Diabetes Diet: The Myths, The Truths, And The Possibilities

For Your Sweetheart campaign launches Simple Healthy Cooking e-book with 10 delicious, healthy diabetes-friendly recipes.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 – Understanding the frustrations that diabetes patients as well as caregivers go through in preparing suitable daily meals, the “For Your Sweetheart” campaign has commissioned Nik Michael Imran of 2011 Masterchef Malaysia fame to create a series of recipes, ranging from fusion to local cuisines that can be prepared in less than 20 minutes.

The recipes were developed in consultation with Poh Kai Ling in her capacity as a council member of Diabetes Malaysia (DM), as well as a former committee member of the Malaysian Diabetes Educators Society (MDES).

Debunking The Diabetes Diet Myths 

It is important to understand the facts about diabetes, so that both patients and caregivers can make informed decisions about dietary requirements. Some popular myths, especially for newly diagnosed patients and caregivers, include skipping meals to manage fluctuating blood sugar levels, consuming ‘sugar free’ or sugar-substituted products freely, and avoiding eating potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and corn.

“Skipping meals or eating less does not help to reduce sugar intake. It is advisable to follow the hunger cues, eat when the body needs. Ignoring hunger cues tend to create craving issues, making it hard for the person to control food intake in the subsequent meals. It is also important to read food labels to understand nutrition contents better, as not all sugar-free products are carbohydrate-free,” Poh said.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and corn are all part of the carbohydrate food group. It is true that carbohydrate intake will increase blood sugar levels.

However, these starchy vegetables are highly nutritious, and contain various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre, which are essential to our bodies. One should never avoid these foods. The key is to control the portion sizes.

So What Can Diabetes Patients Eat? 

According to Poh, a diabetes-friendly diet does not need to be restrictive, boring, and hard to swallow. Having diabetes does not have to limit a person’s meal choices. Healthy eating for people with diabetes is no different than for everyone else.

“What is important is to eat a controlled amount and serve a portion of carbohydrate rich food. One of the ways is to take note of the Glycemic Index (GI) of the foods. GI is a value to measure the rate of how quickly carbohydrate in food raises the blood glucose. To put it simply, foods that are low GI (between 0-55) are considered good carbs and high GI (70-100) foods are considered bad carbs. The higher the GI value, the greater the effect on blood sugar levels. Understanding the GI of foods can help us in controlling diabetes along with carbohydrate counting,” she said. 

The collaboration between Nik Michael and Poh in developing the recipes in the Simple Healthy Cooking e-book ensured that the meals are not only enjoyable with a wide variety for different tastes, but also simple, easy to prepare, and appropriate for people with diabetes. The result is a variety of win-win recipes — delicious restaurant-style meals that are also healthy and GI-appropriate.

“I’ve tried all 10 recipes and I must say they are really delicious. Kudos to Chef Nik! My personal favourites are Brown Pasta Alla Puttanesca, Coconut Crepes and Tenzaru Soba,” said Poh.

Sharing his experience in developing the recipes for this campaign, Nik Michael said: “It has been a meaningful journey for me personally. My dad, who was a chef and loves good food too, was recently diagnosed with diabetes. I understand the heart of caregivers in wanting to give the best to their loved ones who are living with diabetes.

“That was what drove my inspiration in developing these ten recipes. I aim to retain amazing flavour while modifying their nutrient intake without making patients feel like they don’t have a choice regarding their diet. I hope many people will give these recipes a try and enjoy some special moments with their loved ones while doing it,” he added. 

Research shows that one in five adults in the country is living with diabetes, a long-term chronic illness which requires prolonged caregiving and long-term management.

Unhealthy levels of glucose in the blood can lead to long and short-term health complications, particularly affecting the heart and kidney.

This is why Poh is on a quest to educate and debunk the myths, because eating right can help in reducing the risk of diabetes-related complications such as heart and kidney diseases.  

The Possibilities: A Diabetes-Free Malaysia? 

Malaysia currently has the highest rate of diabetes in Asia at 17.5 per cent, with over 3.5 million Malaysians living with the condition. The Diabetes Education Manual 2020 published by MDES reported that based on current trends, an estimated seven million Malaysian adults are likely to develop diabetes by 2025

Looking at the statistics, the dream of a diabetes-free Malaysia seems far-fetched. But, it is this very trend that spurs the For Your Sweetheart campaign to keep doing what it has been doing for the past three years.

Any effort to slow down the trend is better than none. The campaign encourages all Malaysians to “Think Diabetes, Think Heart”, and one of the initiatives is through early detection. 

In encouraging Malaysians who may be at risk of developing diabetes or have a family history of diabetes to take tests for early detection, the For Your Sweetheart campaign will be having free diabetes HbA1c screenings at participating clinics nationwide.

The free diabetes screening effort is supported by Boehringer Ingelheim, in partnership with MDES, Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society (MEMS), and Persatuan Diabetes Malaysia (PDM).

Click here to register for your free screening today. the For Your Sweetheart screening campaign is ongoing until December 31, 2022. Nik Michael’s recipes for the For Your Sweetheart campaign can be downloaded here.

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