Living with diabetes doesn’t have to mean giving up on certain foods altogether and feeling deprived. People can learn about a healthy balance and make smart choices while selecting the food that they put into their body! Choosing a healthy alternative will allow you to satisfy your cravings for your favourite food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. According to The American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) weight loss and exercise have shown enormous potential for preventing, treating, and in some cases even reversing type 2 diabetes! Diet plays a significant role in weight loss and keeping the blood sugar levels in check, but maintaining a diabetes-friendly diet is more complex than just cutting carbs. It gets easy to follow a diabetes-friendly diet once you get in the habit of meal planning and making smart choices for your health and body!
A large, long-term study at The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), asked the question: we know an unhealthy diet and lifestyle can cause type 2 diabetes, but can adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle prevent it? And the answer it got was: Yes! A vast number of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented through diet and lifestyle change.
A healthy diet, especially one that keeps the weight off, can also help reduce the need for medications in people with type 2 diabetes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following calorie guidelines for people with diabetes:
- About 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day for women with small build
- About 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day for large women and small men
- About 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day for men with large or medium build
A good diabetic diet should consist of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to stay fit and to keep the blood sugar levels in check. Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and Belly Fat Diet For Dummies says, ‘Aim for a well-balanced diet limited in simple sugars and rich in whole plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruit, along with lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy, plant-based fats’. It gets easier to manage your diet if you stick to a set of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that are not hard to remember and easy to follow!
Although people with diabetes tend to avoid starch as it gets converted into glucose, which raises blood sugar levels, a daily dose of carbs is essential to meet energy requirements of an individual.
- Do Include: Whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, and oats. Whole-grain starch gives you vitamins, minerals, and fiber than its white or refined versions. They’re also less likely to spike up your blood sugar.
- Avoid Consuming: White bread, chips, and pastries, deep fried foods which may quickly increase your blood sugar.
- Pro tip: Homemade oatmeal for breakfast is a simple source of whole grain, which can be a healthier choice.
A great source of carbohydrates, fibre, minerals, and vitamins, fruits are a great source of energy for a human body. Fiber-rich foods can also help you feel full for a longer period of time, aiding weight loss, help prevent obesity, and maybe even help in warding off conditions such as heart disease and colon cancer.
- Do Include: Small servings of peaches, apples, oranges, berries, kiwi, and other fruits. Fruits are low-calorie, high-fiber, nutrient-rich source of carbohydrates.
- Avoid Consuming: Jellies and fruit juices with added sugar.
- Pro tip: Layer berries with low-fat, unsweetened yogurt to whip up a tasty delight!
Vegetables are a great source of nutrients as they provide fibre and contain very little fat or salt. Opt for steamed vegetables instead of deep-fried ones to avoid the extra calories.
- Do Include: Spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and asparagus which are packed with nutrients and are relatively low in carbohydrates.
- Avoid Consuming: Fried and breaded vegetables – they add extra calories, carbs, and fat.
- Pro Tip: Try roasting vegetables with a sprinkle of olive oil, pepper, a pinch of salt, and a little lemon juice to add flavour with minimal calories.
When it comes to protein, there is a wide variety of plant and animal sources that you can choose from! It is said that one-quarter of your plate should contain a source of lean protein.
- Do eat: Skinless poultry, fish, tofu, beans, and lean cuts of red meat.
- Avoid Consuming: Fatty cuts of meat and processed meat, like sausages and hot dogs.
- Pro tip: Trim visible fat from meat and poultry and incorporate a low-fat cooking method, such as roasting or broiling.
Milk and milk products has always been a debatable subject for people with diabetes, as they are loaded with extra calories and saturated fats that raise low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol levels, but you can include healthy amounts of dairy products that are nonfat or low-fat (1 percent) to avoid saturated fat.
- Do Include: Unflavoured and low-fat yogurt, milk, and cheese. Low-fat dairy provides protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals in every serving.
- Avoid Consuming: Full-fat dairy products. They come with extra calories and saturated fat, which raises LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Remember diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
- Pro Tip: Low-fat or plain yogurt can be a healthy substitute for sour cream in many recipes.
Fats & Oils
Cutting out fats and oils is important when you have diabetes. But this doesn’t mean you avoid them altogether!
- Do Consume: Opt for natural vegetable fats and oils such as sesame seed oil, olive oil, and mustard oil. Tuna fish and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids which contribute to a healthy heart!
- Don’t Include: Abstain from consuming saturated and partially hydrogenated fats that come from animal products and plant oils.
- Pro Tip: The key is to choose healthy fats from unhealthy fats every time and enjoy them in moderation, as all fats are high in calories!
Diabetes is a serious medical condition and controlling sugar levels with a proper diet and an average amount of workout or exercise is an important part of managing it. But in the end you can just cut through the noise by considering a few suggestions and making a few changes when you actually sit down to eat. Making incremental changes in your existing diet will ultimately lead you to your desired goal! Also, always follow your physician or dietician’s dietary recommendations and consult with them if you are unsure about what may be good or bad for your health and body!