Is there a diet for diabetes?
What you eat plays a significant role in the success of your diabetes management. It’s natural to wonder – is there a specific diet for people with insulin resistance to lose weight or a type 2 diabetes diet? How can I find a diet that is good for diabetes and for losing weight? The short answer is that a simple healthy diet is the best course for people living with diabetes. In fact, it’s the best course for everyone!
Although there are no specific diets for people with diabetes, there are general principles that can help you stay in range. Let’s take a look at foods that lower blood sugar, foods to avoid with high blood sugar, and habits that can make a difference. We’ll also do a deep dive into some of the diets out there and see how they impact diabetes.
Help! I have diabetes, what should I eat?
Here are some guidelines for a food plan that will set you on the right path.
Stock up on fruits and vegetables
Fruit, which is full of fiber and vitamin C, is part of a healthy diet. The department of health advises at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day, and the American Diabetes Association recommends fruit as a good dessert option, with an emphasis on low-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables. Research shows that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Stick with 100% whole grain products and skip the “whites” – white flour, white rice, and white pasta. It may take a bit of getting used to. Experiment! There are lots of products out there that are perfect for a healthy diabetes diet plan. After a while, you just may find that you don’t miss your old standbys.
Lean proteins & healthy fats
Protein is essential for healthy muscles and ligaments, and it’s also excellent for weight-loss because it fills you up and doesn’t give you the blood sugar spikes you get from carbs. You want to aim here for high protein foods with minimal animal fat. Good choices for animal protein include fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna and poultry like chicken and turkey. Avoid meat that is high in saturated fat and salt such sausages, pork, bacon, and hot dog.
Plant-based protein is your friend! Try tofu and tempeh. Beans are a great choice, as are lentils. Find a few tried and true recipes that incorporate the right kinds of protein and make them a staple of your meal rotation.
When it comes to healthy fats, you want avocado, nuts, and seeds to be making regular appearances. You can use nut butters in sandwiches, sauces, and smoothies. Today even local supermarkets often carry a wide range of options – it’s not just about peanut butter anymore.
What’s the story with sweets?
There’s a common misconception that people living with diabetes can’t have anything sweet. Not true! There’s room for a bit of everything in a healthy diet.
Consider using the options below as alternatives to white sugar. As some of these affect blood sugar and contain calories, it’s important to use them in moderation. You should consult a dietitian to determine which products are best for you.
• Agave nectar: One teaspoonful has 21 calories and about 5 grams of carbs
• Honey: One teaspoonful has about 21 calories and about 6 grams of carbs
• Coconut sugar: One teaspoonful has 15 calories and 5 grams of carbs
Artificial sweeteners: The great diabetes debate
Much ink has been spilled about artificial sweeteners and diabetes. Are they a healthy substitute for the real thing or do they encourage our bodies and brains to like sweet things instead of savory, setting us up for failure?
Let’s start with the basics: Anything artificial is not an ideal choice. Your best bet is eating food that grows in the ground, on trees, or is minimally processed. If you have to choose between an apple and diet candies, you’re better off with the nutrient-rich apple, even if it contains a few more calories. And recent studies show that artificial sweeteners can “trick” your body, altering metabolism and possibly contributing to weight gain.
Except for sugar alcohols – mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol – which can increase your blood sugar and cause diarrhea, artificial sweeteners don’t affect your blood sugar level so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to indulge in a snack or drink that is artificially sweetened once in a while. Moderation is key. Try to save these “treats” for special occasions and make them the exception rather than the rule.
Water is your friend
When it comes to keeping hydrated, drinking water is one of the best and easiest things someone with diabetes can do to stay healthy – and it can help you to lose weight. Keep sugar-loaded drinks off the menu. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, add a bit of zing with slices of lemon, orange, lime, watermelon, or cucumber. Herbal teas can keep you warm in winter.
Don’t let sugary drinks sabotage all your hard work. Just keep this in mind: the recommended sugar consumption per day for adults is 30 grams per day – about 7.5 teaspoons. One can of Dr. Pepper® Cream Soda has 49 grams of sugar. A tall White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream at Starbucks contains 45 grams of sugar. Think that Fanta Grape looks refreshing? Think again! One can = 49.4 grams of sugar. You get the idea. It’s all too easy to drink more sugar than you should. Stick with water as much as possible.
Beyond your plate
In addition to what you eat, it’s good to pay attention to your eating habits, things like frequency, amount, and more. Try these tips for getting on track.
Set regular mealtimes
As a general rule, it’s good to have breakfast sooner rather than later – and definitely don’t skip it! Don’t go too long between meals and grab a snack if hunger strikes. If you eat your meals at the same time each day (more or less), it’s easier to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels.
Pay attention to your hunger level
When you’re actually hungry, there are clear signs, such as emptiness in your stomach, headaches, and low energy/fatigue. Environmental factors like TV ads, smells, and parties activate our senses and other mental processes and make us think we are hungry even when we aren’t. To overcome your imaginary hunger when these temptations arise, drink a glass of cold water or another calorie-free drink, take a walk, call someone, or do something you like.
Plan in advance
The more you are prepared, the less likely you are to go off plan:
- Keep some snacks in your bag or at the office.
- Stock your freezer with a few spare meals, just in case.
- Eating out? Not a problem! Check out the menu online or give the restaurant a call to see what your options are.
- Going to friends or family for a meal or party? Offer to bring a dish that works for you for everyone to share.
- If you have the right ingredients at home, it is easier to resist unhealthy shortcuts. We’ve put together a shopping list for you – check it out here.
List of foods that help lower blood sugar
In addition to what we mentioned above, here are some diabetes superstar foods recommended by the ADA:
· Dark green leafy vegetables
· Citrus fruit
· Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
· Low-fat milk and yogurt
Foods to avoid with high blood sugar
To keep your levels in range, you want to have the following foods in limited amounts, if at all:
- Fruit products with added sweeteners like jam and some canned fruits
- Full-fat dairy products
- Fried foods or anything high in trans fats or saturated fats
- Anything with refined flour
- Drinks that are high in sugar (as mentioned above)
Alcohol is a bit more complicated. The general guidelines for alcohol consumption are one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men (defined as 5 oz for wine, 12 oz for beer, and 1.5 oz for distilled spirits like vodka and whisky). Drinking alcohol increases your chance of having a hypo event and may not mix well with certain medications. Your best bet? Consult with your diabetes healthcare team and make a plan based on your history and condition.
Diets for diabetes: What’s out there
Now you know the basics of what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
Looking for something more structured? You’ll hear lots of claims about different diets for diabetes. Let’s take a look at three food plans and see if they pass the test.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is a winner across the board. U.S. News ranked it as #1 for Best Diabetes Diets, Best Diets Overall, Best Diets for Healthy Eating, Best Plant-based Diets, and Best Heart-Healthy Diets (tie). It’s not a diet in the conventional sense – there are no rigid rules. It’s just a nutritionally sound way of eating.
The food principles of the Mediterranean diet are as follows:
- Lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs, and spices
- Plenty of fish and seafood
- Eggs, cheese, yogurt, and poultry in limited amounts
- Sugar and red meat – occasional treats only
The diet also emphasizes the importance of regular physical activity.
People who follow the Mediterranean diet may find reduced risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes as well as lowered A1C and triglycerides.
Check out these encouraging results:
A study in the journal Nutrients suggests that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with improved outcomes for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
Another study found that 25,000 overweight, female health care providers who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of developing diabetes after 20 years.
The DASH diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was created by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to lower blood pressure. Because it is founded on the principles of healthy eating (lots of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains), it’s also a wise choice for people living with diabetes. The DASH diet places a major focus on reducing sodium.
Why try the DASH diet? It’s been proven to help with diabetes management, weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and even reducing depression. You can learn more about the DASH diet here.
A plant-based approach
Flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan – all of these ways of eating adopt a plant-based approach. They differ in the amount of animal protein they include (if at all), but they all embrace plant-based foods, which are highly nutritious, low in calories, and packed with fiber. This way of eating can be beneficial for stabilizing your blood sugar. If you do choose a plant-based approach, it’s important to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, which may require some planning.
It’s all about you
Bottom line: you need to choose a food plan that works for you. Take a look at your eating patterns, personal preferences, your budget, how much time you have, and your goals. There are lots of diets out there that work for diabetes or can be modified accordingly. Just base your guidelines on healthy choices and take it from there!
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.