Diabetes-Friendly Diet: A Quick Guide

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on December 15, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on January 10, 2022

You may be reluctant to give up your favorite foods whether you have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or have been diagnosed for some time but are now ready to make diet modifications. Type 2 diabetes diets aren’t as difficult as you would think, and you don’t have to give up your favorite foods just because you have the disease. A well-balanced diet is essential to managing diabetes. Additionally, managing stress, exercising, and taking prescribed medication are all important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes with A Healthy Diet

A disease known as insulin resistance occurs when the body is unable to use insulin to transport glucose, or blood sugar, to cells and muscles for energy. As a result, your blood glucose levels rise over normal, putting your health at risk.

No matter if you have diabetes or not, maintaining a balanced diet is critical for everyone. However, for those who suffer from this condition, eating nutritious foods in the proper quantity has the following two advantages:

Reductions in blood glucose levels Symptoms of diabetes can be eased and health consequences avoided by lowering excessive blood sugar levels.

The right arrow points to a healthy weight A improved A1C test, a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels, is linked to weight loss.

Type 2 Diabetes Diet: What Should You Eat?

The healthy eating plan that doctors recommend for everyone is quite similar to the smart diabetic diet: Foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar and refined grains are all part of a diet that emphasizes whole foods with little processing.

A diabetic diet does not exist, according to Vernon, New Jersey-based RD Erin Palinski-Wade, author of the 2 Day Diabetes Diet and the Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. Diabetes or not, she argues, “the principles of healthy nutrition apply to everyone.”

You can adopt a variety of healthy eating patterns, including Mediterranean, low-carb, DASH, paleo, and vegetarian, according to the American Diabetes Association’s Nutrition Consensus Report of 2019.

Your healthcare team can help you figure out the optimum macronutrient ratio and eating plan for your specific health risks and objectives.

The Best Foods to Eat If You Have Diabetes

In order to maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar level in people with diabetes, certain foods are considered staples. Included are:

  • Broccoli and other non-starchy veggies, as well as fiber-rich fruits like apples
  • Skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts and fatty fish like salmon are excellent sources of lean protein.
  • Nuts, nut butter, and avocados are examples of healthy fats (in moderation)
  • Quinoa and barley are examples of whole grains.
  • Plain yogurt and low-fat milk are two examples of this type of dairy.

Dietary Restrictions and Food Avoidance in Type 2 Diabetes

It is also well-known that certain foods might destabilize blood sugar levels and lead to unhealthful weight gain. Type 2 diabetics should limit or avoid the following foods:

  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Pasta and bread are both white.
  • Sodium-packed canned soups.
  • Salty, sodium-heavy microwaveable meals
  • Candy
  • Bacon and fatty cuts of meat are examples of foods high in saturated fat.

A Sample Menu for a Diabetes Diet

A visual representation of what your plate should look like is useful when you’re just getting started. You can make your own license plate using the ADA’s Create Your Plate tool. The best decisions will become second nature after a lot of experience. It is advised by the ADA to have half your plate filled with non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, tomatoes), a quarter with grains (ideally whole), a quarter with starchy meals (sweet potato, plantain), and a quarter with protein sources that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol (beans, seafood, skinless chicken).

DAY 1

Breakfast

Veggie omelet with reduced-fat cheese and grapes for breakfast

Snack 

Greek yogurt and berries in a nonfat or low-fat kind.

Lunch

Chicken breasts with chickpeas in olive oil and vinegar dressing on a salad of dark lettuce or leafy greens.

Snack

Mix celery, carrots, peanut butter, and honey.

Dinner 

This meal includes grilled salmon, baked quinoa, and steamed broccoli.

DAY 2

Breakfast

Smoothie created using fruit, low-fat milk, plain yogurt, and chia seeds as the primary ingredients (optional)

Snack

Unsalted Nuts and fruits

Lunch

Turkey chili with reduced-fat cheese

Snack 

Hummus and sliced veggies Over brown rice, a tofu and vegetable stir-fry is served.

Day 3

Breakfast

Bowl of oats topped with fruit and nuts.

Snack 

Roasted chickpeas Snack

Lunch 

Turkey sandwich with sliced vegetables on whole-wheat bread.

Snack

Sliced peaches and fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese are a healthy and delicious combination.

Dinner

Shrimp with roasted veggies in a dinner traybake (everything is baked together on the same pan).

Having been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes does not mean you have to follow a diet of bland, boring foods. For those with diabetes, it’s safe to stick with what you’re used to eating and even include some new items from time to time.

When You Have Diabetes, What to Drink

Blood sugar levels can be affected by what you eat and drink. Palinski-Wade advises people to drink water and seltzer instead of sweetened drinks to cut down on their sugar intake. Add a dash of 100% fruit juice to spice it up, she suggests.)

Caffeine in coffee and tea can raise blood sugar levels, so Palinski-Wade suggests checking your glucose reaction after ingesting these beverages to determine where you stand.

Diet sodas and lemonades should be added to the “be cautious” list because they are artificially sweetened. In spite of the fact that these beverages do not include any added sugars, they should still be consumed in moderation due to the potential influence of some artificial sweeteners on gut health, she says.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes who consume alcohol should do so in moderation but should be aware that alcohol might cause hypoglycemia, especially if they are using specific medications. Lactic acidosis, an uncommon but dangerous side effect of metformin and alcohol consumption, may be exacerbated. Drink no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman, and no more than two drinks per day if you are a guy. A 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce lager, or 112 ounces of 80-proof whiskey constitutes one drink.

Type 2 Diabetes Macronutrient Ratios

If you’re eating a diet rich in whole foods, you don’t need to worry about tracking macros. However, here are a few general rules to bear in mind.

Moderation of Carbohydrates

Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, and dairy all include carbs. The vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in these foods are essential for good health.

However, for those with type 2 diabetes, cutting back on carbohydrates will help keep blood sugar levels in check. When it comes to carbohydrate intake, Palinski-Wade stresses the importance of not consuming too many carbohydrates in one sitting, regardless of one’s age, amount of exercise, medication, or insulin sensitivity.

No more than 60 grams (g) of carbs every meal if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and aren’t taking medication (four carbohydrate servings).

Diabetic exchange lists are also useful for comparing foods in terms of carbohydrates. There are 15 grams of carbohydrates in 1 apple and 12 cup of applesauce.

Carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Whole grains, like whole-wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa
  • Non-starchy veggies, like peppers, eggplant, onion, and asparagus
  • Starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and corn, are okay to eat in moderation, just mind the carbohydrate content
  • Fresh, fiber-rich, whole fruit like raspberries, apricots, and pears
  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy, like unsweetened yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Beans and legumes, like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Limit unhealthy carb sources, which include sugar and refined grains like white bread and pasta.

Proteins

Meat, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat cheese, and vegetarian sources like beans and tofu should make up one-quarter of your plate. Diabetes-friendly alternatives are available for your pleasure:

  • Beans, including black or kidney beans
  • Hummus
  • Lentils
  • Edamame
  • Whole nuts and nut butter
  • Tofu
  • Fish, such as tuna, sardines, or salmon
  • Skinless poultry
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
  • Reduced-fat cheese or regular cheese in small amounts
  • Lean beef, like sirloin or tenderloin

Fats

Even if you have diabetes, fat is not the enemy! Consume fats in moderation, as all fats contain calories, and learn how to determine the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats

Type is more important than quantity: Palinski-Wade recommends limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total calories.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends using these sources of good fat in place of trans fat:

  • Avocado
  • Oils, including canola, and safflower
  • Nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds, including sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower

Is Calorie Counting Necessary to Manage Type 2 Diabetes?

It’s not a must to keep track of how many calories you consume each day, but it might be useful. In spite of the fact that counting calories can be advantageous in terms of weight loss, Palinski-Wade points out that you can still lose weight while eating a poor nutritional diet.

Make sure you’re making smart meal choices if you’re keeping a calorie log. Keeping a food diary will help you “manage servings as well as how particular foods and mealtimes affect blood glucose levels,” according to the author.

People with diabetes should follow the calorie recommendations provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • About 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day for small women who are physically active, small or medium-size women interested in weight loss, or medium-size women who are not physically active
  • About 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day for large women interested in weight loss, small men at a healthy weight, medium-size men who aren’t physically active, or medium-size or large men interested in weight loss
  • About 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day for medium-size or large men who are physically active, large men at a healthy weight, or medium-size or large women who are very physically active

I Have Type 2 Diabetes. Can I Eat Sugar?

But Palinski-Wade recommends that you limit your sugar intake to 10% of your total calories. This is the same as the general recommendations, so you’re free to indulge in a small amount of dessert if you wish.

10% of your daily caloric intake is equal to 200 calories, or 50 grams, of added sugar. For comparison, a 1 oz chocolate chip granola bar has 8 grams of total sugar, a 12 oz strawberry banana smoothie made with low-fat yogurt has 44 grams of total sugar, and a half cup of vanilla ice cream has 14 grams of total sugar.

Start-Up Suggestions for a Diabetes Diet

Palinski-Wade advises that instead of attempting a total makeover, focus on tiny, straightforward, and attainable adjustments. If you’re not careful, you can give up and fall back into your old bad habits. “The key to long-term weight loss success is being consistent with change, no matter how minor,” she adds.

Here are some general guidelines for creating a diabetes meal plan and then following it religiously.

Consult with the professionals. In order to determine how many carbohydrates you should consume per meal based on your specific requirements and the optimal eating approach for your preferences and health goals, speak with your primary care physician and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who is also certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).

Don’t even think about eating any more vegetables. Include one additional serving of non-starchy veggies in your supper menu as a side dish. Vegetables are a great addition to snack time.

Fruit can be used to sweeten dishes. In order to fulfill your sweet taste, eat a small amount of fruit each day. Berries, apples, and pears have been linked to weight loss in previous studies. Fruits that are good for people with diabetes are often those that are high in fiber. Remember to include all other fruits when calculating your carbohydrate intake.

Be wary with dressings and sauces. Many condiments, such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, and marinades, contain hidden sugar. Keep an eye out for the sugar content of any food you’re considering purchasing.

Eat breakfast every day. Having breakfast is a long-term weight loss habit. You may start your day off right with a diabetes-friendly breakfast of plain yogurt with fruit, almonds, and fruit, or scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast.

Drinks can be made more easily if they are simplified. Avoid sugary drinks in favor of plain water, unsweetened tea, and unsweetened coffee instead.

Reduce salt intake. Maintaining a salt intake of fewer than 2,300 milligrams per day (and less than 1,500 milligrams per day for those with heart disease) can help lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, both of which are typical complications of diabetes. Instead, use dried herbs and spices to season dishes. They don’t have any sodium or calories!

Grains aren’t scary. Heart-healthy fiber can be found in them. When you have type 2 diabetes, you should aim to consume at least half of your grain diet like whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, barley, and whole farro are all diabetic-friendly options.

Consume more fiber. Because fiber is not digested by the human body, foods high in carbohydrates that are also high in fiber boost blood sugar levels more slowly. Fiber-rich foods may also improve weight loss by making you feel satisfied for longer. As a result, the majority of adults aren’t getting enough fiber in their diet. Palinski-Wade recommends that both men and women consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily, regardless of whether they have diabetes. Men, on the other hand, require 38 grams.

Consider your options when it comes to dairy products. Milk, cottage cheese and plain yogurt should all be low in fat. These types of protein are also a source of carbohydrates, so you’ll need to account for them in your daily calorie allowance. Soy and almond milk, both of which are nondairy options, are suitable for people with diabetes.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes While Eating Out

When you’re out for a meal, it can be difficult to traverse the menu, but it’s not impossible. Make the most of your time with friends by following these Palinski-Wade rules.

Before you leave, get a snack to tide you over. Even if you’re tempted to “store up” calories throughout the day in order to plan for a night out, that strategy can backfire. By the time you get there, you’ll be starving and less inclined to order something nutritious. Go ahead and eat some almonds or low-fat plain yogurt before you go. According to her, “this can reduce hunger and prevent overeating.”

Make a mental picture of what you’re going to eat. As a rule of thumb, your plate should look like this: 12 non-starchy veggies (preferably steamed if possible), 14 lean proteins, and 14 complete grains. Palinski-Wade advises against eating too many carbohydrates in one sitting and avoiding meals high in saturated fat.

Sip wisely. If you’re going to take a drink, wait until the conclusion of the meal to do so, as alcohol stimulates your hunger. Make it a one-glass affair.

Low-Carb Dieting for Type 2 Diabetes

There is some evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet can help people with type 2 diabetes control their disease. Preliminary studies in 2017 found that a low-carb diet can lower triglyceride levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol in persons with diabetes. People reported feeling less anxious and more positive between meals as a result of taking the supplement.

Low-carb diets can lower blood glucose levels and reduce or eliminate the need for medication, according to another study. As first-line therapy for diabetes, it has been recommended by the authors.

You should be aware of the hazards associated with going low-carb, which include vitamin deficits. If you don’t consume a lot of non-starchy vegetables, you may not receive enough fiber, which can cause digestive issues. In addition to damaging kidney health, excessive protein intake has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor or registered dietitian for advice on how much carbs and protein you should eat on a daily basis.

Diets for Diabetes: The Best and Worst

In order to control diabetes, you don’t need to follow a popular diet plan, but you may find it convenient. An RDN and CDCES can assist you in properly implementing one of these ways.

Diets to Prevent and Treat Diabetes Type 2

The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) are frequently recommended for diabetics. As opposed to short-term “diets,” these eating techniques are aimed to lay the groundwork for long-term healthy behaviors.

Mediterranean food Because it has been studied for decades, Palinski-Wade believes the Mediterranean diet is effective in reducing the risk of heart disease. People with diabetes are four times more likely to die from heart disease than those without the disease, and that’s why this is so crucial.

Vegetables and fruits are the mainstays of a Mediterranean diet that limits red meat in favor of a wide variety of healthy fats from sources like extra virgin olive oil and nuts and legumes.

DASH diet “The DASH diet has been found to be beneficial at reducing blood pressure levels, a key risk factor for heart disease and kidney disease. Because both of these disease risks are elevated with diabetes, this style of eating may promote a reduction in the risk of comorbid conditions associated with diabetes,” Palinski-Wade explains.

With its emphasis on fruits and vegetables and whole grains as well as fish and poultry as well as legumes and nuts, the DASH diet is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet. The daily sodium intake will be limited to 2,300 mg (1,500 mg if advised by a doctor).

Dietary Guidelines To Discuss With Your Medical Team

If you’re interested in the following, it’s very vital to see your doctor before embarking on any diet plan:

Ketogenic diet If you want to get into ketosis, you’ll need to eat extremely few carbs (20 to 50 g per day) in order to do so. According to Palinski-Wade, “there is some evidence that ketogenic diets can assist to lower insulin resistance and improve blood glucose levels.” Adults with type 2 diabetes who followed a 10-week ketogenic diet had their glycemic control improved, allowing them to take less medicine. Even so, it’s a contentious diet, so talk to your doctor about the benefits and drawbacks.

Intermittent fasting (IF) IF requires you to limit the time period in which you eat to a certain number of hours per day, or to eat a very low number of calories on certain days. Some research (small studies and animal trials) has shown benefits from IF to fasting glucose and weight. That said, skipping meals may hinder blood sugar control or cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially if you’re on insulin or a sulfonylurea, so talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before you attempt it.

Paleo diet The premise of the paleo diet is to eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, focusing on fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, and certain fats. (It eliminates grains, legumes, and most dairy.) One small study in 2015 found that both paleo diets and the guidelines from the ADA improved glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes — through the paleo dieters came out on top.

Diet Plans to Avoid

You should avoid any diet that is gimmicky, not based on science, is overly restricted, or offers unrealistic claims (such as losing a certain amount of weight in an arbitrary time frame)

Diabetes-Friendly Diet’s Positive Effects

Depending on where you were before commencing on a diabetes-friendly diet, you will see different results. However, Palinski-Wade points out that you can expect both short- and long-term results.

You should begin to see a reduction in your blood sugar levels quite immediately. “Your daily blood glucose levels will begin to improve within a few days,” she reassures her patients. After that, your A1C will begin to improve within three to six months. It’s important to note that “continuous improvement for at least three months is required to see this figure fall,” Palinski-Wade explains.

Weight loss and fat loss can be aided by making these dietary modifications and increasing your physical activity, as prescribed by your doctor. It’s important not to over-monitor the scale at the beginning. In the event that your blood sugar levels were out of control and weight loss followed, you may observe an initial weight gain when your blood sugar levels return to normal. Please do not give up. It’s common for people to gain a small amount of weight, but after blood sugar stabilizes, weight stabilizes as well, she says.

SUMMARY

Diabetes management requires a healthy diet as one of the most important pillars. You can help or hinder insulin resistance by eating a healthy diet, according to Palinski-Wade.

To begin with, the most important principles are simple: consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

It all boils down to a few simple considerations when you’re seated at the table: If you’re looking for a healthy eating plan, “a well-balanced diet that is limited in simple sugars and rich in whole plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit,” she advises.

Even if you have type 2 diabetes, you don’t have to adhere to a strict set of guidelines.

References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-diet/art-20044295
  2. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/the-diabetes-diet.htm
  3. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-healthy-quick-meals
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