What should I eat while taking Metformin?

While there’s no official metformin diet, limiting your intake of certain types of foods will help manage your diabetes better

From being prescribed medications whose names you struggle to pronounce, to giving up the freedom to eat as you please, being diagnosed with diabetes means making changes to your lifestyle, all in the name of good health. And while these modifications are a must for maintaining optimum blood sugar levels, they’re not necessarily appealing – least of all to your appetite.

If you’re diabetic, you’ll likely be well-acquainted with metformin and even have it stockpiled in your medicine cabinet. Doctors typically use metformin as an initial treatment for diabetes.  Metformin effectively reduces the amount of glucose produced in the liver, decreases the amount of glucose absorbed from food and improves insulin sensitivity, all the while helping with weight loss – what a bonus!

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While metformin may sound like a miracle pill that cures all your diabetes-related issues, we hate to burst your bubble, but it certainly does not. When taken as instructed by your doctor, along with diet and exercise, metformin can help improve your overall health and protect you from serious complications of diabetes such as heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage and eye damage.  However, being careless about the food you consume can override the positive effects of metformin and cause your blood sugar levels to quickly spiral out of control.

So now that we’ve established that diet and drugs work in tandem to keep diabetes in check, what exactly should you (or shouldn’t you) be eating when taking metformin? 

Read on to find out.

 

What does a metformin diet look like?

While there’s no official metformin diet, per se, limiting your intake of certain types of foods will most definitely help improve management of your diabetes.  As much as we don’t want to point any fingers, carbs, we’re talking about you!

When the body breaks down carbohydrates, glucose is the end result.  With the help of insulin, glucose then enters your cells and is stored or used for energy.  But when you consume more glucose than your body needs, much of it either gets stored in the liver and muscles for later use or is effectively converted to fat.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Here are some of the main carbohydrate-rich culprits that are likely to quickly raise your blood sugar levels:

  • Grains like bread, pasta, rice, and cereal
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn
  • Sugary sweets and drinks
  • Fruit juice

Cutting out carbohydrates completely isn’t a burden you should have to bear. Instead, learning ways you can control your carb consumption and, thereby, stabilize your glucose levels will bestow better diabetic management in the long-run.

 

How can I control my carb intake?

When it comes to achieving appropriate and sustainable carbohydrate intake, you’ll be glad to know that there is more than one way to get there. Here are just a few methods that have proved successful in steadying carbohydrate intake and therefore, blood sugar levels:

  • Counting your carbs: This involves allowing yourself to only eat and drink a set amount of carbohydrates throughout the day, measured in either grams or portions. It may take a while to come to grips with this method, but once you do, it can allow for greater flexibility with food choices while keeping your sugar levels under control.
  • Following a low-glycemic diet: Certain carbohydrates, known as high-glycemic foods, have a greater effect on blood sugar levels than others; establishing what these foods are and avoiding them could prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar and excess release of insulin. Steer clear of white bread and pasta, and choose whole-grain alternatives instead.
  • Choosing your foods: If you prefer to have a little more structure to your meal plans then this method may be just right for you. It involves having a set amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat allowance each day and at each meal, and then choosing your desired foods accordingly – a great option for those who are counting calories and want to exercise portion control.
  • Creating your plate: This is probably the easiest and most fuss-free approach to controlling your carb consumption as it doesn’t involve any complicated counting, label-reading, or research. Simply divide your plate into clear sections, filling half of it with non-starchy vegetables like dark, leafy greens, bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, etc. then fill one quarter with healthy, low-glycemic carbs, and finally add a lean protein like chicken or beef to the final quarter of your plate. It’s as simple as that.

 

Are there any other changes I should make to my diet while taking metformin?

Having some general diet guidelines always helps when dealing with difficult conditions like diabetes.  Read through these top tips to stay in top form:

  • Consume fiber in moderation: According to one study by the University of Michigan, having a diet that is high in fiber when taking metformin can actually decrease the drug’s concentration, making it less effective. For this reason, it is recommended that you eat no more than 30mg of fiber per day.
  • Watch your alcohol intake: It’s worth noting that excessive consumption of alcohol while taking metformin can reduce your blood sugar levels and even induce a scary condition called lactic acidosis that can affect the liver, kidneys, and heart. So while a glass of wine can help you relax after a long and stressful day, just know that drinking large amounts of alcohol should be avoided.
  • Avoiding sodium and saturated or trans fats: As tempting as it may be to order takeout to save yourself the hassle of cooking, most fast foods are full of salt and saturated fats.  Instead, opt for foods containing healthy fats from fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado. Small amounts of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt are also preferred over the white variety that is typically kept on the dinner table.
  • Vitamin B12 supplements: Long-term use of metformin could potentially hinder the body’s ability to effectively absorb vitamin B12 from food, which could cause anemia. Taking vitamin B12 supplements is therefore recommended when taking metformin for an extended period.

Hopefully, the above information has shed some light on what you can and cannot eat when taking metformin. Keeping your carb consumption in check is the first step to gaining control over your blood sugar, followed by other precautions such as minimizing alcohol, eating fiber in moderation, and trying to cut out fast food. If you’re still concerned about metformin and an optimal diet, speaking to your doctor may put your worries to rest.

 

References

  1. DiaTribe 2019, Everything You’ve wanted to know about Metformin, but were Afraid to Ask, viewed 13th August 2020, https://diatribe.org/everything-you-always-wanted-know-about-metformin-were-afraid-ask

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