Your Guide to Diabetic Diets
The start of a new year inspires many people to write resolutions and vow to make positive changes in their lives. One of the most common goals is to get healthier by eating better and exercising. For diabetics, this diet plan isn’t just a new year goal, but a crucial part of controlling diabetes and living the life you want.
But with so many diets, food choices, and internet articles touting the best food for diabetics, or the ideal diabetic meal plan, how can you know what’s best? First, always talk to your health care provider who may direct you to a nutritionist to help. However, there are some constants in what a diabetic diet should entail and we’re giving you an overview here.
What Foods Should A Diabetic Eat
The goal is to eat food that combats insulin resistance which is when your body doesn’t respond to insulin and can’t turn glucose into energy, leading to diabetes. Whether you have type 2, type 1, or even gestational diabetes, a diabetic meal plan should include plenty of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, like beans, and low-fat dairy products. These are healthy carbohydrates, high in fiber and low in sugar. For a diabetic diet though, some fruit, like grapes and bananas, and some starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, are high in natural sugar and, although healthy, should be eaten in moderation.
Heart-healthy fish and “good fats” like avocado, nuts, and olive oil are also insulin-resistant foods that should be part of the diabetic diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish may help prevent heart disease and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol. Meat can certainly be in the diabetic meal plan, but because meat contains higher levels of saturated fat and sodium, it’s better to limit the amount eaten.
Foods to avoid in a diabetic diet include:
- Saturated fats like high-fat dairy products and animal proteins such as butter, beef, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon.
- Trans fats found in processed snacks, baked goods, and shortening
- Cholesterol sources such as high-fat dairy products and high-fat animal proteins, egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats.
- Sodium in your diet should be less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
Finding the right balance of foods for insulin resistance is another part of the equation. A diabetes diet is based on eating three meals a day at regular times. This helps you better use the insulin that your body produces or gets through medication.
The American Diabetes Association offers this simple plate method of meal planning which you can follow at each meal:
- Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, and tomatoes.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with a protein, such as tuna, lean pork, or chicken.
- Fill the last quarter with a whole-grain item, such as brown rice, or a starchy vegetable, such as green peas.
- Include "good" fats such as nuts or avocados in small amounts.
- Add a serving of fruit or dairy and a drink of water or unsweetened tea or coffee.
Next to the plate method of planning is knowing how to judge portion sizes. This is important if you’re not near a food scale or can’t read labels, like when you’re visiting friends or eating out. For these occasions, the Center’s for Disease Control offers these tips to estimate portions:
- 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry = Palm of hand (no fingers)
- 1 ounce of meat or cheese = Thumb (tip to base)
- 1 cup or 1 medium fruit = Fist
- 1–2 ounces of nuts or pretzels = Cupped hand
- 1 tablespoon = Thumb tip (tip to 1st joint)
- 1 teaspoon = Fingertip (tip to 1st joint)
Along with what foods a diabetic should eat and how to fill your plate, a diabetic diet also needs to include carbohydrate counting which is to calculate the number of carbohydrates that will be eaten in every meal and snack so that insulin dosage can be adjusted. Putting some science behind it, as carbohydrates are digested they turn into glucose that’s absorbed into your bloodstream. This is why your glucose level spikes after eating carbohydrates and why it is so important for diabetics to count carbs. Your health care provider can help you determine how many grams of carbohydrates are covered by 1 unit of insulin and what balance is right for you. Then use food labels, a food exchange app, or other reference to count up the grams of carbs in the foods you choose to eat.
A Diabetic Diet That Tastes Good
If this diabetic diet plan sounds less than enticing, we want to assure you it can be delicious and really should be a diet that anyone adopts for healthier living. And believe us that we understand every now and then it’s ok to ‘treat’ yourself to ice cream or a big pile of macaroni and cheese, and then just make sure to check your blood sugar and treat with insulin accordingly. But we also want to demonstrate that food for diabetics can be wonderful and to do that we want to introduce you to our customer Sophie DeVille who is the mother to a son with diabetes.
Sophie recently discovered Genteel’s Lancet and was thrilled by how truly painless it was for her son. And she would know as she tested it on herself to be sure it worked! For her Genteel was an easy solution. However, her larger hurdle was creating a diabetic meal plan that still tasted good. “I used to get up at 6 am, at least an hour before my kids got up, just so I could pack a lunch that was healthy. Weighing everything and calculating the carbs was so hard at first,” she said. She vowed to make it easier for parents of diabetics, as well as anyone with diabetes.
With guidance from a nutritionist, she dove into creating and sharing diabetes-friendly recipes on her YouTube channel that can be part of a diabetic meal plan. Her family enjoys the food she makes from childhood “necessities” of pancakes and pizza to meals with more exotic flair from India or Asia. Sophie understands that food for diabetics does not have to be dull or tasteless and she encourages not just diabetics, but anyone wanting to eat healthier to explore their options and try new recipes. Her ingredient adjustments make anything possible.
For instance, the fat associated with pizza is why it is often taken off the list of foods for diabetics, but Sophie’s version uses a tortilla for the crust and she carefully measures the cheese. She put pancakes back on the menu by removing flour and sugar and finding tasty replacements. “Because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you have to eat boring food or always eat the same food.” Embracing a healthy diet is not just good for diabetics, but for the whole family.
For more information on diabetes, healthy eating, and blood glucose testing, visit Genteel’s website.