Diabetes: The ‘key’ to managing blood sugar levels to prevent health complications

Type 2 diabetes can be a 'devastating diagnosis' says expert

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A healthy blood sugar target, according to Diabetes UK, is between 4-7mmol/l when you wake up, and before you eat. More than two hours following a breakfast meal, those with type 2 diabetes should aim for less than 8.5mmol/l. If blood sugar levels are too high, for too long, health complications will develop. Examples include: retinopathy (eye problems), nephropathy (kidney problems), and neuropathy (nerve damage).

The “key” to effectively managing blood sugar levels, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “learning how to count carbohydrates”.

The health organisation explained: “Carbohydrates often have the biggest impact on your blood sugar levels.”

What are carbohydrates?

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) said: “Carbohydrates are the nutrients in food that are broken down into glucose, a source of fuel for the body.”

The informative charity Diabetes UK expanded on the link between carbohydrates and type 2 diabetes.

A person with type 2 diabetes, who is aiming to lose weight and to manage their blood sugar levels, would be advised to follow a low-carbohydrate diet.

Restricting the amount of carbohydrates eaten, and the types of carbohydrates you eat, can influence blood sugar levels.

“Good quality carbohydrates” to incorporate into your diet includes:

  • Wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Whole fruits
  • Quinoa and bulgur wheat
  • Seeds, nuts, and pulses
  • Unsweetened milk and yoghurts.

Diabetics who are taking medication to manage their blood sugar levels must be cautious when following a low-carbohydrate diet.

You might be at risk of hypos – low blood sugar levels – thus you must check your blood sugar levels often and speak to your healthcare team before starting a low-carbohydrate diet.

Counting carbohydrates

There are different types of carbohydrates; the three main carbohydrate groups being:

  • Fast-acting carbohydrates
  • Medium-acting carbohydrates
  • Slow-acting carbohydrates.

Slow-acting carbohydrates are useful as they are absorbed very slowly, meaning your blood sugar levels are less likely to spike.

Examples of slow-acting carbohydrates include: peas, lentils, beans, squash, sweetcorn, nuts, tofu, and parsnips.

Medium-acting carbohydrates include most fruits, honey, pasta, and sweet potatoes.

Fast-acting carbohydrates – ideal for treating hypos – include chewy sweets, gums, jellies, and mints.

You can notice how much carbohydrates pasta contains, for example, by looking at the packaging.

When it comes to eating out, it can be more difficult to know exactly how many carbohydrates you are eating.

If you would like support on how to eat healthily, you can ask your healthcare team for guidance.

Basic guidelines include eating more fruit and vegetables while cutting down on red and processed meat.

Be mindful of any alcohol intake, sticking well below the 14 units per week British guidelines, and reducing salt intake.

As well as counting carbohydrates and controlling portion sizes, exercise is also paramount to managing blood sugar levels.

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