Diabetes patients can eat carbohydrates apart from unripe plantain, say endocrinologists

Contrary to the common notion that patients with diabetes only eat unripe plantain, endocrinologists have advised those battling with the degenerative disease not to jettison carbohydrates in their diets, especially traditional foods like Garri, local unpolished rice, and yam flour, among others.

The medical experts, however, said people with diabetes should be mindful of their carbohydrate intake, noting that eliminating them from the diet could do more harm than good.

The physicians explained that carbohydrates were important source of energy, and also play a role in helping to regulate blood sugar levels.

The World Health Organisation described diabetes as a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads over time to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

According to the WHO, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, the majority living in low-and middle-income countries, and 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year. Both the number of cases and the prevalence of diabetes have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.

Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise, the endocrinologists stressed that people with diabetes need to focus on eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, rather than simple carbohydrates like sugar and processed grains.

They explained that complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly by the body, which helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable.

The physicians, however, advised diabetes patients to avoid refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and rice, adding that they can spike blood sugar levels quickly.

While debunking the myths that diabetes patients need to eat more unripe plantains, the medical experts stated that carbohydrates for people with diabetes will help improve blood sugar control, reduce the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and better overall nutrition

A professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Olufemi Fasanmade said there were few benefits to eating unripe plantain, stressing that people need to include carbohydrates in their diet to achieve a well-balanced eating plan.

Fasanmade, who is also a Consultant Endocrinologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, lamented that people feel all carbohydrates are bad for diabetes .

According to him, people wrongly feel anything bitter can reduce blood sugar and anything sweet can raise sugar levels, but that is not true.

“Carbohydrates should be 50-60 per cent of the daily intake for people with diabetes. They should eat food like Garri, yam flour, beans, local unpolished rice, and oats, among others.

“It is not advisable for people with diabetes to eat sugar. They need to eat more of the traditional African diets which are complex carbohydrates

“There are very few benefits of eating unripe plantain, as there are several other meals that can be taken,” he noted.

Similarly, a Consultant Physician & Endocrinologist at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Dr Tajudin Adetunji described eating unripe plantain as one of the food myths related to diabetes.

While noting that diabetes patients can eat unripe plantains, Adetunji stressed that it is not recommended as a treatment or one of the food choices for diabetes.

The physician said diabetes patients can eat all kinds of food apart from refined sugar or carbohydrates like soft drinks, and cake, among others.

He explained, “Food and eating habits are one of the important ways of controlling diabetes, apart from medications.

“The kind of food we recommend are complex carbohydrates, not necessarily unripe plantain, and you can get that from many food sources.

“In fact, what we emphasise now is more about the quantity of food, not about the type. Medical nutrition, or diet, is one of the means of controlling diabetes, But it is not on its own the only way.

“What kind of food can they eat? In our environment, we recommend that they eat all kinds of food apart from refined sugar or carbohydrates like soft drinks, cake, among others. You see that in confessionary products and also drinks should be avoided.

“Most of our food items in this part of the world are starch; they are complex sugar. And that recommendation includes, of course, eba, garri, among others.”

The endocrinologist lamented despite the inability of plantains to reverse diabetes, many patients have turned to consuming unripe plantains.

He further said, “Many patients avoid other kinds of food and they eat only unripe plantain. If you like to eat all the unripe plantains of this world, you will still need to take drugs for diabetes. So it’s not going to cure it.

What we recommend is not unripe plantain but any source of food that gives complex sugar, and complex carbohydrates.

“We see a lot of people sentencing themselves to unripe plantain. Life now becomes so monotonous, and so difficult to live, to cope with all in the name of diabetes.

“Most of our food items in Nigeria, in Africa, are complex carbohydrates and they are good if taken in the right amount.

“People who are diabetic still have to take carbohydrates up to about 55 per cent to 60 per cent. So it’s the complex sugar and complex carbohydrates that are recommended.”


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