Diabetes is a group of diseases that result in high blood sugar due to an inability to produce or use insulin. Individuals with diabetes need a comprehensive management program that includes maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, controlling blood pressure, staying active and eating a well-balanced diet. Many of the complications caused by diabetes stem from long-term damage to the blood vessels as a result of poorly controlled blood sugar levels. When this blood vessel damage involves the heart, it increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Vessels leading to the kidneys and other parts of the body can be damaged, leading to diabetic kidney disease, visual loss from retinal artery involvement, and blockages in peripheral arteries. It can also damage nerves, leading to a painful condition called diabetic neuropathy.
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Nutritional guidelines for diabetes include developing a diet, which includes food intake/preferences, considers the level of physical activity, medication regimen, and metabolic and glycemic control. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommended a balanced diet which includes carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat milk, low-fat protein, fiber containing foods, minimal trans fats and moderate alcohol consumption.
Several dietary modifications claim to lower blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. These include the whole food diet and alternative supplements or micronutrients including cinnamon, bitter melon and artificial sweeteners. The whole food diet represents a combination of foods that are low in processed carbohydrates and added sugar but research is lacking.
Cinnamon bark is used to make powders, teas and liquid extracts. While one small study found that ingesting cinnamon in a diabetic group resulted in a slight reduction in serum glucose, more high quality studies are needed.
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) has structural properties similar to animal insulin. Several small studies found the juice, fruit and dried powder had moderate hypoglycemic effects. However, the data was determined to be insufficient and more studies are needed.
According to the ADA and AND, sugar does not need to be avoided in patients with diabetes but needs to be balanced with other carbohydrates. Artificial sweeteners such as Stevia (Rebaudioside A, Reb-A or rebiana) can reduce calories with little impact on blood glucose levels. However, some of the stevia products contain a mix of sugar so it is important to read the labels. There is a need for more studies on the use of artificial sweeteners and the impact on insulin sensitivity.
Heart disease is the most common complication that arises from diabetes. One way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to maintain healthy blood lipid or cholesterol levels. While it has been suggested that an increased garlic intake was associated with a reduction in serum cholesterol, the research is lacking.
Balanced nutrition is important for reducing the risk of diabetic complications. The ADA and AND suggests an individualized diet to reduce your risk of complications from diabetes. It is important to work with your doctor before starting any supplement or diet that could affect your diabetes management regimen.
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