The Diabetes Diet: What Foods to Eat, Which Ones to Avoid, and Good Habits for a Healthy Diabetes Diet
If you’re one of the more than 34 million Americans living with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, you probably already know that there is a big correlation between how you eat and how you feel. In fact, with many individuals the right diabetes diet plan can significantly reduce the dosage of insulin needed to control blood sugar levels.
Here’s the catch. As a diabetic, you are probably also aware of just how challenging it can be to manage your diet and eating habits in ways that contribute to your diabetes treatment plan and an overall healthier lifestyle. When it comes to diet, the old adage is true – it’s easier said than done.
We hope this post will help make planning a smart diabetes diet a little easier. It provides some nutritional insight and a few key tips to guide you in planning your meals and daily snacks. It also points out a few common missteps to watch out for when it comes to diet and diabetes.
A healthy diet is important for anyone. But as someone living with diabetes, what, when and how you eat matters even more. The good news is you can still savor most of your favorite foods, you just have to be a little more aware of what you’re consuming and make a concerted effort to eat certain foods in moderation.
So, let’s start looking at a healthy diabetes diet.
Begin by Remembering This is Really About Eating Healthy
A common misconception about diet and diabetes is that a diabetic’s healthy diet is vastly different than anyone else’s. This simply isn’t true. A diabetes diet plan is really just a healthy diet that is naturally rich in nutrients and low in harmful fats and excess calories. The big difference between a healthy diabetes diet and general good eating is that you have to be a little more concerned with the timing of meals, how much you eat, and how often you can enjoy those delicious little treats. However, it’s helpful to remember that a healthy diabetic diet is essentially just a good diet period. You’re eating healthy. You’re making balanced food choices. Don’t look at it as a chore or a sacrifice. Look at it as living smart.
Why Monitoring Carbohydrates is Extremely Important for Diabetes Health
The body needs carbohydrates. However, for those with diabetes, it’s critical to manage your carb intake. Here’s why tracking carbs is so crucial to a healthy diabetes meal plan. There are three main types of carbohydrates in food – sugars, starches, and fibers. The body breaks all three of these carbs down into glucose (blood sugar). Therefore, consuming carbs increases the blood sugar level in the body. As someone living with diabetes, your body already has difficulty producing the right amount of insulin necessary to fuel the cells with glucose. So, adding significantly more glucose can lead to excessively high blood sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia.
Since the carbs you consume impact blood sugar levels, it is important to focus on eating carbohydrate foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and limit foods loaded with excess carbs in the form of added sugar, unhealthy fats and high sodium contents. The secret is balance! Check out this easy 1-2-3 carbohydrate guide for a healthy diabetes diet:
- Eat loads of these fresh veggies! Green leafy vegetables and non-starchy choices, such as lettuce, kale, spinach, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, and green beans are great options for diabetes health. These vegetables have plenty of healthy nutrients and antioxidants, but do not contain high levels of carbohydrates, so they have less impact on blood sugar levels.
- Feel free to eat some of these starchy carbs. Fruits like crisp apples, blueberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe; whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat breads and pastas; and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, plantains, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all part of a healthy diabetes diet. These foods are certainly good for you, just make sure you do not overdo it as they do contain more carbohydrates than the foods in group one, and therefore will have more of an impact on blood sugar levels.
- Watch out for highly processed carbohydrate foods and sugary treats. Sodas, cakes, candies, cookies, sugary juices, sugar-heavy cereals, white bread, and salty potato chips should all be extremely limited in a diabetes diet plan. These foods are super-charged with carbs and can impact blood sugar levels quite significantly, which can also make it harder to regulate insulin needs and dosage. It’s fine to enjoy the occasional indulgence, however, as a general rule, these foods should be avoided.
Enjoy Fish High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These ‘fatty’ fish are loaded with good fats for diabetes health – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. In fact, a study conducted by the American Diabetes Association in 2019 suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in these healthy fats can actually improve blood sugar control and blood lipids in people with diabetes. Fish high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats include:
Hint. Go for baked, roasted, or grilled fish. Try to avoid breaded and fried fish, which can contain unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
Along with eating right, an important part of any healthy diabetes care plan is making sure you have the right glucose monitors, test strips and insulin delivery methods at your disposal. Get top choices from leaders like Accu-Chek, Freestyle, Clever Choice and Easy Comfort delivered to your door by visiting www.diabeticwarehouse.org.
Lots of Delicious Protein Choices
We have already talked about the benefits of one protein – fresh fish. However, a healthy diabetes menu can also include popular proteins like beef, chicken, pork, turkey, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, and tofu. There are a few tips to getting it right, including:
- If you eat pork or beef, choose cuts that are low in fat. Avoid high-fat cuts, such as ribs.
- For chicken and poultry, white meat from the breast is your best bet and it’s always a good idea to remove the skin.
- Avoid frying meats and fish. Instead bake or grill.
- Be sure to include some protein from nuts and beans in your diet. They’re rich in fiber and nutrients that you cannot get from consuming animal proteins.
Steer Clear of High Fats and High Cholesterol
Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and the following categories exacerbate that risk. They’re anything but healthy, so stay away from these foods as much as possible.
- Saturated fats, including many high-fat dairy products, sausage, bacon, coconut oil and palm oil.
- Trans fats are found in processed snacks, baked goods, shortening, margarine, and a lot of tasty treats. However, anything containing trans fats is bad for you. Check your food labels before buying and skip it if it has trans fats.
- Cholesterol is found in everything from high-fat dairy to fatty meats to egg yolks. You don’t need to avoid cholesterol entirely, however, as noted earlier it’s important to carefully monitor your intake. Ask your doctor how many milligrams your healthy diabetes diet should include.
- Sodium elevates blood pressure and can increase the risk of heart disease. A good benchmark to aim for is less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. However, once again, it’s important to consult with your physician. He or she may recommend dialing it back even further.
For the record, minimizing all of these foods is healthy for everyone - not just people with diabetes. We just need to keep a closer eye on things. So, remember, don’t look at planning your healthy diet as a sacrifice. Look it as living smart.
Another thing that is smart is saving on all your diabetes product needs and having them delivered directly to your front door. You’ll find everything, from glucose meters and test strips to insulin syringes and pen needles at www.diabeticwarehouse.org.
The Diabetes Plate Method - The Easy Way to Stick to Your Plan
In this post, we’ve talked about the good and the bad when it comes to a healthy diabetes diet. Now, it’s time to put it all together into a healthy meal plan, and there’s no easier way to do this than the Diabetes Plate Method.
Using this approach, you can create well-portioned, perfectly healthy meals without worrying about counting calories, calculating carbs, figuring out sugar contents, or measuring portions.
To start, all you need is a standard dinner plate. Now, imagine that plate is a pie chart that you apportion as follows:
- Fill half of your plate with those great-for-you veggies we mentioned earlier. It might be leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers - there are a lot of choices and feel free to mix and match however you see fit.
- Fill one quarter of your plate with a lean protein. Maybe it’s a filet of fresh salmon or a grilled chicken breast. You can also choose a lean cut of beef or pork. If you’re in the mood to splurge, lobster and fresh shellfish are also great sources of protein. Eggs work a breakfast time. Fresh deli meats make for good lunches. You can also choose plant-based options, such as tofu, beans, and lentils. Even many new plant-based meats substitutes make for healthy sources of protein.
- Fill the final quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods. Your body needs these foods but limiting them to one-quarter of the plate helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high. Great options include whole grain rice, quinoa, sweet potato, squash, whole grain pasta or bread, fruits, oats, and polenta.
Top off your meal with glass of water or a low-calorie beverage, such as unsweetened tea, black coffee, or sparkling water. Congratulations, you’ve just planned a well-balanced and very healthy diabetes meal.
Healthy Eating Behaviors Are Part of a Healthy Diabetes Diet
For people living with diabetes, establishing consistent eating patterns is important. For one thing, planning your meals makes it easier to monitor what you consume. It also tends to keep blood sugar levels more consistent and makes it easier to align your diet with your insulin treatment regimen.
As a general rule, it’s recommended to eat three balanced meals each day with one to three little snacks in-between.
It’s also important to watch out for unhealthy eating behaviors that may even arise because of how closely diabetics are required to monitor meals.
Emotional Eating is turning to food for comfort. This can be a big problem for those with diabetes because when food is associated with emotional ups and downs it throws off any type of consistent dietary plan.
Restrictive Eating happens when diabetics take their dietary restrictions past the point of reason. They stop eating enough calories and nutrients to properly feed the body, and this causes them to become sluggish throughout the day.
All-or-Nothing Eating fails to acknowledge the gray area in any diabetes dietary plan. People become so focused on what they can and cannot eat that it inhibits social interaction. They avoid dining out at restaurants. They miss time with family and friends. If they do happen to eat a ‘bad’ food, they feel intense guilt.
One tip to avoid these and other unhealthy eating behaviors is to try and eat more ‘mindfully’. Sit down for each meal. Dine slowly and savor each bite. Listen to your body and only eat until you feel full. Once again, this is good advice for anyone trying to be more in tune with what goes into their diet. It’s not just for those of us with diabetes.
Eating right makes life better. Period. It’s what we all should be doing. Yes, for diabetics, there’s an added importance. Our bodies cannot break down glucose effectively, so we have to watch what we eat a little more closely. Beyond that, however, it all comes down to the basics - eat right and you’ll feel right.
If you are currently living with diabetes, you’ll find a complete line of insulin testing and treatment products to go along with your good dietary plan at www.diabeticwarehouse.org.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including test strips, syringes and needles, glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.