“I am a 60-old-man and have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Whilst I’m reasonably fit, I do like sweet foods – certainly a factor in my weight gain and diagnosis. I’m now going to try and lose weight with sensible eating. However, I have read that diabetes can lead to eyesight problems and nerve damage. What can I do to help prevent this happening?”
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer answers.
I’m sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to help protect your extremities from damage. Most at risk are the eyes, feet, heart and kidneys.
Managing sugar levels
While I guess you’re on medication to control blood sugar levels, much of the problems associated with diabetes are caused by imbalanced levels. High sugar and insulin levels lead to a process called glycosylation. This is where glucose and other sugars attach themselves onto proteins in the blood, nerve cells and lens of the eyes, causing damage.
It’s important to follow a diet low in simple sugars. Remember that sweeteners also affect blood sugar levels, so you need to avoid fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes, alcohol and sugar in tea and coffee as much as possible. This will also help enormously with your weight-loss plan. This may be difficult initially because of your love of sweet foods, but taste buds do adjust and you will stop craving sugar eventually.
The mineral chromium helps balance blood sugar levels and stops cravings. So it’s a good idea to take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains the nutrient reference value (NRV) for chromium (40ug). You should also take an additional 1,000 mg of vitamin C in supplement form, as this helps protect the eyes.
Managing your dietary intake
You should predominantly adopt a low-fat, high fibre diet with plenty of raw vegetables and fresh vegetable juices. This will reduce the need for insulin and help to reduce blood fats. Try to include legumes, root vegetables and whole grains as much as possible, which are high in fibre and keep blood sugar levels in check.
Great snacks include oatcakes with nut butters or cottage cheese and low-fat natural yoghurts. Other foods that help balance blood sugar are berries, eggs, fish, cheese, garlic, sauerkraut, dairy produce and soybeans. Finally, ensure you’re eating protein at every meal, preferably foods from the above list. Chicken and turkey are also fine.
It’s also important to take regular exercise, as the more weight you lose, the better your insulin receptors located in your muscles will respond. Even a daily brisk walk can help enormously. And do make sure you keep a close eye on your sugar levels at home; you’ll soon get to know whether you’re eating any foods that are upsetting the balance.