Living with diabetes is all about managing your blood sugar levels. This is a chronic illness, but you can live well with it if you manage it. A huge part of that management is diet. Several lifestyle factors can affect your well-being as a diabetic and your blood sugar levels, but what you eat on a daily basis is one of the most important.
Eating healthful, balanced meals can help maintain a steady blood sugar level and smoothies can be a part of this balance. There are even some recommended superfoods that are particularly good for controlling blood sugar and they all work well in smoothies. Of course, it is important that you discuss any lifestyle changes, such as your diet, with your doctor.
Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2
Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by high blood sugar, or glucose. Most common are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes because it is usually first diagnosed during childhood. If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose. In a healthy person, the pancreas releases insulin when blood sugar levels get too high. The insulin goes to work lowering the amount of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetics need to inject insulin regularly to maintain a normal blood sugar level.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin, but your body has developed a resistance to it and it no longer adequately lowers blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is sometimes called adult-onset, as it is rare to develop in children. In adults type 2 is the most common kind of diabetes, accounting for around 90 percent of all cases. It develops in stages and can be prevented or even reversed with proper lifestyle changes, including diet, weight loss, and exercise. Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with obesity.
Managing Blood Sugar with Diet
Eating right is a huge part of managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. If you have either you should work with your doctor or a nutritionist to come up with a proper diet and to make sure you are eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. Because diabetes is all about blood sugar levels, what you eat is crucial. The foods you eat, when you eat them, and how much you eat, all contribute to your blood sugar. A meal plan that keeps that level steady and normal is ideal.
Nutritionists and dieticians use several different techniques for helping diabetics plan their eating. There is the plate method, which involves dividing your meal plates into sections containing appropriate foods: half of the plate is for non-starchy vegetables, one quarter is for grains and starches, and the other quarter is for protein.
Another strategy is carb counting. Carbohydrates are a source of glucose in your diet, so by keeping track of and limiting how many you consume each day, you can control your blood sugar. A general rule is to stick to 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, but the correct number for you may be different depending on your personal needs. With the carb counting method, you are also encouraged to include healthy fats and lean proteins in every meal.
As a general rule for living with diabetes, all nutritionists and doctors agree that balancing healthful foods is important. Aim to eat a balance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins at every meal. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, processed foods, and those made with refined, white grains, instead of whole grains. These foods can cause a dangerous spike your blood sugar.
Another way to avoid foods that will cause your blood sugar to spike is to consider the glycemic index. This is a rating that describes the effect a food has on blood sugar. The higher the rating, the more that food raises your blood glucose level. You don’t need to avoid high-glycemic index foods altogether, but you should limit them and eat them with foods that are rated lower to balance them out.
Other Important Lifestyle Habits
While diet is the most important lifestyle factor for managing diabetes, there are others. First and foremost is simply making the commitment to manage your chronic disease. Those who are careful about diabetes management are much less likely to develop complications. Managing the disease means making healthy lifestyle choices, but also seeing your doctor regularly.
For lifestyle habits, in addition to a healthy diet, you should also be getting regular exercise. Exercise and losing weight can prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes and helps manage type 1. Experts also recommend that diabetics avoid smoking and drink only moderately, keep cholesterol and blood pressure levels low, and manage stress.
Healthy Smoothies for Diabetics
If you plan them well, smoothies can be a healthy part of a diabetic diet. In fact, there are certain foods that are great for regulating blood sugar levels and smoothies are a fun and easy way to make sure you eat them every day. According to the American Diabetes Association, superfoods for diabetics are those that have a low-glycemic index rating and that contain important nutrients including fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E.
- Green, leafy vegetables. These are a superfood for everyone, not just diabetics and the darker the green color, the better. Choose Spinach or kale for your smoothie, as they have a mild flavor that you can cover up with other ingredients.
- Berries. Any type of berry, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and more, are great for diabetics because although they taste sweet, they rate low on the glycemic index. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients.
- Citrus. Another great ingredient for smoothies, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, are rich in vitamins. Use whole fruits rather than juices to get the benefits of the high fiber content.
- Nuts and natural nut butters. Nuts are high in fiber, magnesium, and healthy fats. They are also a good source of protein and can help you feel fuller longer if you are trying to lose weight. Use natural nut butters, like almond or peanut butter, or whole raw nuts in your smoothies for creaminess and flavor.
- Dairy. Yogurt and milk are good choices for a diabetic smoothie. They provide a good source of protein, vitamin D, and calcium.
- Whole grains. Whole grains are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein and they are low on the glycemic index scale. They may not be your first choice in a smoothie recipe, but you can blend them in to add nutrition, a smooth texture, and minimal extra flavor. Whole, rolled oats work particularly well.
There are a few other superfoods recommended by the American Diabetic Association, which you may or may not want to try in a smoothie recipe. Beans are great for providing fiber, vitamins, and protein and for filling you up for a long period of time. White beans have a particularly mild flavor, so you can add a quarter to a half a cup to a smoothie to give it a creamy texture. Balance it with something flavorful, like cacao or coconut milk. Sweet potatoes are also recommended for their low-glycemic index rating, high fiber, and high levels of vitamin A. With their sweet flavor, you can make a smoothie with cooked sweet potato that actually tastes good.
Here are a couple of smoothie recipes to get you started. Each one contains one or more of the diabetic superfoods and is low in sugar. Remember when making your smoothies for a diabetic diet that you should avoid added sugar. Let the natural sugars in these ingredients be the sweeteners.
Harvest Time Sweet Potato Smoothie
This recipe is perfect for fall and will get you in the mood for cider mills, cool and crisp days, and Thanksgiving. Blend the following ingredients until you get a creamy, smooth consistency:
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 banana, frozen if you want a chilled smoothie
- 1/2 cup of sweet potato, cooked and peeled
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to taste
Green Diabetic Smoothie
Green smoothies are for everyone, but this one includes some diabetic superfoods and no added sugar. Blend the ingredients until you get the consistency you like:
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 small orange, peeled but with much of the pith left (pith is high in fiber)
- 1 cup spinach, baby kale, or a mix of the two
- 1/2 cup frozen berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt is high in protein)
Living with diabetes isn’t always easy, but if you are careful to manage your chronic disease, you can live a normal life with minimal complications. Diet is an integral part of that management and smoothies can help you fit in more of those superfoods that will help regulate your blood sugar.
For more information and another take on this topic check out Tracy Russell’s (of Incredible Smoothies) article on Green Smoothie Recipes for Type 2 Diabetes. There are a number of smoothie recipes that diabetics have submitted that are working for them. Click here, to check it out.
If you or someone you know has diabetes – what has worked for them? Please leave a comment below with helpful information and/or questions.
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