If you’re suffering from diabetes, you know by now that what you eat will make a significant difference in the results you see. If you choose to eat the right foods, stabilize your blood glucose levels, and manage your body weight you’re going to come out feeling good. These are all critical things as far as keeping your body healthy goes.
If you eat the wrong foods, however, you’ll do the opposite. So which foods should you focus on and which should you let go of in your meal plan?
While most people have a semi-good idea of which foods to be eating as they go about their plan, not everyone has things set in stone. So let’s clear up some confusion and give you all the key details you need to straighten out your menu.
First, let’s address the goals of a diabetic meal plan. You aren’t just looking to control blood sugar, but instead attempting to achieve a few different things.
First, you want to keep your calorie intake in check. Weight gain is only going to make diabetes that much worse so you need to ensure that you are keeping your total body weight in check. Weight loss or gain does come down to calories in versus calories out. So while exercise will certainly help paint the right picture, food intake is more important. It’s just far easier to control your calorie intake than it is to spend hours each day exercising to ensure you are meeting your calorie target.
The second goal is to provide your body with plenty of nutrient-dense food. This is another important point that sometimes gets overlooked in the heavy quest to simply control carbohydrate intake.
If you’re feasting on all sorts of processed foods that are low in carbs but filled with preservatives, trans fats or otherwise, this isn’t doing your body or health any favors. As a diabetic, you are also at a higher risk for other conditions as well such as heart disease so healthier food options will help you sidestep that.
A third goal is eating in a way that will help you maintain the diet forever. When you think of a diabetic diet, you should never think short-term. Unlike a fat loss diet that you may start-up and then come off of in a few months, a diabetic diet is one you are on for life. So nothing is short term here because you aren’t going to get rid of diabetes. You can certainly lessen and control your symptoms, but once you have diabetes, you are going to have it forever. So you need to eat in a way that’s both sustainable and helpful to control the symptoms.
It does you no good to go on a diet that’s super strict that you hate even if it’s the best at controlling diabetic symptoms because it’s just not a viable long-term option.
So keep these goals in mind for your diabetic diet. While first and foremost is getting those blood glucose levels under control. After that has been achieved, you then need to look into these objectives as well.
Which Foods To Eat
Just like any good long-term diet plan, when looking at the foods you should be eating, you should be ensuring that you are covering all the main food groups. Don’t make the mistake of cutting out entire food groups because they will supply vital nutrients to your body that are essential for good health.
This said you should certainly eat more of certain types of foods than others as that is what makes this a diabetic diet plan versus a standard menu.
Making up the bulk of your meal plan should be vegetables. Vegetables are incredibly low in calories, packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are also full of dietary fiber. Vegetables are basically a dream come true for any diabetic diet. They’ll help you out in almost every single regard, so the more you eat, the better.
The only thing you do want to watch is how your vegetables are prepared. Obviously, if you’re using high-calorie sauces that contain a good deal of sugar, then you’ll be taking a lot away from the quality of that nutrition.
Also, keep in mind that potatoes are not considered a vegetable for diet planning purposes (but should be considered a starch). Carrots, corn, and peas, while are vegetables and can certainly be eaten, are also higher in starch and sugar so should be eaten in moderation.
Every other vegetable, however, is fair game and should be included regularly with your plan.
Next, you have lean protein. After vegetables, this should be the next focus of your diet plan. Lean protein is essential for controlling blood glucose levels. By providing a steady stream of amino acids to the body to ensure muscle maintenance and retention. Plus it helps combat hunger as well.
Most people, unless they are a meat-loving male aren’t getting enough quality protein in their diet plan, especially women. Females tend to shy away from protein-rich foods when this is the very food that will help keep them leaner and healthier.
The one caveat, however, is that you do want to focus on lean sources of protein. Bacon, ground beef, and fatty cuts of lamb aren’t going to cut it. While some diabetics found good luck with diets such as the keto diet which encourages bacon and fatty meats, these individuals tend to run into lots of long-term health issues such as an increased risk for heart disease.
So keep your choices lean whenever possible. Chicken breast, turkey breast, lean ground poultry, sirloin steak, and so forth.
Also critical to eat is seafood, which supplies you with another excellent source of lean protein. With seafood, you’ll also take in some healthy fats as well. Which we’ll get to in a second so that’s an added benefit that this food group brings.
Almost all seafood is fair game for a diabetic diet as it will always be a quality source of protein. The calorie content will vary based on how much fat it contains. But since it’s good fats, you just need to work it into your total calorie intake.
The one thing to keep in mind with seafood however is that mercury contents will vary and you should focus on eating seafood varieties with lower mercury on a regular basis. If you feast too much on high mercury seafood, you may run into toxicity problems down the road.
The best options to consume include Atlantic salmon, shellfish, flatfish, hake, haddock, cod, canned light tuna, mackerel, and trout. Focus on these more often if you hope to keep your mercury intake to safe levels.
Healthy fats will have to be another mainstay of your program. As a diabetic, you’ll find you may eat more healthy fats and fewer carbs to provide a stable source of energy during the day.
Healthy fats can work excellent as long-term energy but do keep in mind for intense exercise carbohydrates will be required. The body cannot break down fats fast enough to supply the energy that’s needed during this form of exercise, so balance is key.
It’s also important not to take your carbohydrate intake too low in favor of fats because that can also mean cutting out important nutrients that you can only receive from carbohydrate-based foods.
What you must remember is that fats are more calorie-dense at 9 calories per gram than carbohydrates so your serving sizes need to be consistent with your calorie needs.
You’ll again want to focus on the healthiest sources of dietary fat, meaning monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. These will help keep your heart health in check and improve your insulin sensitivity levels.
Good choices include avocados, fatty varieties of fish (ex. salmon, mackerel, etc.), nuts, seeds, natural nut butter, as well as olive and coconut oil. Coconut oil is, in particular, a useful fat because it can be utilized for energy faster than most fats. So for those cutting back on their carbohydrate intake, it’s beneficial. Don’t let the fact that it’s saturated fat scare you. This is one form of saturated fat that would be considered healthy for your diet plan.
Beans, Lentils, and Potatoes
On the carbohydrate side of things, some of the best carbohydrates you can consume are beans and lentils. Sadly, these are also some of the most overlooked carbohydrates as well. Most people focus on carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread, and other complex carbohydrates.
These sources are more processed and therefore will typically impact blood glucose levels to a larger degree. Beans and lentils on the other hand not only have complex carbohydrates but if paired together with some protein as well, will further help stabilize blood sugar levels.
They’re perfect for the active individual who needs to fuel up before a big day ahead or an intense workout a few hours away.
As far as potatoes are concerned, your typical white potato does get a bad rap in the diabetic circle. Because they will spike blood glucose levels more than what most diabetics can handle. They rank very high on the GI index, therefore it’s a good idea to avoid them as often as you can.
This said sweet potatoes can be an excellent choice. They’re lower on the GI index despite their name and can actually help improve insulin sensitivity. They can easily be a mainstay in most diet programs.
Fruits are one food group that many diabetics question because of the fact it contains fruit sugar. Don’t let this put you off. The good news is fruit does contain naturally occurring sugar, but it pairs together in a nice package with fiber. The fiber will help slow the release of the sugar into the bloodstream, thus giving you that stabilized blood glucose you’re looking for.
Fruits are also lower in calories overall, so you really aren’t going to be getting that much sugar when you break it down. You’ll be looking at around 5-10 grams per serving of fruit and you can compare this to say the 20-30 grams you’d get in a chocolate bar and notice the difference.
If you’re really concerned, simply be sure to eat your fruit with some protein or healthy fat to keep blood sugar regulated. A banana with some nut butter for example or some berries with Greek yogurt dolloped on top is perfect.
Grains tend to be the food that many people do shun more often because they are higher in carbohydrates and thought to be problematic for most diabetics. You don’t necessarily need to avoid them altogether, but you do need to be mindful of the type you are eating and how much.
The key is choosing grains that are as high in fiber as possible. This will help slow the release of their glucose into the bloodstream. Choose those that are as unprocessed as possible.
For example, white bread is not nearly as good of a choice as brown rice because brown rice is not processed in any way and white bread is full of additives.
Not sure how processed a certain food is? Check the ingredient list. This is a simple but highly effective manner in which you can test the degree of processing. The higher the number of ingredients, the less often you should eat that food.
If you are going to consume grains, the best choices include foods like Ezekiel bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, couscous, and barley.
Finally, you have dairy. Some are confused about where dairy fits in and how dairy products are often thought to lead to weight gain. However, if you choose lower-fat varieties of dairy that don’t have added sugar, they can be okay in moderation.
Milk is one dairy product to be careful with, however. At nearly 10 grams of naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose) per cup, it’s higher than most diabetics should have.
Instead, turn to dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. These will serve you a lot better.
As an added benefit, if you opt for plain and unprocessed yogurt, you’ll also take in some natural probiotics. Which can help improve gut health and may also help your body handle the carbohydrates you eat better as well.
If you aren’t consuming yogurt, it’s actually a very good idea for any diabetic to ensure they are supplementing with a good probiotic product such as P3-OM. This will help their body better regulate the foods they eat due to improved gut health and also help strengthen their immune system.
So there you have all the basic facts that a diabetic should remember as they put together their diet plan. Right now a large focus in the diet industry revolves around macronutrient tracking, and this is still essential for a diabetic. But they must also really consider where those macros are coming from. Plans such as ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ are not ideal for the diabetic as they pay very little attention to the type of food sources being consumed.
If you start prioritizing health, that in itself will go a long way towards ensuring you are on the right track.