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What is a Balanced Diet for Diabetic?


A balanced diet is one which supplies all the nutrients needed by a person to support life and good health, and if taken ill, to aid recovery. This diet should contain adequate protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.


A diabetic person requires the same food nutrients as a non-diabetic. However, in the body of the diabetic, carbohydrates and fats and to a lesser extent protein, are not metabolized in the same way as that of the non-diabetic. It is this difference which demands a controlled diet and, in many cases, the administration of oral hypoglycaemic drugs or insulin.


Thus the fundamental principle of a diabetic diet may be stated simply: It is a modification of a normal, well-balanced diet, and it is always based on the nutritional needs of an individual. His diet is expressed in terms of his total requirements of calories, and a ratio of these calories in grams of carbohydrate, protein and fat (55% Carbohydrate, 15% Protein, 30% Fat).




Calorie specifications are based on ideal weight, with allowances for physical activity, added stress or special circumstances, for example, during pregnancy, growth, adolescence, sports training, etc. If the person is obese, as many adult diabetics are, the diet prescription would indicate a sufficient reduction in calories to effect a gradual weight loss. If we are dealing with a fast-growing lean adolescent boy, calorie allowance will need to be high.




Carbohydrates contribute energy. The three groups of carbohydrates are sugars, starch and cellulose. Sugar, preserves, honey and fruits are high in sugar content. Cereals, root vegetables and pulses contain starch, while parts of fruit, vegetables and wholemeal cereals belong to the cellulose group. Fiber or cellulose although not a nutrient, furnishes the bulk essential for normal action of the muscles of the large bowel.


Adaptation for the diabetic involves systemizing their carbohydrate intake, so as to place as little strain as possible, on the impaired blood sugar regulating mechanism. Carbohydrates should form approximately 50-55% of total calories. Habitual use of refined or free sugar should be avoided.




Body tissues, such as muscles, liver, kidneys, brain, etc., consists mainly of protein. Protein in the diet is necessary for growth, tissue repair and the maintenance of body processes. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk are sources of animal protein, while cereal, pulses and nuts provide the vegetable protein. A mixture of both provides greater benefit than either alone.


For diabetic individuals, normal age group requirements govern the amount indicated. According to the latest findings, protein should contribute approximately 15% of calories.




Fat may be derived from animal or vegetable sources, and may occur as solids or liquids (oil). Butter, margarine, cream, lard, cooking fats and oil are examples of fat sources. Fats provide a source of energy, are necessary in the formation of cell walls and as a precursor of certain hormones. However excess fat in the diet is unhealthy.


For diabetic and non-diabetic alike, fats should form no more than 30% of the diet, with a monounsaturated, polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio of 1:1:1. This is based on strong evidence of the relationship of high saturated fat to coronary heart disease, and the greater risk of this condition among diabetics.


Vitamins and Minerals


Vitamins are found in minute amounts in most foods. They are essential in the formation of enzymes which the body needs to regulate various body processes. Main sources are from fresh fruit and vegetables. These requirements are essentially the same for the diabetic and non-diabetic.


More Information on Vitamins and Minerals




Water is not a nutrient and provides no calories, but it is essential as the medium in which all body processes take place. Its role as a regulating substance is so obvious that its importance is often forgotten.




One may eat 3, 4, 5 or even 6 meals a day in which the amount of nutrients in each meal varies, but the total intake of each nutrient for the day must meet individual needs. The day's food is only then considered adequate for health.


Therefore a well-balanced meal should provide sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals and fat. Most foods contain several nutrients. The adequacy of the diet can be safe guarded by the inclusion of as wide a variety of food as possible. Food choice is strongly influenced by experience and custom, in a way that usually results in a nutritionally satisfactory as well as tasty meal. It should include sufficient protein and plenty of vegetables and fruit. Carbohydrate and fat should be consumed in moderate amounts to satisfy the appetite and maintain a steady body weight.


An adequate diet can be made up in many ways as long as it incorporates the three food groups, namely Protein: Body-building food; Carbohydrate: Energy-giving food; Vitamins and Minerals: Body-protecting food. These three food groups encompass all foods. Additions such as sweets and fats, should be used sparingly, because they add excess calories.


Dietary control is essential for the diabetic; however, strict arithmetical calculations of calories are unnecessary. Measured amounts of food using usual household measuring spoons and cups will suffice for the well-instructed diabetic. An important consideration is the distribution of the food throughout the day. This is especially so for those on insulin. There is limited tolerance in which the body can handle a large load of nutrients all at once.


Each diabetic diet must be tailored to fit the individual's needs considering his lifestyle and his general eating habits. Analysis of the diet history is the first step towards the adaptation of a diet pattern for the diabetic. If the diet plan is to be a useful therapeutic tool, it must be realistic and workable. After the diet is in use, follow-up counseling will help to determine further adjustments. The key to satisfactory diet management lies in sound, realistic education and thorough understanding by the patient. This should be initiated early and each follow-up should include re-evaluation, reinforcement and support. A general admonition to avoid sugar is totally inadequate.



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