A critical part of managing diabetes lies in maintaining a healthy diet. Eating healthy is important for everyone, especially people living with diabetes, as it plays a key role in ensuring that blood sugar and body weight are in check.
Given that the Nigerian diet is starch-heavy by nature, it is critical to deliberately maintain a diet. Endocrinologists and nutritionists alike would agree that the rules of thumb are to eat a fibre-rich diet with whole, unprocessed foods such as nuts, fruits and vegetables; observe a low-carb and low-sugar diet; drink lots of water, avoiding alcohol and smoking.
While staying within healthy limits, it is possible as a Nigerian living with diabetes to eat well. Contrary to popular notions, one does not have to eat restrictive or boring meals. Foods that nourish the body can and should be enjoyed. However, the questions remain: Is it even possible to maintain a healthy diet considering the mostly high-carb diet? If yes, what Nigerian foods can I combine and eat as a person living with diabetes?
This discourse will highlight some food options for you and throw in additional tips on how to use food to better manage your blood sugar.
Swallow: Served complementary to soups, the best swallows for diabetic patients are in fufu form. A few options are unripe plantain, wheat and guinea corn fufu. Pair any of these with the below soups as you wish.
Traditional Nigerian soups typically contain vegetables, palm oil and peppers making them packed with antioxidants and nutrients. Okro, edikaikong, efo riro, gbono, afang, bitter leaf soup and so on.
Stews and sauces: Garden egg, shredded chicken, shrimp, fresh fish, tomato and smoked fish sauces or stews are all great choices. It is recommended that you eat more fish but if you decide to include meat in your stew or sauce, choose lean meat such as chicken or turkey, and trim any fat off before cooking.
Low-carb meals: Brown basmati rice and stew, unripe plantain porridge, moi moi, boiled plantain with stew, roasted plantain with fish sauce, plantain with beans porridge, beans and whole wheat bread, oats.
Also, snacks such as garden eggs with peanut butter, coconuts, boiled groundnuts, akara balls, tiger nuts, Nigerian pear are healthy for people living with diabetes.
For relaxation, comfort foods, including isi ewu, nkwobi, cow leg, fish or chicken or gizzard pepper soup, and peppered snail can be washed down with healthy drinks such as unsweetened zobo, guinea corn (dawa) kunu, millet (joro) kunu, unsweetened yoghurt, plant-based (e.g. almond, oat) milk.
Other Superfoods are beans (kidney, pinto, navy or black beans), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits), berries (blueberries, strawberries), avocado, nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds).
In meal preparation, healthy cooking oils are an excellent source of fat to lower your total cholesterol and control glucose levels. It is very important to know which fats are in your oils, as not all fats are healthy. Such oils include Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is one of the most nutrient-rich cooking oils available. Made from pressing olives, studies suggest that EVOO maintains blood sugar levels and improves cholesterol levels. The drawback, however, is that EVOO is expensive, especially in light of prevailing economic conditions, but is highly recommended if one can afford it. Avocado Oil is another suitable cooking oil for people living with diabetes as it shares many health benefits with olive oil.
Others are peanut oil (a tasty alternative to butter and shortening) which promotes heart health and is rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat; flaxseed oil (high in omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health and reduce incidence of stroke; canola oil—or rapeseed oil— which is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and studies have found that it balances cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity. You can use canola oil to grill or fry with its extremely high cooking temperature.
People living with diabetes can also try sunflower oil (made from sunflower seeds) which is packed with antioxidants, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Like canola oil, sunflower oil has a mild flavour and a high heat capacity that makes it perfect for everyday cooking as well as coconut oil, which contains saturated fat in the form of lauric acid. Although saturated fats should be consumed in low quantities, lauric acid is more likely to be burned for energy rather than stored as fat.
Although coconut oil does not offer as many confirmed health benefits as others, it is better than using butter. It has a longer shelf life compared to vegetable-based oils and shares the same versatility for cooking and baking.
Additionally, to better manage blood sugar people living with diabetes should establish a regular eating routine that includes fibre, slow-digesting carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fat with each meal; know a food’s GI score (The Glycaemic Index) which is a number assigned to carbohydrate foods according to how much each food increases blood sugar. Foods with a lower GI score raise blood sugar levels more slowly and leave you feeling fuller for longer. They include oatmeal and non-starchy vegetables. Patients must avoid or limit high-GI foods—white bread, sugar and cornflakes—limit quick-digesting carbohydrates (instead of white bread and pasta, opt for slower-digesting carbohydrates with extra nutrients like vegetables, whole grains, beans and berries) and read nutrition labels closely on packaged or processed foods