Healthy diets for diabetics is a topic that can be, and is, covered by volumes of books. For now, I want to keep things simple. My goal is to provide diabetics with a quick, basic guide for healthy diets. This is certainly not a substitute for consulting a doctor or talking to a dietician specializing in diabetes, but the principles I discuss here will point you in the right direction.
Primary Goal: Maintain Optimal Blood Sugar
Diabetics’ primary goal is to maintain optimal blood sugar. Eating stimulates the pancreas, and the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin’s main function is to regulate carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Diabetics generally have high blood sugar because they can’t produce insulin or they are insulin resistant.
Maintaining optimal blood sugar helps prevent complications that may accompany diabetes, including nerve damage, high blood pressure, kidney failure, stroke, and heart disease. Maintaining a hemoglobin A1C (“A1C”) less than 7 helps avoid or delay such complications.
A1C measures how well you have been controlling your blood sugar. Your primary care physician should check your A1C every 3-6 months. Doctors will use the A1C test results to optimize your diabetes medications, insulin dosage and diet.
Guidelines for Diabetics’ Healthy Diet
No matter the severity of your diabetes, a healthy diet is vital to your overall health. This rings true for diabetics and non-diabetics alike: you will stay healthy with a balanced diet.
Here we go:
- Starches (6-8 servings/day)
Starches are complex carbohydrates and should be the base of your food pyramid. Healthy starches include bread/whole grains, pasta, cereal, rice, crackers, tortillas, etc. Make sure you consume whole grain based foods and stay away from white flour. Also include starchy vegetables in your diet, like beets, corn, potatoes, and beans.
- Fruits (3-5 servings/day)
This is a great way to snack in between meals. Fruits are low in carbohydrates and calories.
- Vegetables (3-5 servings/day)
Vegetables are also a great way to keep a low carbohydrate diet. Maintain variety by choosing different colored vegetables for your meals. Avoid using any high fat dressings, sauces or sauces with your vegetables.
- Meat, Fish, cheese (2-3 servings/day).
Healthy meats include skinless chicken and turkey, tuna, salmon, tilapia, lean beef and pork. Avoid hot dogs, burgers, bacon, ham, and other high-fat, low-nutrient meats.
- Fats, sweets
This can be very difficult at first to adjust to a diet low in fats and sugar. When you buy dressings, oil, butter, or any other condiments, buy the low-fat or non-fat options. This will limit calories and keep your weight and blood sugar under control.
We all receive our energy from carbohydrates, protein and fats. Carbohydrates affect blood sugar more than anything else. To ensure you remain in control, each meal should consist approximately 45-60 grams of carbs. This may change based on how sensitive your body is to carbs. Be sure to discuss your carb intake with your doctor and dietician.
5 Helpful Tips
- Keep Track of Everything. Keep a log of blood glucose levels so your doctor can adjust medications accordingly. Tracking food intake will help identify foods that give you better glucose control.
- Avoid Alcohol. We have all heard how alcohol is just empty calories. It takes a lot of work for your body to process alcohol. While some doctors will say that a little bit of alcohol is okay, I recommend avoiding it all together. Alcohol does nothing to help maintain a normal blood sugar level.
- Minimize Sweets. Cookies, brownies, and other sweets need to be taken in moderation. Try eating half a serving or sharing a dessert with someone at the restaurant. When possible, ingest sugar free or low far versions of desserts. Ideally, select fruit for your dessert.
- Avoid Processed Foods. Processed foods are unnatural. They contain refined sugars and preservatives. Adopt this rule: avoid anything microwavable. This can be hard at first, but consuming natural foods will improve your overall health. Most fruit juices that you buy at the store are processed. If you like juice, make sure it’s natural.
- Exercise. Incorporate exercise into your life. Even 10-15 minutes a day of exercise will help. Exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood sugar.