Living with diabetes posts several challenges. In fact, this disease could be fatal if not given enough attention or when left untreated. However, it should not be a complete burden. Diabetes should not stop you from living a normal life. As long as proper management and medication is observed, diabetes is not something to be worried about. One of the most significant key factors in preventing and controlling diabetes is a well-balanced lifestyle. This includes diabetic diet or eating healthy foods that can serve as one of your shields from uncontrolled diabetes and from other complications that it may bring.
Eating is one of the great pleasures of life and food is a vital factor that keeps our body working. However, as we all very well know, too much of something is dangerous, so we must learn how to choose and control the amount of food we take. Thus, it is essential that we, specially diabetics, observe a healthy and balanced diet.
What is a diabetic diet?
Just like anyone, people with diabetes have nutritional needs to fuel their body. Contrary to what most people think, diabetes does not keep a person from enjoying a wide variety of food, even their favorite ones. Consulting a licensed dietitian will be beneficial in planning a diabetic diet.
Diabetic diet is a prescribed treatment diet for people with diabetes mellitus.This is intended to reduce the need of diabetic agents like insulin and help regulate blood sugar level. Diabetic diet is also designed to prevent chronic diabetes complications. Normally, this is not far from diet plans recommended to people without diabetes. The restriction and regulation of this type of diet may vary depending on the severity of the case. Diabetic diet normally comprises simple fiber, unsaturated fats, simple sugar, or readily digestible carbohydrates and protein. Here are the benefits that these components may bring.
- Fiber. Unlike sugar and starch, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be fragmented by the body. With this characteristic, fiber is a good part of a diabetic diet because it will not contribute to your calorie count and does not affect glucose level. It also adds bulk to make you feel full preventing you from consuming too much food. There are two classifications of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both have great benefits to diabetics. Soluble fiber, if consumed in large amounts, helps lower cholesterol level and enhances blood sugar control. On the other hand, insoluble fiber aids your digestive tract to work at its best. Fiber can be obtained by consuming fruits, vegetable, whole grain breads, and cereals.
- Unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats aid people with diabetes in lowering the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Good and healthy fats are another term for unsaturated fats.
- Simple sugar. This is also called simple carbohydrate. It is a type of sugar that can easily be broken down and absorbed by the body. Simple sugar is a source of energy. Compared to complex carbohydrates, simple carb is more advisable for diabetics because it provides lower sugar content.
Diabetic Food List
When it comes to diabetes, it is always wise to go with what’s best and beneficial to the body. Choosing the best food to eat and avoiding the worst ones will be of great contribution to properly manage diabetes. Eating should be pleasurable to diabetics, not a burden. With a wide variety of food to choose from, people with diabetes need not worry about what to eat. It is more on what is best to eat and what is better avoided. Here is a list of foods that are good and bad for people under a diabetic diet.
Fruits naturally hold low sodium and low fat. They contain fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals which are highly beneficial to our body.
- Fruit juice (100%)
- Fresh fruits
- Plain frozen fruits or canned fruits in natural fruit juice
- Fruit jams (sugar-free or with low sugar)
- Fruit punch or fruit juice drinks
- Canned fruits in heavy syrup
- Fruit jams with high sugar content
- Sweetened applesauce
Just like fruits, vegetables are also low in fat and sodium but contains high fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Lettuce, greens, arugula, spinach, kale
- Unsalted canned vegetables
- Natural frozen vegetables, lightly steamed
- Fresh vegetables (raw, lightly steamed, grilled, roasted)
- Canned vegetables with high sodium content
- Vegetables prepared with lots of sauce, butter, and cheese
- Processed vegetables with high sodium like pickles and sauerkraut
Starches, grains, and bread
Carbohydrate is essential to our body. It gives us energy and more. Yet with diabetes, it should be wisely selected.
- Whole grains (brown rice)
- Whole-grain flour (whole wheat flour)
- Cereals that contain whole-grain ingredients (sugar-free or only with small amount of sugar added)
- Baked sweet or white potato
- Corn and corn products such as popcorn
- White flour
- White bread
- French fries
- White rice and other processed grains
- Cereals containing whole grains and with lots of sugar
- Fried white-flour tortillas
Meat and Protein
Protein is what keeps muscles strong. Sources of protein include meats such as pork, beef, chicken, fish, and other seafood. Other sources of protein are eggs, nuts, tofu, beans, and cheese.
- Cuts of low-fat meat such as sirloin
- Turkey or chicken breast (skinless)
- Turkey bacon
- Stewed, broiled, grilled, or baked meat
- Stewed, broiled, grilled, or baked fish
- Low-fat cheeses
- Slightly sautéed and/or steamed tofu
- Tofu cooked in soup
- Cuts of high-fat meat such as pork belly and ribs
- Fried meat, fish, and other seafood
- Chicken meat with skin
- Pork bacon
- Beans with lard
- Cheese with high-fat content (regular cheese)
- Fried tofu
Dairy products are rich in protein and calcium. Examples of these are milk, yogurt, and sour cream.
- Skim milk
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat yogurt
- Non-fat or low-fat sour cream
- Frozen low-fat yogurt
- Frozen low-carb yogurt
- Non-fat half-and-half
- Whole milk
- Regular cottage cheese
- Regular sour cream
- Regular yogurt
- Regular ice cream
- Regular half-and-half
Oil, Fats, and Sweets
This group of food contributes a lot in gaining weight, thus making diabetes difficult to control. Low consumption of these foods is advised.
- Baked snacks (potato chips, corn chips, puffed rice) in small portions
- Margarine, vegetable oil, non-hydrogenated butter
- Light salad dressing
- Low-fat mayo
- Low-calorie popcorn
- Any snack fried in fat
- Lard and regular butter
- Regular mayo
- Regular salad dressing
- Butter-flavored popcorn
Beverages or drinks normally contain high carb and calories. Avoiding it would be good; but if it is something that is hard for you to resist, you should always go for the better options.
- Fresh drinking water
- Unsweetened tea with a slice of lemon
- Black coffee added with low-fat milk and sugar substitute
- Sports drink (limited quantity)
- Small amount of wine or light beer
- Regular soda
- Regular beer and dessert wine
- Tea with sugar
- Coffee with sugar and cream
- Flavored coffee
- Energy drinks
Diabetic Meal Plan
Aside from knowing what to eat and avoid, it is also important for people with diabetes to follow a meal plan. This is to ensure that the nutrients needed are well-balanced for a healthier body.
A diabetic meal plan aims to help people with diabetes identify what to eat. It is also designed to aid diabetics in monitoring the amount of food they take. A good diabetic meal plan covers all major meals and snacks and should be patterned and adjusted suitable to the person’s eating habits and schedule. The most common meal plan methods are:
- The plate method. This method balances the amount and kind of food to eat by dividing the plate in three parts. Half of the plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables. The 2nd part is a quarter of lean cooked meat (3ounces) while the last quarter of the plate should contain starchy vegetables or whole grain, the amount of which should depend on the chosen type of food.
- Carb-counting. This method basically works by counting the amount of carbohydrates in the food that you eat. In most cases, this method uses grams (gm) for measurement. The primary goal of this method is to establish a consistent amount of carb intake at meals on a daily basis. A carb-counting book that you can get from bookstores is a good tool to help you calculate your carb consumption.
- Glycemic index. This is a numerical index that measures how carbs-filled food affects blood sugar increase. This process ranks carbohydrates based on the speed of their glycemic response.
Each of this diabetic meal plan or method has their own benefits. Depending on your need, meal planning will definitely help you to properly manage and control diabetes. Your doctor or a licensed dietitian can help you choose which diabetic meal plan will suit you best. After all, a diabetic diet should not be burdensome.
Diabetic diet guidelines
Living with diabetes does not mean that you have to deny yourself of good and delicious food. Just like any other person, you can eat and choose from a wide variety of food. There might be some restrictions but it should not affect the pleasure that eating brings. Here are some important guidelines and tips for a diabetic diet.
- Always look for diabetes superfoods. According to your need, you can look for these superfoods and incorporate these in your daily meal plan. The diabetes superfoods are:
- Dark and leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Citrus fruits
- Whole grains
- Fish with high omega-3 fatty acids
- Low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt
- Plan meals ahead. Planning your meal ahead of time will help you avoid sacrificing the quality of food that you eat. It is also important that you plan ahead so you can get all you need from the grocery and stock it in the kitchen. This way, a quick and healthy meal is on hand and ordering from fast-food restaurants does not become an option.
- Alcohol drinks. If planning to drink, make sure that it will not greatly affect your diabetic diet. People with diabetes can drink in moderation. After all, research shows that alcohol also has some health benefits such as decreasing the risk of heart disease. The rule is, always consult your doctor in case you have questions about alcohol consumption. If you choose to drink, the general guidelines are:
- No more than 1 drink per day for women
- Max of 2 drinks per day for men
One drink equals a 12-oz. beer, 5-oz. wine, or 1 ½-oz. distilled spirits like vodka, whiskey, gin, etc. (based on American Diabetes Association). The rule of thumb is, when in doubt, do not drink.
- Eating out. When eating outside, choose the restaurant that offers meals or food that follows your diabetes meal plan. If the luxury of planning and choosing are not present, make sure to choose meals that are most suitable to your health condition and remember to eat in moderation. If possible, avoid fast-food restaurants that could ruin your diabetic diet. In situations where you can’t avoid it, check for nutrition information and calorie content that is usually indicated in the menu. This way, you can still manage the amount of food to consume.
- Grains and starchy vegetables. If you plan to eat grains, always look for the most beneficial and nutritious. Always look for whole grains because it contains high amount of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. The same rule applies to starchy vegetables. The best ones are those that do not have added fats, sodium, or sugar. Examples are plantain, potato, acorn squash, green peas, butternut squash, and corn.
- Non-starchy vegetables. Eat to your heart’s content! Fill your tummy with satisfying amounts of non-starchy vegetables. This group of food is rich in fiber that is good for digestion and helps lower and control blood glucose level. Not to mention the fact that non-starchy vegetables are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
- Protein and meat. For meat lovers, it is always wise to consume lean cuts. It is also best prepared by grilling, broiling, or baking. This way, fat is reduced through the process. Other sources of protein suitable for diabetic diet are beans and other bean products, peas, soy nut, tempeh, and tofu.
Discipline plays a big factor in achieving the full benefits of a diabetic diet. Again, a diabetic diet doesn’t need to be burdensome and depriving. Rather, a diabetic diet should be enjoyable even though there are some adjustments, restrictions, and considerations. After all, eating should always bring pleasure to everyone.