The Diabetes Diet

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The Diabetes Diet

Nutrition guidelines for this prevalent disease also are helpful for cancer patients to follow

Diabetes can be a complicated disease, but with proper knowledge of the dos and don’ts, it’s manageable. Watching your diet is an important part of living healthfully with diabetes, and many of the nutritional guidelines that apply to diabetes also can be applied to those living with cancer. Below, City of Hope registered dietitian and certified diabetes instructor Peggy Mancini, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., gives you the basics.

Q: How much sugar is someone with diabetes allowed to have? Should cancer patients also watch their sugar intake?

Sugar is a carbohydrate and eating too many carbohydrates will raise a person’s blood sugar level. For this reason, diabetics need to control their total daily carbohydrate consumption. Using up a portion of that daily carbohydrate intake on sugar leaves less room in a person’s diet for healthier, more nutritious options.

“Primarily, the problem is that sugar is an `empty’ calorie, meaning that it does not provide any essential nutrients other than calories,” says Mancini. “Everyone should reduce their sugar intake if it makes up more than 10 percent of their daily calories.”

Q: Is the glycemic index something to be concerned about?

The glycemic index is a scale that ranks carbohydrates according to how they raise blood glucose levels. If a person is following a well-balanced, healthy diet, there is no need to worry about monitoring this scale, according to the dietitian.

“We do not eat foods in isolation of other foods, and food sits in the stomach for hours before digestion is completed,” Mancini says. “One food that might raise the blood glucose level can be offset by another food eaten at the same time that does not raise the blood glucose level.”

The most important thing to remember is to eat a balanced diet. If you love carbohydrate-heavy foods, remember that moderation is important.

Q: What is the best diet to follow for a diabetes patient, and is it similar to the recommended diet for someone undergoing cancer treatment?

Barring any special recommendations by a patient’s physician, the suggested diet is the same for a diabetes patient as for a cancer patient: a healthy, well-balanced one. “Twenty to 35 percent of the daily calories should be from unsaturated fats, limiting the saturated fats to less than 10 percent,” Mancini says. A well-balanced diet should also include a variety of foods from different food groups, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nonfat or low-fat milk products, and lean protein. Mancini advises consuming less than one teaspoon of sodium a day and to choose foods with little added sugar.

Patients are encouraged to discuss their dietary needs with their physician, who can refer them to a registered dietitian.

— Harmony Apel

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