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Medical Nutrition Therapy for Diabetes

By Nahla Hwalla, PhD, RD
Dean, Faculty of Agricultural & Food Sciences
American University of Beirut
(Beirut, Lebanon)

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) for people with diabetes requires adopting a healthy lifestyle through a combination of changes in dietary habits and increase in physical activity. The main aim of the treatment in both types of diabetes is monitoring of blood glucose levels within normal limits and minimizing the risk of developing complications over time.

One "diabetic diet" does not fit all; it is highly individualized depending on the type of diabetes, medications, laboratory results, and the patient’s dietary patterns. The goal of a diabetic nutrition plan is to provide a mixture of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins at each meal at an appropriate energy level to provide essential nutrients as well as create an even release of glucose into the blood from meal to meal and from day to day.

Following a schedule for meals and snacks is best, especially for type I diabetics. In general, a nutrition plan for a person with diabetes includes 45 to 60% of energy from carbohydrates (the lower range being for a type II diabetic with hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia and the highest range for a type I diabetic suffering from weight loss or type II with no complications), 10 to 35% from protein (the lower range is recommended for patients with kidney complications secondary to diabetes) and no more than 30% of energy from fats. Therefore, a close attention from an experienced registered dietitian (RD) is recommended in order to advice on the individual diabetic case.

To note, for children with type 1 diabetes, the nutritional management should focus on providing adequate energy for growth and development (varies depending on age), and may initially require additional energy intake to compensate for weight loss before diagnosis.

For people with diabetes, type I and II, a diet high in complex, high fiber type of carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes (beans, peas and lentils), fruits and vegetables is recommended. Fiber-rich foods help control blood sugar levels and can reduce the risk of heart disease. Patients should focus on “good”, unsaturated fat sources that aid in lowering blood cholesterol and promote heart health. These include avocados, almonds, walnuts, olives, and canola, in addition to omega-3 rich fish like salmon and mackerel . 

Bear in mind, by following a healthy lifestyle you are controlling your  glycemia as well as hyperlipidemia, hypertension and many other diseases, thereby  you  succeed in decreasing overall cardiovascular disease risk related to diabetes.

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