is a useful guide to help choose foods that have less effect on blood sugars. High glycemic index foods increase blood sugar rapidly, thus causing a spike in insulin. If we think of a traffic light - red light foods should be eaten very sparingly. These include white bread, most dry cereals, watermelon and pineapple. Yellow light foods include all-bran cereal, Grape-nuts, brown rice and couscous.
Foods with a low glycemic index raise blood sugars in a slower, more controlled manner. Think of these as Green Light foods - and choose liberally from these. Pumpernickel, rye, barley, oats, sweet potatoes, lentils, vegetables and most fruits fall into this category. Note, this is whole fruit, not fruit juice. Pasta, due to the way it is made, is surprisingly part of this group. It actually has a low glycemic index.
Part of the reason for successful control of diabetes through eating low glycemic foods, is the idea of volumetrics. This is the concept of eating food with a lower calorie count per serving. For example, a cup of carrots has about 85g of carrots but only 45 calories for the cup. This means you get a lot of bang for your buck snacking on the carrots which will fill you up with healthy fibre and plant based phytonutrients, with minimal fat and a small amount of calories. Compare this with only 50g of whole wheat tortilla style chips which will fatten you up with 270 calories and 20% of these from fat!
Other foods that have a similar benefit include soups (not cream based ones), salads and foods cooked in water, such as oatmeal. These ‘heavy’ feeling foods fill you up without providing an excess of calories.
A different approach to the food groups would be to consider four new food groups. These would be whole grains such as pasta, rice, corn, oatmeal, barley and rye. The second food group is legumes which includes black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, peas, lentils, nonfat soy products, fat free veggie burgers and textured vegetable protein.
Vegetables form the third food group and here you can go wild. Any and all vegetables are a good choice. Fresh frozen veggies are a good choice as they are picked and frozen immediately and maintain a lot of their nutrition. Choose local and seasonal where possible. Tasty veggies include cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. Here in the Okanagan we have a particularly good selection at our local farmers’ markets!
Fruit comprises the fourth food group. Once again, eat the whole fruit, do not drink as fruit juice. Good choices include bananas, apples, grapes, pears, peaches, melons, berries and grapefruit.
A 2006 clinical trial showed that a plant-based diet beat the American Diabetes Association’s recommended diet for weight loss. The subjects eating the plant based diet were able to eat freely without restricting portions, counting calories or counting carbs. A cheap and easy way to improve your health!