Diabetes & The Diabetic Diet

by CM Dr. Allen K.M. Pang (Doctor of Chinese Medicine)
* Medical Advisor of Xiamen Ren De Hospital
* Regional Representative of Nanjing TCM University
* President of SEL & KL Association of China Graduated Chinese Physicians
* Guest Lecturer of Hong Kong Wah Ha TCM College
* Director Jiangxi TCM University Malaysia Tutoring Centre
* Vice Chairman (Overseas) of Xiamen TCM & Medicine Promoting Association.

Address:Lot L-02-05, Block L, Kinrara Section 3 Town Centre, Jalan PPK 1, Pusat Perniagaan Kinrara 3, Persiaran Kinrara Sek 3, Taman Kinrara Sek 3, 47100 Puchong, Selangor, Malaysia.
e-mail: ortcm@sina.com

Diabetes is a condition where there is an abnormally high level of sugar in the blood and the affected patient's body is unable to control this. Basic causes of the illness are thought to be related to genetic inheritance, environment, coming into constant contact with toxic substances or other infection of harmful organism may trigger the onset. Diabetes results from a failure in the production of insulin which is one of the body'shormones and its job is to keep the blood's sugar in control. Without insulin, the body's cells become deprived of sugar despite the fact that there is a high level in the blood. As the sugar level rises due to lack of insulin, the cells burn on fat and nutrients like protein as it goes through improper circulation.

Proper diet still form the basis for management of diabetes and the so-called diabetic diet is nothing more than a modification of a well-balanced diet of others. Whatever others eat, diabetics can eat too but with certain adjustments altered to suit each individual's needs. The intake of calories, proteins, fat, sugar should be carefully monitored as a balanced diet supplies nutrients needed by a person to support daily health. A diabetic person requires the same food nutrients as any other non-diabetic person. But protein, fat and carbohydrates are not metabolized in the same way so there is a need to lower this range of food groups. An uncontrolled diet may bring about problems whether the patient belongs to the Diabetes Mellitus (blood glucose level is higher than normal) or Maturity Onset Diabetes, which is a type of diabetes where the pancreas does produce insulin but the tissues of the body are sensitive to its action and because of this, a condition of high blood sugar level starts.

Sometimes, a diabetic can lapse into problems like hypoglycameia (which means low blood sugar level) or develop hyperglycaemia (which means high blood sugar level). Both conditions can be cured but complications can have an effect on the eyes, start of abnormalities in the nerves and has a tendency to develop artery trouble.

Diet is a must for those who suffer from diabetes. Once you understand the role of diet, there is a better overall control of the disease. With a proper diet and combined with the correct set of exercise, the illness can be managed. A diabetic should bring blood glucose level near to normal in order to lessen the risk of toxic effects and whether a patient is on medication or insulin, the diet should be tailored to each individual's nutritional requirement. Below is a simple guide to the source of vitamins needed in a diet:

1. Vitamin A (retinol) is needed for Group 1 as they tend to have insulin resistance. A good origin of this vitamin comes from egg yolks, carrots, pumpkins, maize, spinach and since vitamin A is fat soluble, it can also be made in the body from carotene, a substance found in carrots, spinach.

2. Vitamin B is water soluble so you need a daily supply. There are many vitamins in this group (B1, B2, B6, B12) and is needed for growth and general health, especially for the nervous system. Sources of this vitamin comes from wheatgerm, pulses, sesame seeds and animal products.

3. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) acts as antioxidant, mopping up free radicals, prevents irregularities in the nervous system or formation of arterial disease. Fresh fruits particularly strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, contain a useful amount of vitamin C.

4. Vitamin D is needed for the production of insulin. It is an odd vitamin as it can be made in the body. This process occurs in the skin where a substance is converted into vitamin D in response to exposure to sunlight. General exposure should be sufficient.

5. Lack of Zinc can be a problem factor to the secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Foods rich in this nutrient are cereals, eggs.

6. Chromium can help to lower blood sugar and a good source comes from malt, groundnuts, button mushrooms, tea leaves, ginseng and the herb Wong Chi.

7. Selenium can lower blood sugar and prevents hardening of the heart's arteries. A rich source comes from sesame seeds, malt and herb Wong Chi.

It is rather common to find many family members of diabetic patients who expect complications to the patients everyday diet. There are misconceptions that these patients need booster nutrition like chicken essence, foods high in proteins, fish soups or double-boiled chicken with Chinese herbs. In fact this can be a danger as there lies the inability to resist temptation over heavy meals. A well-balanced diet is important for patients but they should not be deprived of good food too.

Bittergourds have enzymes for lowering blood sugar and is a booster for the immune system. The flesh and seeds of this fruit vegetable has loads of goodness and can be taken as a juice drink on a daily basis. It not only helps to prevent constipation but helps to reduce excess weight gained.

As fat restriction is necessary for diabetics, many opt to leave out meat in return for vegetarianism. Eating meat is not harmful in itself but eating anything in excess can be dangerous. As meat is an excellent source of protein, iron and fat, a full vegetarian diet has to be supplemented with the right proportion of nutrients needed in a balanced diet. In a vegetarian diet, protein can only be obtained through plant protein and a combination of nuts, pulses, cereals can help. But it can have its disadvantages as many people are allergic to nuts or flatulence can be formed by eating high fibre foods such as beans. There is often a mistaken idea that if no meat is consumed, the sugar level will be good. This is not true as when there is insufficient insulin, glucose cannot be processed and this remains circulating in the blood stream and can be toxic to the body. Vegans can have an exchange for meat by consuming eggs as it has good protein food. For lacto-vegetarians, the substitution list should include one to two glasses of milk daily and eggs to replace beans. A knowledge of nutrition is the must important factor in preparing a diabetic diet.

Diabetics should drink a lot of water, around 1600 to 1800ml. Water is not a nutrient but the base for the body's major transport system. Alcohol consumption, smoking and excessive sugary drinks should be avoided. Soluble fibres can be beneficial in the diets too. Be wise with your choice and any diabetic patient can still enjoy dining in or out.

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