Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat: Diabetes Meal Planning
What Are the Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat?
Believe it or not, a healthy diet for a diabetic is very similar to any other healthy diet.
I have been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. Over the past decade, I have experienced the direct effect of ingesting an excess of processed foods, not enough fresh fruits and vegetables, and restaurant meals that are too large, too fatty, and too salty. Because my body does not make any insulin on its own, I am dependent on insulin injections administered in an amount tailored to the food I eat. It was very eye-opening to see the dramatic rise in blood sugar levels from certain food items!
With my diagnosis, I had little choice but to improve my diet so that my blood glucose levels could remain in a consistent, healthy range. Along the way, I've learned that potato chips, french fries, pizza, ice cream, white bread, rice, pasta, and crackers are not anyone's friend—let alone a diabetic!
A diabetes-friendly diet should include:
- Drinking lots of water (or other unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Lean meats (if not vegetarian)
- Low-fat dairy (if not vegetarian)
- Bread, cereal, or pasta that are high in fiber and minimally processed
Diabetics Don't Need to Cut Out All Carbohydrates
A common mistake that newly diagnosed diabetics make is believing that they cannot eat any carbohydrates. Unless your doctor advises you to do so, you will want to have at least 15-20% (ideally 40%) of your daily caloric intake to be from carbohydrates.
The trick is to incorporate complex carbohydrates into your diet rather than simple carbs.
Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into glucose that is carried in the bloodstream for use as the body's energy. Because glucose is the most readily available fuel and is required for your body to work, no one can survive on a carb-free diet.
As with any healthy diet, the keys are moderation and balance. Fast-acting, simple carbohydrates like sucrose are commonly found in syrups and refined white flour (e.g. bread, crackers, pasta). These are digested quickly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar followed by a crash soon after.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are commonly found in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain bread, cereals, and pasta—all of which have high fiber content. These dietary selections—particularly when combined with protein—can help keep your blood glucose at a more stable, manageable level.
Over time, you will be healthier—and feel healthier!
Fresh Foods Are Best for a Diabetic
Believe me, I love to snack as much as the next person. However, as a diabetic, the problem is that I often feel horrible several hours later. Since my diagnosis, I have learned to enjoy simple, fresh foods as much as I used to love the "convenient" alternatives.
Green, red, or purple grapes are delicious. Just about any type of berry that is in-season can make a perfect snack. Sliced carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower are among the many veggies that taste amazing raw or dipped in low-fat dressing.
The great thing about fresh fruits and vegetables is that they have both water and fiber. These elements help you feel fuller faster. In addition, because they are high in fiber, they have less of a tendency to spike blood sugar levels.
When it comes to meal planning, fresh protein sources are superior to pre-packaged alternatives. Although they are convenient, avoid frozen meals, boxed meals, and most canned alternatives, unless you have prepared them yourself.
I have learned that fresh foods, used in my own recipes, are far superior to pre-packaged meals and ingredients. It's so good to know that you don't have artificial colors, seasonings, and preservatives. We are natural beings that will respond best to natural food!
More importantly, it is easier to count carbohydrates and calories when you make your own meal. Every time I go out to eat, I usually estimate that these values will be at least 1/3 higher than I would estimate if making the dish at home.
Diabetics should consult a doctor and a nutritionist to develop a tailored meal plan that will best help you manage your condition.
Forming a Diabetic Meal Plan
Get Advice From Professionals
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you will probably be advised to meet with both an endocrinologist and a nutritionist.
I spent several days working with a nutritionist, learning all about how to measure and estimate portion sizes, count carbohydrates, and factor in the positive impact of fiber and the negative impact of fat on my diet. Some medical centers offer multi-day seminars on nutrition for diabetics.
The good news is that you may not be told that you can't eat certain foods. You will learn what to expect as a result of enjoying sugary, high-carbohydrate, and/or high-fat selections in moderation. You can even occasionally enjoy your favorite foods or dishes by testing your blood glucose frequently. Continually monitoring your sugar levels allows you to make necessary adjustments to your insulin medication and activity level.
Your doctor and nutritionist can provide valuable guidance regarding diet that you simply cannot get from a book or an article like this one.
A nutritionist is most valuable when there are other complexities that need to be factored in. If you are very active (i.e. construction worker or athlete) or if you have food allergies or sensitivities, a chronic condition such as celiac disease or Chron's disease, or religious/cultural restrictions on diet, a specialist can develop a balanced, healthy meal plan for your specific situation—something that may be too complicated for you to plan out on your own.
Test Your Blood Glucose Levels Frequently
The best way to figure out your diabetes meal planning is to test your own blood glucose often.
I have noticed that I react differently to the "average" population when I eat certain healthy, prepackaged foods. Protein bars that say they have 22 grams of carbs usually require me to take at least 1/3 more insulin than another comparable meal.
Because there is no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to diabetes, you really have to determine which foods work best for you. Some people may not be as greatly affected by simple carbohydrates, while others see an immediate spike in blood sugar.
The best way to determine a sound diabetes meal plan is to test your blood glucose before you eat and two hours after every meal.
- A level between 80-120 is in a normal range and should be recorded. If your level is lower than 80, it means that you need more carbohydrates.
- If your level is higher than 120, it means that you need to either reduce the number of carbs or increase your insulin.
Again, be sure to talk to your medical professionals. They will be able to factor in your medical condition, activity level, and dietary restrictions when determining the best diet for you.
What are the best foods for a diabetic to eat?
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Stephanie Hicks