Eating a proper diet is one way to prevent and manage many different health conditions like heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome or diabetes. For patients with diabetes, there are several foods and habits to emphasize and several to avoid when creating a diet plan.

Goals of a Diet Plan

There are three primary goals of any dietary plan with diabetes in mind:

  • • Control your blood sugar levels
  • • Manage or lower your weight
  • • Control risk factors of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood fat content

These goals are affected by the food we choose to eat, but they’re also affected by when we eat them. A healthy, diabetes-friendly diet includes three meals a day at regular intervals—this sort of scheduling helps the body regulate insulin and use it properly.

Foods to Promote

There are several types of food that are beneficial for a diet aimed at managing diabetes. Some foods fall under the “superfood” category. These foods have a low glycemic index, a ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods based on how it affects glucose in the blood. These superfoods are classified as such by the American Diabetes Association:

  • • Leafy green vegetables
  • • Berries, tomatoes and citrus fruit
  • • Sweet potatoes
  • • Salmon or any other fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • • Beans and nuts
  • • Whole grains
  • • Fat-free milk or yogurt

In addition to diabetes superfoods, you should also eat food that contains the following:

  • High fiber: Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-wheat flour are high in fiber.
  • “Good” fat: The “good” fats are classified as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol. Avocados, almonds, olives, pecans and certain olive or peanut oils are high in good fats.
  • Healthy carbs: Both sugars and starches contain carbohydrates, which break down into blood glucose, and you want to emphasize the healthy ones—whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.

Foods to Avoid

There are also different types of food you should avoid if you have diabetes. Most of these foods are similar to those that you would to avoid with a heart-healthy diet in mind, as diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • “Bad” fat: Both saturated fats and trans fats are considered “bad” fats, which can contribute to hardening in arteries. High amounts of “bad” fat are found in foods like high-fat dairy, animal proteins, processed foods, shortening solutions and many baked items.
  • Sodium: Aim for under 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • Cholesterol: Foods like high-fat dairy and animal proteins contribute to high cholesterol, as do egg yolks, liver and other organ meats. Keep cholesterol below 200 milligrams a day.

Diet Tips

Making big changes to your diet can be difficult, but there are a few methods you can use to help make an easier change:

  • Counting carbs: Carbohydrates have some of the largest impact on your glucose levels, and therefore on diabetes symptoms. Speak to a dietician about your recommended carb levels, and start keeping track of these every day. You can coordinate this with insulin levels, if needed.
  • Plate method: This is a method for splitting up portions within every single meal you eat. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you fill half your plate every meal with non-starchy vegetables—foods like spinach, carrots and tomatoes. Reserve one quarter of the plate for a protein, and the other quarter for a whole-grain or starchy food.
  • Exchange lists system: This is a system where you plan meals and snacks based on a list of selections within a particular category. It helps standardize meals so that they are similar sizes and contain around the same amount of nutrients.
  • Glycemic index: The glycemic index is a ranking system for how carbohydrates will impact the blood’s glucose levels.

If you have diabetes and are concerned about changes you need to make to your diet, speak to a dietician about your options.

Abe Tomco, MD

As a physician, I love helping people through stressful times when they may be sick or hurt. I want to be the kind of doctor that I would want for my own family. When a doctor takes the time to help their patients understand what is happening and what the plan is, a patient’s anxiety can be greatly reduced. The patient should receive all the information they need to be an equal partner in decision-making and feel empowered about caring for their body. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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