Health and Wellness

A Diabetic’s Guide to Eating Well

Eat smart and stabilize your blood sugar with these key strategies.

If you’ve recently received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, your mind might be reeling over where to start to manage your condition. That’s what makes diabetes so unique–unlike many other medical conditions, it’s one that can, and needs, to be managed by you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 37 million Americans have diabetes and of those, 90 to 95% have type 2. This is when your body either stops using insulin properly, or your cells develop insulin resistance. As a result, your pancreas produces more insulin in an effort to get those cells to start responding. In either scenario, this leads to high blood sugar, which can cascade into other serious health issues like heart disease, vision impairment or loss, kidney damage, and more.

What you eat plays a big part in controlling your blood sugar levels if you have type 2 diabetes. But before you worry that you’ll have to live on undressed salad greens and skip dessert, think again. There’s a way to have your diabetic-friendly cake and eat it too, without fear of spiking your blood sugar. Use this guide as a cheat sheet to eat smart while still enjoying mealtime.

Foods to Eat

The TL;DR (too long; didn't read) of what to eat when managing type 2 diabetes is that you want to focus as much as possible on whole foods, according to MedlinePlus. Depending on the severity of your diabetes as well as what medications you’re taking, limit or restrict processed foods and fill your shopping cart and kitchen with:

  • Fruits (especially low glycemic index fruits)
  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains (think brown rice, quinoa, and steel cut or rolled oats)
  • Lean meat like chicken, fish, beef, or turkey
  • Non-animal sources of protein such as beans, lentils, and tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Low-fat dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt

If your diet was a basketball team, this should be your starting lineup. Not only will these foods keep your blood sugar stable, but they’ll also improve your health overall and give you the energy you need to make healthy choices that can improve your diabetes (more on that below).

If your diet was a basketball team, this should be your starting lineup. Not only will these foods keep your blood sugar stable, but they’ll also improve your health overall and give you the energy you need to make healthy choices that can improve your diabetes (more on that below).

Foods to Limit

To control your blood sugar, you have to limit the amount of sugar you’re putting into your body in the first place. That may seem easy in theory, but there are plenty of foods that can spike your blood sugar that you may not think of. The biggest sugar spike offenders are carbohydrates, which are found in more foods than you might realize, including:

  • Candy, cookies, and other sweets
  • Canned fruits
  • Juice, soda, sugary coffee drinks, and sports drinks
  • White breads, pasta, and bagels
  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn
  • Fried or high-fat foods
  • Alcohol

Here’s the tricky part: Type 2 diabetes looks different for everyone, meaning that some foods may work for others and not you (or vice versa). It’s not realistic to completely ban these foods, but it is important to understand what you can eat, when, and how much to avoid sending your blood sugar levels skyrocketing.

Strategies to Make the Most of Each Meal

While the response to certain foods in those who have diabetes is unique and personal, there are some broad guidelines anyone managing a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can follow. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends three main principles: eating lots of vegetables, minimizing added sugars and refined grains, and choosing whole foods whenever possible. The ADA also recommends a few other tools to help you tackle your next meal, including:

  • Picking the right plate: Plates are the building block to portion control. Make sure you’re eating all meals on a plate that’s no bigger than nine inches across. Just because you have dinner plates doesn’t mean they need to be used for dinner—salad plates can serve the same function without causing you to overdo it on portion sizes.  
  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables: Rather than rattle off the list of acceptable veggies, all are essentially on the table (minus potatoes, corn and peas which may need to be eaten in moderation). The other half of your plate should be split into quarters, one with carbohydrates (whole grains, those starchy vegetables, and fruit, for example) and the other with lean protein.
  • Keep liquids clear: Water is always a safe bet, but when you’re craving a little flavor opt for club soda with a slice of lime or unsweetened tea to stay hydrated.

There are other factors that can improve your blood sugar, too. According to the ADA, even a 5% weight loss can make a huge impact. We’re here to help answer diet-related questions to help you shed excess weight and manage your type 2 diabetes long-term. Open the app today to start a visit in seconds. You’ll get your answers well before your next meal.

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