What do I eat? Diabetes & Diet
If you are new to living with diabetes (or you’ve lived with diabetes for years and you are looking for information), you’ve likely heard a lot about food and how it can affect your blood sugar.
Your favorite Aunt might have lovingly told you to stay away from “white” food, and your oh-so-helpful co-worker may have said to avoid “Carbohydrates” – it can lead to a lot of confusion. Food is a basic necessity of life – we need to eat – yes, WE ALL NEED TO EAT!! With the right information as well as some self-evaluation you’ll start to learn how food affects your blood sugar. However, it helps to have a place to start. There are plenty of diabetes friendly foods you should continue to eat and some that you might need to add to help keep your blood sugar levels under control. A good list to get you started will help with making a grocery trip a bit easier and give you some results that please you as well.
The foods you eat have a direct effect on your blood sugar levels so eating food to help keep glucose levels in target is key when we talk about preventing complications down the road.
It also helps to understand a bit about how the body works to move the food we eat into our body for energy. After eating our digestive system breaks food down into smaller pieces – the one that affects blood sugar most is carbohydrate. This is broken down into a simple form of sugar called glucose. When our body gets the signal that it has been fed, insulin is released by an organ called the pancreas. Insulin helps transfer the glucose from your blood into the body’s cells and they can then use this as energy. When we live with diabetes, our Pancreas is either not making enough insulin or not making any insulin at all and so we take medication to help our body respond to the food we eat – especially the carbohydrates. It helps to know where to start with the basic foods and how they might impact our blood sugar levels.
8 Diabetes Friendly Foods
FIBER – You are right, this isn’t a specific food. However, this can be a good indicator that helps you choose foods that are less processed and has lower impact on blood sugar levels.
~ Nutrition Facts labels – Look for Dietary Fiber listed under Total Carbohydrate on a label. Aim for 5g of dietary fiber or more per serving.
~ Choose whole grains that are unprocessed – Old fashioned oats rather than quick cook, wild rice rather than brown rice, quinoa and barley.
BEANS – These are also rich in fiber, however, they are a great source of protein and the high fiber and high protein content provide a lower effect on blood sugar (low glycemic). These are also high in soluble and insoluble fiber, not only does this help slow digestion which keeps you full longer, but it keeps the rise in blood sugar under control after eating.
~ Try adding these to soups or casseroles or even cold on top of a salad or as a dip like hummus.
VEGETABLES – These are powerhouses of nutrition. We call them nutrient rich and calorie poor. They are full of many essential nutrients such as Vitamin A, C and K, B6, Folate and minerals like magnesium and calcium. They are also rich in fiber (see #1 reason above!)
~ Choose non-starchy veggies that are colorful. Aim to fill ½ of your plate at lunch and dinner with vegetables – raw or cooked.
~ Try to choose at least 2-3 colors of vegetables at each meal.
~ Choose those with deep green (Kale) as well as red, yellow and orange (tomato or bell pepper) color.
OMEGA-3 RICH FOODS – We can find Omega-3 Fatty acids in both animals as well as plants. These are important in diabetes management because they can help reduce inflammation which is associated with insulin resistance (this means insulin doesn’t work as well as it should in the body). They also help protect the heart from disease.
~ Choose Omega-3 rich fish a few times per week – Salmon (wild caught only). Tuna, Herring
~ Choose Omega-3 rich plant based foods – flax seed (ground), hemp hearts, Walnuts, chia seeds
NUTS AND SEEDS – Use these as a snack between meals. Low in carbohydrate and rich in protein and healthy fat – these will help keep you feeling full for hours without a rise in your blood sugar.
~ Aim for raw or dry roasted without salt or sugar
~ Keep portion to 1/4 – 1/3 cup per day
FRUIT – Yes, fruit contains natural sugar. Portion is the key when eating fruit. There are so many wonderful nutrients we get from eating fruit that it’s important to understand how to fit these in and maintain blood sugar.
~ Aim for lower glycemic fruit – berries, apples, kiwi, pears
~ Control portion – aim for 1 piece two time per day. A portion is about the size of a baseball
~ Eat fruit at the end of a meal to decrease the effect on blood sugar (it will digest slower with all the other food from the meal in the stomach first).
LEAN ORGANIC ANIMAL MEATS
~ Aim for Farm raised, grass-fed and antibiotic free meat
~ These contain higher amounts of healthy fatty acids and lower amounts of those that increase heart disease
~ Saturated fat content is lower in these, also having a more positive impact on heart health
~ Portion control – aim for a 3oz-4oz portion per meal. This is about the size of the palm of a woman’s hand once cooked (4oz portion).
~ Look for a good cookbook that contains the nutrition facts. It does not have to be a “Diabetes” specific cookbook, but if it has the nutrition facts about Carbohydrate, fat and protein per portion it can be easier to stick with the meal plan you’ve worked out.
~ Make notes in the margin of the recipe – this can help you determine which meals help you maintain control and the portion that works best for your needs.
It is always helpful to have a team that can help you on your quest to healthy management. If you feel there is room for improvement and you’d like additional resources for your toolbox, don’t hesitate to give us a call.