What Foods Should I Eat As A Diabetic ? A well-planned diet is perhaps the most important element in your diabetes management. To get a proper food plan, you should discuss your individual needs with your healthcare team. The following are guidelines for certain meals and snacks that might be recommended to you.
Making the choice to follow a specific diet can be challenging — especially when there are many different diets to choose from. In this article, we will go over the basics of the diabetic diet.
what is a healthy, balanced diet for diabetes?
There is no specific diet for diabetes. But the foods you eat not only make a difference to how you manage your diabetes, but also to how well you feel and how much energy you have.
This information will help you get to know the five main food groups that make up a healthy, balanced diet.
Eating from the main food groups
How much you need to eat and drink is based on your age, gender, how active you are and the goals you’re aiming for. But no single food contains all the essential nutrients your body needs.
That’s why a healthy diet is all about variety and choosing different foods from each of the main food groups every day.
And when we say balanced, we mean eating more of certain foods and less of others. But portion sizes have grown in recent years, as the plates and bowls we use have got bigger. And larger portions can make it more difficult for you to manage your weight. We’ve got more information for you about managing a healthy weight.
We’ve highlighted the benefits of each food group below – some help protect your heart and some affect your blood sugar levels more slowly – all really important for you to know. Get to know them and how healthy choices can help you reduce your risk of diabetes complications.
What are the main food groups?
- Fruit and veg
- Starchy foods, like bread, pasta and rice
- Protein foods, like beans, pulses, nuts, eggs, meat and fish
- Dairy and alternatives
- Oils and spreads
Best and Worst Foods for Diabetes
Your food choices matter a lot when you’ve got diabetes. Some are better than others.
Nothing is completely off-limits. Even items that you might think of as “the worst” could be occasional treats — in tiny amounts. But they won’t help you nutrition-wise, and it’s easiest to manage your diabetes if you mainly stick to the “best” options.
Your body needs carbs. But you want to choose wisely. Use this list as a guide.
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, or amaranth
- Baked sweet potato
- Items made with whole grains and no (or very little) added sugar
- Processed grains, such as white rice or white flour
- Cereals with little whole grains and lots of sugar
- White bread
- French fries
- Fried white-flour tortillas
Load up! You’ll get fiber and very little fat or salt (unless you add them). Remember, potatoes and corn count as carbs.
- Fresh veggies, eaten raw or lightly steamed, roasted, or grilled
- Plain frozen vegetables, lightly steamed
- Greens such as kale, spinach, and arugula. Iceberg lettuce is not as great because it’s low in nutrients.
- Low sodium or unsalted canned vegetables
Go for a variety of colors: dark greens, red or orange (think of carrots or red peppers), whites (onions) and even purple (eggplants). The 2015 U.S. guidelines recommend 2.5 cups of veggies per day.
- Canned vegetables with lots of added sodium
- Veggies cooked with lots of added butter, cheese, or sauce
- Pickles, if you need to limit sodium. Otherwise, pickles are OK.
- Sauerkraut, for the same reason as pickles. Limit them if you have high blood pressure.
They give you carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Most are naturally low in fat and sodium. But they tend to have more carbs than vegetables do.
- Fresh fruit
- Plain frozen fruit or fruit canned without added sugar
- Sugar-free or low-sugar jam or preserves
- No-sugar-added applesauce
- Canned fruit with heavy sugar syrup
- Chewy fruit rolls
- Regular jam, jelly, and preserves (unless you have a very small portion)
- Sweetened applesauce
- Fruit punch, fruit drinks, fruit juice drinks
You have lots of choices, including beef, chicken, fish, pork, turkey, seafood, beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, and tofu.
The American Diabetes Association lists these as the top options:
- Plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, or tofu
- Fish and seafood
- Chicken and other poultry (Choose the breast meat if possible.)
- Eggs and low-fat dairy
If you eat meat, keep it low in fat. Trim the skin off of poultry.
Try to include some plant-based protein from beans, nuts, or tofu, even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan. You’ll get nutrients and fiber that aren’t in animal products.
- Fried meats
- Higher-fat cuts of meat, such as ribs
- Pork bacon
- Regular cheeses
- Poultry with skin
- Deep-fried fish
- Deep-fried tofu
- Beans prepared with lard
Keep it low in fat. If you want to splurge, keep your portion small.
- 1% or skim milk
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat or nonfat sour cream
- Whole milk
- Regular yogurt
- Regular cottage cheese
- Regular sour cream
- Regular ice cream
- Regular half-and-half
Fats, Oils, and Sweets
They’re tough to resist. But it’s easy to get too much and gain weight, which makes it harder to manage your diabetes.
- Natural sources of vegetable fats, such as nuts, seeds, or avocados (high in calories, so keep portions small)
- Foods that give you omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel
- Plant-based oils, such as canola, grapeseed, or olive oils
- Anything with trans fat in it. It’s bad for your heart. Check the ingredient list for anything that’s “partially hydrogenated,” even if the label says it has 0 grams of trans fat.
- Big portions of saturated fats, which mainly come from animal products but also are in coconut oil and palm oil. Ask your doctor what your limit should be, especially if you have heart disease as well as diabetes.
Best diets for people with diabetes
As the ADA reports, no single diet offers more benefits to a person with diabetes than another.
However, research suggests that low carb diets may be useful. Some people may try this with or in place of medical treatment, according to their doctor’s guidance.
A low carb diet can help reduce cravings, lower blood sugar levels, and boost energy. It may also help people with diabetes maintain a moderate weight.
Low carb diets also have variations, including:
The ketogenic, or “keto” diet, is very low in carbs. It allows for a maximum of 30 grams (g) of carbs each day.
This may help people with diabetes improve glycemic control and maintain a moderate weight. It may also reduce the risk of diabetes in people who do not have the condition.
According to a 2017 review, the Mediterranean diet may help people with diabetes maintain a moderate weight and aid weight loss efforts. It involves eating less red meat and more healthy fats and vegetables. The researchers noted that this diet improved fasting plasma glucose and insulin levels among study participants.
The Paleolithic, or “paleo” diet, focuses on unprocessed foods similar to those that humans would have eaten thousands of years ago when hunting.
Researchers behind a small 2013 study noted that participants with diabetes who followed the paleo diet found it more filling than a low carb diabetic diet. It also aided weight loss efforts, though participants found it difficult to maintain the results.
Vegetarian or vegan diets
The same 2017 review mentioned the benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan diet for people with diabetes. The researchers highlighted the evidence that these diets have boosted weight loss efforts and led to modest improvements in diabetes management.
10 tips for healthy eating with diabetes
1. Choose healthier carbohydrates
All carbs affect blood glucose levels so it’s important to know which foods contain carbohydrates. Choose the healthier foods that contain carbs and be aware of your portion sizes.
Here are some healthy sources of carbohydrate:
- whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat and whole oats
- pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils
- dairy like unsweetened yoghurt and milk.
At the same time, it’s also important to cut down on foods low in fibre such as white bread, white rice and highly-processed cereals. You can check food labels when you’re looking for foods high in fibre if you’re unsure.
2. Eat less salt
Eating lots of salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases risk of heart diseases and stroke. And when you have diabetes, you’re already more at risk of all of these conditions.
Try to limit yourself to a maximum of 6g (one teaspoonful) of salt a day. Lots of pre-packaged foods already contain salt so remember to check food labels and choose those with less salt. Cooking from scratch will help you keep an eye on how much salt you’re eating. You can also get creative and swap out salt for different types of herbs and spices to add that extra flavour.
3. Eat less red and processed meat
If you’re cutting down on carbs, you might start to have bigger portions of meat to fill you up. But it’s not a good idea to do this with red and processed meat, like ham, bacon, sausages, beef and lamb. These all have links with heart problems and cancers.
Try swapping red and processed meat for these:
- pulses such as beans and lentils
- poultry like chicken and turkey
- unsalted nuts
Beans, peas and lentils are also very high in fibre and don’t affect your blood glucose levels too much – making them a great swap for processed and red meat and keeping you feeling full. Most of us know that fish is good for us, but oily fish like salmon and mackerel are even better. These are rich in something called omega-3 oil, which helps protect your heart. Try and aim to eat two portions of oily fish a week.
4. Eat more fruit and veg
We know eating fruit and veg is good for you. It’s always a good thing aim to eat more at meal times and have them as snacks if you’re hungry. This can help you get the vitamins, minerals and fibre your body needs every day to help keep you healthy.
You might be wondering about fruit and if you should avoid it because it’s sugary? The answer is no. Whole fruit is good for everyone and if you have diabetes, it’s no different. Fruits do contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. This is different to the added sugar (also known as free sugars) that are in things like chocolate, biscuits and cakes.
Products like fruit juices also count as added sugar, so go for whole fruit instead. This can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned (in juice, not in syrup). And it’s best to eat it throughout the day instead of one bigger portion in one go.
5. Choose healthier fats
We all need fat in our diet because it gives us energy. But different types of fat affect our health in different ways.
Healthier fats are in foods like unsalted nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, olive oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. Some saturated fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, increasing your risk of heart problems. These are mainly found in animal products and prepared food like:
- red and processed meat
- biscuits, cakes, pies and pastries.
It’s still a good idea to cut down on using oils in general, so try to grill, steam or bake foods instead.
6. Cut down on added sugar
We know cutting out sugar can be really hard at the beginning, so small practical swaps are a good starting point when you’re trying to cut down on excess sugar. Swapping sugary drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices with water, plain milk, or tea and coffee without sugar can be a good start.
You can always try low or zero-calorie sweeteners (also known as artificial sweeteners) to help you cut back. Cutting out these added sugars can help you control your blood glucose levels and help keep your weight down. If your diabetes treatment means you get hypos, and you use sugary drinks to treat them, this is still important for your diabetes management and you shouldn’t cut this out. However, if you are having regular hypos it is really important to discuss this with your diabetes team.
7. Be smart with snacks
If you want a snack, choose yoghurts, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables instead of crisps, chips, biscuits and chocolates. But watch your portions still – it’ll help you keep an eye on your weight
8. Drink alcohol sensibly
Alcohol is high in calories, so if you do drink and you’re trying to lose weight, think about cutting back. Try to keep to a maximum of 14 units a week. But spread it out to avoid binge drinking, and go several days a week without alcohol.
If you take insulin or other diabetes medications, it’s also not a good idea to drink on an empty stomach. This is because alcohol can make hypos more likely to happen.
9. Don’t bother with so-called diabetic food
To say food is a “diabetic food” is now against the law. This is because there isn’t any evidence that these foods offer you a special benefit over eating healthily. They can also often contain just as much fat and calories as similar products, and can still affect your blood glucose level. These foods can also sometimes have a laxative effect.
10. Get your minerals and vitamins from foods
There’s no evidence that mineral and vitamin supplements help you manage your diabetes. So, unless you’ve been told to take something by your healthcare team, like folic acid for pregnancy, you don’t need to take supplements.
It’s better to get your essential nutrients by eating a mixture of different foods. This is because some supplements can affect your medications or make some diabetes complications worse, like kidney disease.