Why should a diabetic avoid any food other than sugar?
Of course, foods in the sugar group include candy, soda, cookies, brownies, cake, donuts, pie, ice cream, sports drinks, punch, sweetened fruit juices, high-fructose corn syrup, and anything similar I may have omitted.
Eating these foods raises the blood sugar quickly, in a matter of minutes. In a non-diabetic, a rapid rise in blood sugar is countered by a rapid rise in insulin. However, with diabetes the blood sugar level and the insulin level may be mismatched. For diabetics taking oral medication, the pancreas does not respond quickly enough. For those on injections, the peak insulin level may not coincide with the peak sugar level. Not only may this yield high blood sugars, it may result in low readings as well, if the insulin peaks when the blood sugar is not elevated.
Few diabetics are aware that simple carbohydrates elevate the blood glucose as rapidly as sugar itself. Simple carbohydrates include white bread, white potatoes, white rice, breakfast cereal, instant oatmeal, pancakes, and waffles. Having a few slices of toasted Wonder bread or a cup of instant oatmeal for breakfast doesn’t sound bad until you realize that this has the same effect as eating a candy bar.
So the first reason to avoid certain foods is to regulate the blood sugar. However, there are important reasons why diabetics should avoid other foods.
High calorie foods tend to cause weight gain, and include foods not only high in sugar, but high in fat as well. Certain “diabetic” foods may be sugar-free but high in fat. Since most adult diabetics need to watch their weight, monitoring the amount of calories and fat in the diet is important.
A second concern with dietary fat is cholesterol content. A diabetic’s risk of a heart attack is as high as a person who’s already suffered one! And anyone who has had one heart attack wants to avoid a second. The goal for LDL cholesterol is lower for diabetics than for non-diabetics. It is difficult to achieve this desired level (under 70 mg/dL) without resorting to medication, although some patients do succeed by carefully limiting the amount of fat and cholesterol in the diet.
Thirdly, many diabetic patients have high blood pressure. Foods containing sodium or large amounts of salt tend to raise the blood pressure. A day’s intake should be no more than 2,000 mg. Since the goal for blood pressure in a diabetic is around <130-135/80-85 (as opposed to <140/90 in the nondiabetic) it’s important for a patient to do what he can to keep his blood pressure down.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern here: high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high body weight, and high blood pressure are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease: heart attacks and strokes. Although high blood sugar can effect other organs in the body as well – the brain, eyes, kidneys, nerves, skin, etc. – the biggest reason for a diabetic to avoid certain foods is to avoid cardiovascular disease.
Was that brownie you had for lunch worth the risk of a heart attack?
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J Koelker, MD