If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you already know it’s important to keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels within a target range. Glucose levels that are consistently too high can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, loss of vision or kidney disease.
Checking your blood sugar level according to your doctor’s instructions is necessary. But when you have diabetes, it’s also important to follow a healthy eating plan to help keep your blood glucose within a normal range. Eating too many high-sugar or high-fat foods may cause blood glucose levels to spike.
No foods are completely off-limits, even when you have diabetes, but it’s best to build your diet around foods that are high in nutrients while being low in sugar, fat and calories.
Here are 5 tips for helping to plan your diabetes diet:
- Understand carbohydrates. Your body needs carbohydrates, but it’s important to know the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates contain dietary fiber, which helps to keep your blood sugar level steadier as they are digested. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains (like quinoa, brown rice and oatmeal), nuts and legumes (like beans and peas) are complex carbs. Choose these whenever possible instead of simple carbs such as white bread, white rice, soda, cookies, fruit juice and many breakfast cereals.
- Get enough protein. Choose from chicken, fish, beef, pork, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and soy products. When possible, select low-fat protein sources, such as skinless chicken breast or fish. Plant-based protein sources, such as beans or nuts, are also good choices and include dietary fiber. Limit high-fat meats and full-fat dairy.
- Pay attention to fats. Some fats can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. Since diabetics already have a higher risk for these conditions, it’s important to cut down on saturated fat (found in beef, bacon, high-fat dairy and coconut oil), trans fat (found in processed snacks and baked goods) and dietary cholesterol (found in high-fat animal proteins and egg yolks). Instead, opt for “good” fats, such as avocados, nuts and olive oil. Keep in mind that even good fats are calorie-dense so keep portion sizes in check.
- Eat sweets sparingly. It’s difficult to completely eliminate sweets and treats from your diet, but when you eat them, stick to a small portion and savor it. Also pay attention to how specific foods seem to affect your blood sugar and try to steer clear of ones that quickly make your blood sugar spike.
- Don’t forget about drinks. You may be surprised by how much sugar and how many calories you consume from drinks. Stick to low-calorie and low-sugar drinks as often as possible such as water, seltzer, unsweetened tea or coffee. Try to avoid soda, juice, energy drinks or that delectable-looking concoction at the local coffee shop.
What you eat can affect how you manage your diabetes, but when you eat is also important. Keep to a regular schedule of meals and snacks, eating around the same time each day. This gives your body time to effectively use the insulin it produces or that you administer.
Since it can be difficult to monitor your diet, especially if you’ve only recently been diagnosed with diabetes, write everything you eat down on paper or in an app on your phone. This will help you see what you’re actually consuming. It’s also a good idea to take this info with you when you see your doctor or dietitian.
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