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Nutritional management of Diabetes during the pandemic

With World Diabetes Day held last Sunday, November 14, registered dietician Kimberly Suraj has some timely advice for persons living with diabetes in these pandemic times.

The Covid-19 pandemic is new territory for everyone, and data suggests that it poses a higher risk of complications for people who suffer from underlying diseases which include diabetes.

A study done in the UK has reported that the mortality risk for people who suffer from diabetes who contracted Covid-19 can be two to three times greater than non-diabetics.

Diabetes does not increase your risk of contracting Covid-19, but can most likely worsen the outcome, therefore managing your diabetes and blood sugars are extremely important especially at this time.

Nutritional therapy is one recommendation that can be used to assist with managing diabetes, by helping you achieve better and stricter glycaemic/blood sugar control. It has shown to improve overall health as well as give better outcomes after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

Due to the pandemic, many of us are working from home, and juggling the kids and their online classes. This situation may be challenging, and sometimes, we do not have enough time in the day to prepare healthy meals. We tend to go for unhealthy snacks, sometimes we may even skip meals!

One thing we can do to change our eating habits and get in healthier meals despite the challenges the pandemic has brought on, is developing a routine and meal prepping in advance.

For example, on weekends, when we may have more free time, go through your pantry, see what food items you have at home and plan out meals and healthy snacks for the family for the upcoming week. Make sure you have all the ingredients needed to make the meals for the upcoming week.

Once you plan your meals, you can begin to pre-prep some food items in advance such as wash and cut vegetables, peel, and freeze or peel and cook then freeze some provision, burst, or even cook peas and beans and freeze them, clean and season meat/fish.

Usually, when we plan, prep, and organise our meals, we tend to manage our blood sugars better.


Just watch the sweets

We also need to limit sweet foods, foods with added sugars and alcoholic drinks. Sweet foods, desserts and foods with added sugar quickly raise blood sugar levels. Drink water (at least two litres a day) or sugar-free drinks instead of juices and drinks with added sugars such as soft drinks, iced tea, sugar sweetened coffee and tea drinks.

One hundred per cent fruit juice does not have added sugar, but they do have a lot of natural sugars. Therefore, limit your intake to 1/2 cup, 4 oz or 125 ml which can be topped up with water.

Limit alcoholic drinks. They can interact with your medicine. If you drink alcohol, make sure you have eaten some food. Alcohol lowers our blood sugar which can be dangerous. It also has calories that we may not want, depending on the drink.

Ensure you are eating balanced meals using the Caribbean Six food groups (staples, vegetables, legumes, fruits, food from animals— dairy and meats, fats, and oils). This way, we get a variety of foods as well as nutrients needed daily.

From the Caribbean Six Food Groups we can get ‘Macronutrients’ (Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats) and ‘Micronutrients’ (focusing on those that help build up the immune system are vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, and zinc).


Don’t carb up

For diabetics, it is important to use smaller portions, especially when you eat foods that contain carbohydrates.

The amount of carbohydrate we eat can make a big difference in our blood sugar reading. Consuming a large portion of foods that contain carbohydrates can cause our blood sugar level to spike, therefore eat small portions, and please check with your registered dietitian to learn about serving sizes specific to you.

Getting sufficient protein in our diet is important for renewal of cells in the body, to build and maintain lean muscle mass and support immune function during infection with Covid-19.

It also slows down the release of blood sugars into our blood stream, thereby avoiding a large sugar spike. Each meal containing a carbohydrate must be paired with a protein (e.g., cassava and grilled fish).

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been told to limit our frequency being out, like grocery stores etc and because of this many of us have been purchasing highly processed/convenient foods.

Consuming these foods can raise our blood sugar levels since they most likely contain very little to no fibre. Eating foods that contain fibre helps us manage our blood sugar levels.

Fibre at each meal slows the digestion of food and therefore slows the movement of sugar into our blood. This helps to prevent blood sugars from rising or spiking too high after a meal.

However, because all foods that contain fibre also contain carbohydrates, high fibre foods need to be eaten in small portions.

Choose high fibre and whole grain food more often. Choose whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, barley, oats, and brown rice. Eat legumes such as peas and beans.

Have green salads added to our meals without added fats like oil or salad dressing. Have a small fruit as a healthy snack in between meals. Wheat germ can be added to meals or snacks (e.g., low-fat yogurt).

Also, limiting our frequency being outside/public places made some of us into ‘couch potatoes’. Hours sitting behind a computer screen and the lack of exercise can affect our blood sugar management.

Try to schedule in time for exercise, use workout YouTube videos, or sign up for a virtual exercise class, or simply do some sort of physical activity at home (walk up and down steps at a comfortable pace).

Covid-19 has greatly affected and changed our lives, livelihoods, and it seems as if it’s going to be around for some time. Since the data shows that the mortality rate is higher for diabetics who have uncontrolled diabetes, these nutrition therapy tips can be used in order to improve our blood sugar control and management.