If you’re diabetic, there is always a worry about what you should and should not eat. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may think you have to be on a very restricted diet for the rest of your life. The good news is, all these concerns are unfounded.
Although it is true you have to be a little careful about what you eat, you can still eat most of the foods you love. After a few weeks, eating healthy foods will become second nature to you.
There are many opinions and endless debates about the best foods for diabetics, but here are some trusted principles that have stood the test of time.
The Purpose Of A Diabetic-Friendly Diet
When you have diabetes, your body needs help regulating blood glucose levels. You can help it by eating foods that take longer to digest and, as a result, release energy slowly over a longer period of time. This reduces the chance of sudden fluctuations and spikes in your blood glucose levels.
When glucose levels stay in the correct range, you will not experience the symptoms and harmful effects of high or low blood glucose levels. MedlinePlus, a website run by the National Institute of Health (NIH), gives the following eating tips for diabetics.
- Limit foods that are high in sugars.
- Keep a check on your daily carbohydrate intake.
- Eat several small meals during the day instead of three large meals.
- Limit the amount of fat intake.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks and drinks with added sugar.
- Reduce salt intake.
If you have other conditions like high blood pressure or if you are taking medications other than those needed to control your diabetes, a registered dietitian can help you work out the right meal plan. For good all-round nutrition, you need food from all the major food groups and essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Grains And Starchy Vegetables
Whole grain based foods are healthy sources of carbohydrates and are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. As long as you control the portions, these foods are excellent energy sources for your body.
When you buy processed foods, check the labels carefully. The mere presence of whole grains as one of the ingredients does not make the food suitable for you. You need foods based on whole grains.
Whole grain products like whole wheat flour, whole oatmeal, brown rice, and whole grain barley should form the bulk of the food. Whole grain bread and whole grain flour are good examples of whole grain based foods. Take care to buy foods with little or no added sugar.
Starchy vegetables are good sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Potato, sweet potato, green peas, pumpkin, parsnip, butternut squash, beans, and plantains are good examples. Beans also have high protein content. The American Diabetes Association recommends you include dried beans into several meals every week.
Vegetables And Fruits
Fresh vegetables are the best options in this category. Most fresh vegetables are naturally low in fat and sodium and contain good amounts of fiber. You can eat them raw, steamed, roasted, or grilled.
Include green leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale, cabbage, and spinach in your diet regularly. When you buy canned vegetables, avoid products that have sodium content or salt.
Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Their carbohydrate content is higher than most vegetables. With the exception of avocados, fruits are naturally low in fat.
Fresh fruits are best, but you can also eat frozen fruits. Processed fruit products like jams, canned fruits, and fruit juices are also fine as long as they don’t contain any added sugar or sugar syrup.
Seafood, meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, and cheese are good sources of protein. Animal sources of protein contain fats and the vegetable sources contain carbohydrates. Fresh meat does not contain any carbohydrates, but processed meat products, like breaded meats, may have them. Therefore, it is important to choose wisely.
Eating fish twice a week is good for you. Besides good quality protein, many fishes like sardines, mackerel, salmon, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health. Try to select fishes that are low in mercury, especially if you are pregnant.
Although some of them are rich in cholesterol, shellfish like clams, lobster, and prawns can be consumed in moderation. Fishes are best eaten baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled. Avoid fried seafood.
Skinless chicken and turkey breasts are the healthiest poultry meat products because they contain the least amount of fat. Eggs are nutritious and rich in protein, but if you have high cholesterol, it is better to stick to egg whites.
You can eat baked, broiled, grilled, or stewed meats. Meats should be trimmed of fat, and you should choose the low-fat cuts like top sirloin, T-bone steak, or tenderloin. Organ meats like the liver and kidney are also good options.
Plant based proteins have the added benefit of providing healthy fats and quality fiber. Beans, lentils, peas, and nuts are some of the best options. Processed foods like peanut butter or almond butter are also good options, but be sure to check the label as many contain added carbohydrates.
Dairy products are good sources of quality proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and calcium. Their carbohydrate content is minimal.
As far as carbohydrates are concerned, drinking a cup of milk is about the same as eating a slice of bread. The problem here is their unhealthy fat content, but that is not an issue if you consume the fat-free or low-fat versions of these highly nutritious foods.
Drink low-fat (1%) milk. You can eat fat-free or low-fat yogurt, frozen yogurt, or Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has double the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt. Cottage cheese is fine or you can eat low-fat cheese.
If you have lactose intolerance, you can drink fortified milk made from vegetable sources such as soy, almonds, or rice. They will provide both calcium and Vitamin D.
Sources Of Fats
Fats are not bad foods, and they have many important roles to play within the body. They are required for healthy cell and skin growth, they speed up the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system, and they are essential for producing hormones.
Fats are calorie rich foods, so you need to limit your portions to avoid gaining weight. Excess weight will make your diabetes harder to control.
You must also be careful about food selection because saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy, can increase your cholesterol levels, and can elevate the risk of heart problems or strokes. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the type of fats you eat is more important than the amount of fats you consume. Cholesterol containing foods are fine in moderation as long as you don’t have heart disease or a high cholesterol problem.
Monounsaturated fats keep LDL (bad cholesterol) in check. Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are good sources of these fats. Other options are avocados, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, and peanuts.
Polyunsaturated fats should also find a place in your diet. Sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and mayonnaise are examples of foods containing polyunsaturated fats. You should also include Omega 3 sources such as oily fishes, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean products in your diet.
Putting It All Together
The best foods for diabetics are those that help keep blood sugar levels within normal limits and those that don’t have large quantities of salt or unhealthy fats. Diabetes will not prevent you from enjoying good food. Making a few wise choices and keeping portions in control is all that is necessary.
Being on a healthy diet has other benefits as well. It makes it easier for you to shed excess weight, ensures overall nutritional balance, and reduces your risks of lifestyle diseases like heart attacks and strokes.
Where do you go from here? Now you know some of the best foods for diabetics, but what does a good diabetic meal plan look like? When should you eat these foods? How often? In what portions and combinations? This 8-week diabetic diet plan will help.