The pancreas, an inner organ of the body, releases a hormone called ‘insulin’. The insulin’s function is to get the sugar from the blood into the body’s cells. The sugar is the main source of energy for the cells. The food we eat is digested and broken up into small units, including sugar. Most sugars originate with carbohydrates and move from the digestive system to the blood system. As a result from a rise in blood sugar levels, insulin is released from the pancreas and ‘directs’ sugar to the cells. This maintains a normal sugar level in the blood. A healthy person has a blood sugar level of 70 – 100 ml/dl. When a person is suffering from diabetes, the pancreas is affected and so is the release of insulin. As a result, sugar accumulates in the blood stream and is not entering into the cells.
There are a number of factors that can influence a person’s blood sugar levels. The main factors are insulin and physical activity cause a decrease in blood sugar levels and one the other hand food consumption which causes an increase. Other factors include hypertension, disease and extreme weather conditions can influence blood sugar levels. However, a person’s ability to control them is limited.
The main food components that influence a person’s sugar levels are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be divided into two groups – simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
These carbs are structured from single units of sugar, ensuring that none of them need to undergo dissolution in the intestines prior to them being absorbed into the blood stream. This causes a rapid increase of a person’s blood sugar levels and difficulty controlling sugar levels. Diabetics should avoid foods that contain simple sugars exclusively should be avoided: ice-pops, honey, jams, jelly, and syrups. Foods that contain simple sugar as well as other types of sugar can be eaten together with an insulin injection/dose (chocolate, cakes, cookies).
Complex carbs are built from a long string of sugars, which are digested in the intestines. This stage allows for a gradual increase of a person’s blood sugar levels. These carbohydrates must be eaten with insulin: grains, breads, wheat-based foods, legumes, corn, potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, crackers, fruit, cakes and more.
Foods that do not contain carbohydrates can be eaten without insulin:
- Fats (oil, butter, olives, tahini, mayonnaise, avocado, nuts, almonds)
- Vegetables (excluding: beets, corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes)
- Proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, meat, eggs and hard cheeses)
If you have any questions, please refer to your dietician.