Although diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, some people are unfamiliar with what this health condition really is and how to distinguish type 1 from type 2. Many know that it’s linked to nutrition in some capacity, but the specifics of how diabetes affects the body and how people live with diabetes on a day-to-day basis may be fuzzy.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and thus transform food into energy. Blood sugar is your body’s primary source of energy. The food you eat provides you with the glucose needed to perform daily tasks. Ordinarily, food is broken down into sugar every time you eat. Your blood sugar level then raises and tells your pancreas to produce insulin, which your cells use to give you energy. But people with diabetes cannot produce the proper amount of insulin, causing blood sugar to rise.
Differentiating the Three Types of Diabetes
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes are unable to make insulin because their immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreatic cells that try to produce it. Type 1 is most commonly diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood and requires daily insulin shots.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common kind. In fact, 90-95% of diabetic people have it. Type 2 is often an acquired disease as it can be triggered by poor eating habits and lack of exercise. But it can also be genetically inherited by people who have a family history of diabetes. Like type 1, those with type 2 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin. But with improved lifestyle habits like healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss, insulin injections aren’t always necessary to sustain the body’s energy levels.
Gestational diabetes is a condition that can be developed during pregnancy, especially for mothers who gain a surplus amount of weight. This type of diabetes can be very dangerous as it increases health risks for newborns. Once a mother gives birth; however, gestational diabetes usually goes away though it can increase her likelihood of developing diabetes later on. Similar to type 2, gestational diabetes can be managed and prevented with healthy lifestyle habits.
Why Diabetics Should Know About Glycemic Index Scores
If you have or are at risk of developing diabetes, staying informed about nutrition and how different foods can affect your body is advantageous. People with diabetes may particularly benefit from knowing about glycemic index scores, a system of designating numbers to foods based on how much they increase your blood sugar.
Everything you eat — from sushi to pasta to cheesecake — has a glycemic index score. This score provides us with a way of measuring how fast carbohydrates in food are digested and how much they raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI score take longer to digest and help prevent rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar occurs when you consume more sugar than your body actually needs. This happens when you get a sugar crash from having too many sweets or feel sluggish after multiple slices of pizza. High blood sugar is tied to a condition called hyperglycemia but can also be caused by lack of exercise, excessive carb intake, and stress.
Having low blood sugar causes you to feel weak, exhausted, or even dizzy and is often caused by a condition called hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can also come from skipping meals, over exercising, or consuming alcohol. When blood sugar levels are low, eating or drinking simple sugars like candy bars or fruit juice can quickly raise you back to a healthy level.
Watching out for high or low blood sugar is particularly crucial for people with diabetes, but maintaining a diet that promotes healthy blood sugar levels is a practice that everyone can benefit from. That’s why it’s helpful to keep track of the glycemic index scores of the foods you eat. Here is a breakdown of how GI scores work and what foods are best for keeping blood sugar levels balanced.
How to Measure Your Glycemic Index Values
Glycemic index values range from 1-100 and can be categorized into three groups:
Low GI: 1-55
Medium GI: 56-69
High GI: 70-100
To keep your blood sugar levels in check, the majority of your energy should be sourced from foods with a low GI score. This can include foods from different nutritional categories including vegetables, fruits, proteins, and dairy. Here are some examples of low GI foods:
Eating too many foods with a high GI score can be detrimental to your blood sugar levels. It’s ok to indulge in them on occasion, but they should only make up a minimal percentage of the foods you consume. Here are some high GI foods that should be eaten in moderation:
The more informed you are about the foods you eat on a daily basis, the better control you have over your daily energy levels. To find out the scores of your favorite snacks and learn more about low glycemic foods, use this glycemic index chart.
Benefits of Switching to a Lower GI Diet
Limiting foods with a high glycemic index score is key to keeping your energy levels balanced. That’s because too much of these foods can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, causing unwanted side effects like fatigue, headaches, or even chronic health conditions like diabetes. Focusing instead on complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats will usually result in a low glycemic eating pattern.
For a well balanced low glycemic meal, pair your choice of complex carbohydrate with a protein like beans or a plant based fat like avocados. Both of these foods are low in GI and high in fiber, another nutrient that can help keep your blood sugar levels under control throughout the day. This combination of low GI foods can help you stay energized and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle.