A healthy diet is a critical component of diabetes management, as it helps keep your blood sugar in your target range. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that healthy eating equates to depriving yourself of the foods you love. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the perfect diabetes diet is not one of bland foods and no dessert. Rather, the best diet for diabetes is one that is sustainable and enjoyable.
Healthy eating is not one-size-fits-all and there is no magic diabetes diet out there. The best diet is simply one that you can stick to. That said it’s important to have an understanding of some healthy eating guidelines to follow. Using these guidelines, you can then create your own individualized diabetes meal plan.
Follow these simple steps and get on your way to creating your perfect diabetes diet plan. Stay tuned until the end for a sample menu!
1. Eat More of These Foods
The first step in creating your diabetes diet plan is to know which foods should make up the majority of your diet. Focus on eating real, whole foods. Think foods that are colorful and are made of only one (or a few) ingredients.
Great foods for a diabetes diet include:
- Whole grain, high-fiber complex carbohydrates
- Healthy fats like nuts/nut butters, olive oil and avocado
- Sustainably raised meat
- Fish and shellfish
- High-quality protein like eggs, beans and low-fat dairy products
- Fruits and vegetables – go for low glycemic fruits, choose a variety of colors, and get in lots of dark leafy greens
2. Eat Less of These Foods
Whilst filling up the majority of your diet with real, fresh foods, you’ll want to limit your intake of processed foods. Processed foods – foods that contain added sugars, fats, chemicals and artificial ingredients – are generally high in refined sugar and calories, yet are low in fiber and other nutritional benefits.
Studies have associated these types of high-sugar foods with insulin resistance, high cholesterol, fatty liver, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Here are some foods to watch out for:
- Artificial trans fats – deep fried foods, potato chips and hard margarines
- Pre-made packaged foods, especially those high in sugar like breakfast cereals and packaged snack foods
- Pre-made frozen foods like pizza
- White flour or refined grain based products – white bread/white rice/pasta
- Processed meat
- Dairy products that have added sugar (e.g. ice cream or flavoured yoghurt with sugars added)
- Sugar-sweetened beverages like fruit juice and soda
3. Choose Whole Grain Carbohydrates
Out of all the food groups, carbohydrates have the biggest impact on your blood sugar levels because they break down into glucose. However, not all carbs are created equally. As part of your diabetes diet plan it’s important to pay attention to the types of carbs you are eating.
Refined and processed carbs (e.g. white bread, white rice, pastries, biscuits and sugary drinks) are linked to a wide array of health problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. On the other hand, whole grains are linked to a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes.
Here are some simple and delicious swaps you can make:
For These Healthier Options
|white rice||brown rice, wild rice, cauliflower rice|
|white bread||whole grain bread, rye bread, sourdough bread|
|white pasta||whole wheat pasta, brown rice pasta, spaghetti squash, zoodles|
|sugary breakfast cereals||oatmeal, cream of wheat or high-fiber/low-sugar cereals like Fiber 1|
|white flour||whole-wheat flour, sorghum flour, almond flour|
|sugar-sweetened beverages||fruit/vegetable infused water|
4. Control Your Portions
Ever heard of the expression “too much of a good thing is bad”? Well, that certainly holds true here. Just because you are eating healthy food doesn’t mean you have the green light to overfill your plate. A diabetes diet plan should be a modest balance between what and how you eat.
Managing your portions doesn’t mean you have to track every single calorie. A good way to start is by reading your food labels to determine recommended portion sizes. You can begin by measuring out your food for a week or two. Once you get the hang of it, you can ditch the measuring tools and eyeball it.
The most important part of watching your portion sizes is listening to your body! Because of the food abundant societies we live in, we often eat much more than we actually need. Eat slowly and learn how to stop when you are satisfied, not when you are overfilled and uncomfortable.
5. Make Room for Dessert
If you think a diabetes diet means missing out on dessert, think again.
The most important part of a diabetes diet plan is sustainability. If you aren’t allowing yourself room for the foods you love, you’re likely not going to able to stick to your healthy eating plan for very long. The goal is to create a lifestyle, not a short-term diet, and who wants to go through life without dessert!?
There are two tricks to creating a healthy diet without sacrificing your sanity. The first is moderation. Don’t think you have an excuse to go all out. Practice eating the foods you love in moderation. A rule of thumb is to allow yourself a small treat every day or every other day, then eat healthy for the rest of the time.
The second trick is substitution. Instead of eating the “real thing,” enjoy lightened up versions of your favorite treats and desserts. You can do this by replacing white flour with healthier substitutes like whole-wheat flour, and replacing sugar with things like honey, dates or applesauce.
Sample Diabetes Diet Plan
This sample diabetes diet plan is based on a 1200-1600 calorie diet. When creating your own diet plan be sure to take into consideration your individual needs such as gender, size and activity level which can influence your calorie needs.
Breakfast: Veggie omelette: 2-3 whole eggs, veggies of choice (broccoli, mushrooms, spinach), 1 ounce mozzarella cheese + 1 slice whole grain toast with 1 tbsp olive oil spread + 1/2 grapefruit.
Lunch: Veggie wrap: whole grain wrap with veggies of choice lettuce, sprouts, radish, cucumber), cheese, hummus + side salad (lettuce, veggies of choice, 1 tbsp olive oil & 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar).
Snack: Homemade trail mix: handful of almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, dark chocolate chips + 1 cup berries.
Dinner: 4 oz salmon drizzled with 1 tsp olive oil and fresh lemon juice + 1/2 cup seasoned brown rice + lightly roasted asparagus & carrots.
Diabetes Diet Plan: In Conclusion
Don’t let the word “diet” scare you. A diet is simply what you eat. It doesn’t have to be restrictive and it certainly doesn’t have to be bland. Fill each of your plates with high-quality protein, whole grain carbs, healthy fats and an array of colorful fruits and veggies. Oh, and don’t forget to save a little room for dessert!