How To Control Diabetes With Diet And Exercise

If you’ve been diagnosed with Diabetes or Prediabetes you should know that this does not mean you will get it or have it forever.  You can learn how to control diabetes with diet and exercise to become a healthier version of yourself!

I’ve been a Registered Dietitian for almost a decade and in my experience if someone can add key dietary changes to their life and start moderate exercise, they can reverse the diagnosis.  I also believe as a Christian that we’re meant to live in total health, and that means chronic disease free!

I’m here to support you on the journey of getting rid of chronic diseases. The low glycemic index diet is the easiest way for someone to eat to manage blood sugars properly.  So let’s look at how to do it!

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

2 red weights and a water bottle and blue yoga mat on a brown floor.  There is a chicken salad plate beside it.

The Low Glycemic Index Diet

The Low Glycemic Index (GI) diet categorizes carbohydrates based on their effect on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and most fruits, lead to a slower, steadier rise in blood sugar. 

This aspect is particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes, as it helps in maintaining consistent glucose levels. By focusing on low GI foods, one can achieve better control over blood sugar spikes.  Even if you don’t have diabetes, this is an excellent diet to prevent those blood sugar spikes.

The low GI diet doesn’t mean that you don’t eat any carbohydrates anymore or go keto.  It means that you learn to pair your foods properly and eat more lower GI foods.  A simple way to put this is if you’re eating rice, you’re adding a protein and fiber source to it.  This helps to lower the blood sugar response.  

If you want a full piece on what the low GI diet is, check out this article The Low Glycemic Index Diet: Energy, Blood Sugars, Weight Loss & More.

Choosing Healthy Carbohydrates

If I asked you to name a carbohydrate, most people would respond with potatoes, rice or bread.  But did you know that you can get a sufficient amount of carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and other high fiber sources? 

Personally, when I started reducing the amount of starchy carbohydrates in my diet, I felt MUCH more energized and started to lose weight.

Take for example, a medium-sized apple contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber. This type of carbohydrate helps in maintaining a steady blood sugar level compared to simple sugars. Compare this to 1 cup of regular pasta which also has about 25 grams of carbohydrates but only about 2 grams of fiber.

The apple will have a lower glycemic effect. You don’t have to skip pasta altogether forever, but just know that you don’t always need a starch.

If you want some great low GI carbohydrate rich foods, here’s my list of the top 15 sources.

Top 15 Low GI Carbohydrate Foods

  • Quinoa: A versatile, high-protein grain with a GI of around 53.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Lower GI than regular potatoes and rich in fiber.
  • Oats: Steel-cut or rolled oats have a lower GI and are full of fiber.
  • Barley: A nutritious grain with a low GI, great in soups and salads.
  • Lentils: High in protein and fiber, lentils have a low GI.
  • Chickpeas: Ideal for salads and hummus, they have a low GI.
  • Beans (Black, Kidney, Pinto): Rich in fiber and protein, beans have a low GI.
  • Whole Wheat Pasta: A better option than regular pasta for stable blood sugar.
  • Bulgur Wheat: Used in tabbouleh, it’s a whole grain with a low GI.
  • Non-Starchy Vegetables: Like broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens.
  • Berries (Strawberries, Blueberries): Low in sugar, high in antioxidants.
  • Apples and Pears: With skins on for maximum fiber.
  • Brown Rice: A whole grain alternative to white rice.
  • Whole Grain Bread: Look for high-fiber, low-GI options.
  • Greek Yogurt (Unsweetened): Low in carbs and high in protein.

Building a Healthy Low GI Meal

When building a low GI meal, focus on balancing macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – while choosing foods that have minimal impact on blood sugar levels. Start with a base of low GI carbohydrates like quinoa or barley, which provide sustained energy without spiking blood sugar.

Add lean protein sources such as grilled chicken, fish, or tofu to aid in satiety and muscle maintenance. Incorporate healthy fats from sources like avocados or nuts, which can help slow the absorption of carbohydrates.

Don’t forget to include plenty of non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, bell peppers, and broccoli for fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This balance not only stabilizes blood sugar but also supports overall health.

Here are five examples of healthy low GI meals:

  1. Chicken and Quinoa Salad: Combine cooked quinoa with chopped grilled chicken breast, mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice for a refreshing, balanced meal.
  2. Beef Stir-Fry with Veggies and Brown Rice: Stir-fry lean beef strips with broccoli, bell peppers, and snap peas. Serve over a bed of brown rice for a filling, low GI option.
  3. Grilled Salmon with Barley and Steamed Vegetables: Grill a salmon fillet and serve it alongside cooked barley and a mix of steamed vegetables like carrots and zucchini. This meal offers healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, and protein.
  4. Turkey and Lentil Soup: Make a hearty soup with lean ground turkey, lentils, diced tomatoes, and vegetables like carrots and celery. Season with herbs and spices for a flavorful, nutritious dish.
  5. Whole Grain Pasta with Chicken and Vegetable Sauce: Use whole wheat pasta topped with a sauce made from crushed tomatoes, garlic, and Italian herbs. Add grilled chicken strips for protein and include vegetables like spinach or zucchini in the sauce.

If you’re looking for a full range of healthy low GI meals, check out the Recipes section! I have a great Broccoli and Beetroot Salad that is SO delicious!

sweet beetroot broccoli salad on a white plate on a countertop with a fork beside it and pumpkin seeds and broccoli on the counter.

Role of Exercise in Diabetes Control

Regular exercise is essential in managing diabetes. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking can lower blood sugar for the next 24 hours. The American Diabetes Association suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, like swimming or cycling, combined with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.

Try to set weekly goals as to how many times you want to exercise, write it on your calendar and check off the days that you did it. This might mean that you exercise 5 days per week and take 2 days for just brisk walking. Find exercises that you love doing so that you actually enjoy it and don’t dread it.

For myself I love walking and running, so it’s easy for me to do it because I know how great I feel when it’s done. Download your favourite podcast and the time flies by!

Impact of Different Exercises on Blood Sugar

Different types of exercises have varying impacts on blood sugar levels. Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, help improve insulin sensitivity and assist in weight management.

Resistance training, like weight lifting, not only enhances muscle strength but also aids in maintaining a healthy blood sugar level. One session of resistance training can increase glucose uptake by the muscles, helping in lowering blood sugar levels.

So the more muscle you have the better your body’s ability to take up glucose. This results in better blood sugar management, lower fat storage of carbohydrates, and better insulin sensitivity! Aim to do some type of muscle building activity three times per week to reap the benefits!

Benefits of Combining Diet and Exercise for Optimal Control

The synergy between diet and exercise is key for diabetes management. After a meal high in complex carbohydrates, like a bowl of oatmeal containing about 27 grams of carbs, a light exercise such as a 20-minute walk can help in balancing blood sugar levels. This combination aids in utilizing glucose more effectively, reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes.

Maintaining a low glycemic index diet while incorporating regular exercise can lead to more stable blood sugar levels. Pairing a protein-rich food, like grilled chicken breast containing around 26 grams of protein, with a 30-minute cycling session helps in muscle building and improved glucose metabolism.

This holistic approach not only controls blood sugar levels but also contributes to overall health improvement.

Practical Tips for Everyday Management

Simple, everyday actions can make a significant difference. Swapping out high-sugar snacks for healthier options like a handful of almonds. This can provide healthy fats and about 6 grams of protein, and coupling it with short bursts of activity, like 10 minutes of stair climbing, can have a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels and overall well-being.

Consistency in diet is crucial for managing diabetes. Sudden dietary changes can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels. A stable routine, like having a consistent amount of carbohydrates at each meal, is beneficial. For instance, incorporating a consistent carbohydrate source like quinoa (approximately 20 grams of carbs per half-cup) in meals can help maintain blood sugar levels.

Lifestyle and Routine Adjustments for Diabetes

Adjusting your daily routine can significantly impact blood sugar control. Starting the day with a balanced breakfast containing a good mix of carbohydrates, fiber and protein, like an omelet with vegetables (providing approximately 2 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of protein), can stabilize blood sugar levels. Establishing a routine for meal times also helps in maintaining consistent blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Long-term lifestyle modifications are essential for effective diabetes management. Incorporating at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking or swimming, into your daily routine can significantly improve blood sugar control and overall health. Additionally, adopting a consistent carbohydrate diet, where each meal contains a similar amount of carbohydrates, can aid in managing blood sugar levels more effectively.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Building a supportive environment is key to successful diabetes prevention. This includes getting your household on board with a new way of eating to benefit your health. Keeping healthy snacks, like nuts or yogurt (with about 5 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein per serving), readily available can prevent unplanned high-carb or high-sugar eating.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately I want everyone to live in great health and live a long wonderful life. God is the ultimate provider of our health, but I believe that you can make wise food choices for the natural world that we live in.

Pairing a largely low GI diet with regular exercise is a great way to be on your way to better health. If you currently have diabetes or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I personally don’t believe that you have to live this way forever.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll answer!

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