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What should a diabetic diet look like?

Small portions of a vegetable-rich, balanced meal suitable for diabetic diet
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‘Snooze’ or ‘off’?

Iren debated sleepily on what to do. After hitting the snooze button fifty two times, she figured this would be a good time to get up.

‘Off’ it was.

She smiled as she relived the events of the day before, especially the part when she dreamt about explanations on diabetes. Then she frowned. Some things were unclear to her. She now knew that eating sugar didn’t cause diabetes, but how about a person who was already diabetic? What could they eat? she wondered.

She took her slippers in her hand, and made her way to the balcony for some fresh air. Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw Small doctor.

Ha! Just the person she needed to see!

Small Doctor, wait! I want to see you,” she called out as she put on her slippers and rushed down the stairs.

Small doctor was one of the neighbours. He was a young medical doctor with a small stature, hence the nickname.

Iren asked him the question bothering her but before he could reply, Mrs. Asahde’s voice came flying over the balcony. “What are you two up to this early Saturday morning?” she yelled.

“Mama, good morning. Iren was just asking a question on diabetes mellitus,” he responded.

“Diabetes? Issokay…” she said, as she went downstairs to join them. “Small doctor, so this how you sneak around with my daughter, eh? I should have known. You young men of nowadays!”

“Nooooo. My way is pure o,” he responded, smiling.

“Mummy, can’t someone even have any privacy in this house?” Iren lamented.

“Privacy? When you marry we’ll discuss your privacy,” her mum replied sarcastically.

Ouch.

“Anyway, since you are answering questions on diabetes, let me ask my own,” Mrs. Asahde said.
“First, I have a stubborn friend who is diabetic and we’ve been arguing over what kind of foods she can eat. I’ve told her several times that diabetic people are supposed to eat beans, unripe plantain and wheat, and that she can’t eat sweet or starchy foods. Isn’t that correct?”

Beans, a food many believe is suitable as part of a diabetic diet.
Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash

“Ha! Mummy Iren, you too?!” Small doctor exclaimed. “You sound just like my aunt.”

“How?” Mrs. Asahde asked.

“She also used to believe that a diabetic person’s diet had to be very restricted but it doesn’t always have to be. What a diabetic person needs to understand is how food affects the body, as well as the effect of food on diabetes, then they’ll be able to eat regulate their diet on any food.”

“Any food?” Mrs. Asahde asked cynically.

“Yes. Any real food. Let’s be honest, eating only beans and wheat would get boring after a while, and that’s what makes some people stop regulating their diet. They’ll then start saying ‘Na something go kill person jare’ or ‘I can’t kill myself’. But nobody asked them to. Once a person understands what a diabetic diet should do, he/she is home and dry.”

“So what should a diabetic diet do?”

“The first thing a diabetic diet should do is to nourish the body and support its functions. Therefore all classes of food must be present, in the right quantity. In other words, it must be a balanced diet.

The second thing a diabetic diet should do is to achieve weight loss, if the person is obese or overweight. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that loosing 10% of body weight can reverse early diabetes and put it in remission. This means a diabetic person needs to focus on eating less calories than the body needs every day, so that it burns fat to make up.

Weight loss is one of the goals of a diabetic diet if the person is overweight or obese.
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

And the third thing a diabetic diet should do is to ensure that the blood sugar is stable. This means meals should be less of processed foods and more of whole foods because they are rich in fibre. It also means more vegetables and protein, and lesser carbs.

The challenge is that many times, people only focus on avoiding foods that are digested quickly because they tend to increase blood sugar easily. So they say avoid rice and bread, eat beans. But eating only beans wouldn’t do justice to all the goals. In fact, because some people don’t understand the goals, they start eating these restricted ‘diabetic diets’, but they overeat and gain fat from the excess calories. Fats contribute to insulin resistance and make diabetes more challenging to manage. So that’s back to ground zero.”

“You don’t mean it?” Mrs. Asahde remarked.

“Yes, I do. The goal of a diabetic diet is blood sugar stability, balance and nourishment, not deprivation or starvation. Therefore, if a person’s blood sugar is well controlled, it’s totally okay to take small portions of those easily digested foods in combination with foods that are digested slowly. Of course as part of a balanced diet, and bearing in mind the total number of calories for the day. This doesn’t mean one should throw caution to the wind, and I’m referring to proper food, not empty calorie foods or junk food.”

“Ha! See life. When my friend told me that her doctor told her that she can still eat things like watermelon and bananas, I told her point blank to get another doctor because I felt that doctor didn’t know what he was saying. Yet here you are telling me practically the same thing!”

“Ma, but it’s true!” Small Doctor cried out. “If a person’s particular case requires such a highly restricted diet, his/her doctor would let him know.”

“Can I accept this? So you are saying a diabetic person can eat pounded yam?” she asked.

“Yes. The same way the diabetic person can take oats and beans, he can also take a tiny portion of pounded yam with plenty vegetable soup and fish. Same for watermelon, bananas or oranges, taken in small quantities, but in combination with vegetables, nuts and seeds that are rich in fibre. Quantity eaten and balance is crucial in succeeding with diet as a diabetic. In fact, it is crucial for everyone!”

Small portions of a balanced and well-combined meal can be suitable as a diabetic meal.
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

“Wow. I find this information very wonderful yet everything I have always known seems to be the opposite…”

“Mummy, believe it and accept it. A person with diabetes doesn’t have to suffer in the name of food.” Iren said.

“Okay o. I believe! Thank you, Small doctor.”

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8 thoughts on “What should a diabetic diet look like?”

  1. I find this very educating and enlightening, i can actually relate to the story because my mother is diabetic.But recently study shows that beans that has been known to be protein isn’t protein but carbohydrate my question is how true is this discovery.

    1. Dr. Mercy Folayan

      Many thanks for your comment. As per your question, beans is mainly carbohydrate but has a high percentage of protein when compared to other grains, which is why I believe many of us thought beans was primarily protein.

  2. TOLULOPE EYITAYO ASALA

    Awesome! The gift that keeps giving… Thank you for these very educational posts. Say Hi to Small Doctor for me 😁

  3. First time I am learning about this this way. Like Mama Iren, I only know about restrictive diets for diabetic patients. Interesting!! Thank you.

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