“We are what we eat” is a very popular saying, usually used to explain the fact that an individual’s diet goes a long way in determining the quality of life of the person. Food has an influence on health and as such should be highly regarded. Food varies among the many cultures of the world and can be used to identify certain cultures, religions, socio-economic background and so on. Food is an essential requirement by the body and is needed for normal functioning of the human body.
Of the various foods that exist around the world, it is easy to assume that people easily discover the meal that best suits them, however, this is not always the case. Just as there are many different types of food, there are also different methods of preparing them.
The importance of nutrition in maintaining good health cannot be overemphasized as nutrition is an essential component in attaining optimal levels of physical, emotional/mental and social wellbeing. Food is considered by many to be either medicine or poison, as Ann Wigmore’s quote states that “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Too often, many people will ask, “Does it matter what one eats?,” while others say, “It’s no big deal as long as it is food and can be swallowed, go ahead and eat it.” Others don’t agree with that.
Diet may be described as the kinds of food that a person or people eat repeatedly (i.e the combination of food to which a person is accustomed). The type of diet an individual eats is vital in preventing and controlling several medical conditions of which diabetes is one. These days, the moment diet is mentioned, weight control or weight loss comes to mind, as people will commonly say “I’m on a diet.” The need to eat a healthful diet is not limited to those with diabetes and other medical conditions, but extends to everyone who desires robust health.
Diabetes (Type 2) is a very common example of medical conditions that can be controlled with the right diet. Diabetes affects the way the body metabolizes sugar in the form of glucose, hence people affected would have high levels of glucose in their blood. Uncontrolled and sustained increase in blood glucose may lead to complications as seen in people with diabetes. Thus, it is crucial to maintain optimal blood sugar levels so as to prevent long term detrimental effects to health.
Diet in people with diabetes is aimed at reducing the energy (fats and carbohydrates) intake and eating more of high fibre diet and health oils. It is also important to adopt portion control and eating at specific times regularly so as to keep blood sugar in check. Diet chosen will depend on individual, social, cultural, religious, economic preferences and should correlate with the socioeconomic status for sustainability. In some parts of Nigeria, it is believed that to get into the habit of eating a healthy meal is an expensive venture which cannot be sustained for a long time, so it is pointless to start at all.
Although this line of thought is popular, it is erroneously so, as there are healthy food items that can be combined to nourish health which are locally found and inexpensive. Therefore, healthcare professionals who are in positions to recommend or plan a diet should do so bearing in mind that the level of affordability differs amongst individuals, and as such give wide options while involving the person affected during the planning of the diet. Some recommendations on diet in diabetes include (but is not restricted to):
- Consume meals high in fibre: For example, pulses, wholegrain (like whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, buck wheat, quinoa and corn), vegetables (spinach, lettuce, carrots to mention a few) and fruits.
- Eat meals with low ability to raise blood sugar: These include complex carbohydrates (oats), vegetables (for example carrots), legumes (e.g lentils, chick peas, soyabeans, kidney beans, lima beans, and black eyed beans)
- Replace foods high in saturated fats: Examples are full fat dairy products, butter, bacon, beef fat, lard and cream, palm, coconut oils, among others) with foods rich in mono-saturated and poly-saturated fats (like canola, soy sunflower and olive oils to mention a few).
- Eat nuts (walnuts and almonds) and oily fish (can be eaten twice a week).
- Limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels: Please discuss with your primary healthcare DOCTOR for proper guidance
- Avoid cigarette smoking
- Restrict salt intake
It is important to note that no particular diet will fit everyone as there are individual variations. Therefore, planning of meals ought to be individualised to meet the specific dietary requirement of the person involved. Also, it is to be remembered that most times it is not just about adopting a diet, it is about changing from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one. It is recommended that in addition to all that is written, medical and professional advice must be sought for further evaluation and personalised care.