Living well with diabetes means taking your medication as prescribed, managing stress, exercising regularly, and, equally important, knowing what foods are good and bad for keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the prospect of giving up the foods you love may seem daunting or even devastating. But you may be relieved to know that a good diet for type 2 diabetes isn’t as complex or out of the ordinary as you might expect.
In fact, a smart diabetic diet looks a lot like the healthy eating plan doctors recommend for everyone: It includes eating lots of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, enjoying whole-grain carbohydrates in moderation, fueling up with lean protein, and eating a moderate amount of healthy fats.
In plain language “There is no ‘diabetic diet’,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and Belly Fat Diet For Dummies, and based in Vernon, New Jersey. “The guidelines are basically the same for healthy eating for everyone, with or without diabetes,” she says.
Still, eating when you have diabetes requires taking some steps that are specific to the disease. Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all eating plan, knowing the basics is key for maintaining a high quality of life, reducing the risk of complications, and potentially even reversing diabetes.
Why Is It Important to Eat Well When Managing Type 2 Diabetes?
Picking the right amounts of the right foods can help lower blood sugar levels and keep them steady, reducing diabetes symptoms and helping lower the risk for health complications, such as nerve damage, vision problems, heart disease, kidney damage, and stroke.
Eating well can also help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. In fact, losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight may help you better control type 2 diabetes, or prevent prediabetes from progressing into the full-blown form of the disease.
Rather than trying to overhaul your lifestyle with quick fixes, create lasting habits by focusing on small, simple, and maintainable changes, Palinski-Wade says. Otherwise, you may feel overwhelmed and revert to your old, unhealthy eating ways — and regain weight you’ve lost. “Being consistent with change, no matter how small, is key to long-term weight loss success,” she adds. Here are four to get you started:
Pack in more veggies. Add in one extra serving of non-starchy vegetables at dinner. Consider adding vegetables to a snack, too.
Fit in more fruit. Research shows that eating berries, apples, and pears is associated with weight loss. These are especially fiber-rich choices. Of course, all other fruits count, too — just be sure to factor them into your carbohydrate servings.
Stay active. You should aim to be active 150 minutes per week (that’s just 30 minutes five days per week). But initially, start out by walking 15 minutes a few times per week, and adding on time from there.
Nibble on something in the morning. Eating breakfast is one habit of long-term weight-losers. A plain yogurt with fruit, nuts and fruit, or scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast are all diabetes-friendly breakfasts.
The Best Foods to Eat Regularly if You Are Living with Type 2 Diabetes
Certain foods are considered staples in a type 2 diabetes diet. These are foods that are known to help control blood sugar and promote a healthy weight. They include:
- Fiber-rich fruits and non-starchy vegetables, such as apples and broccoli
- Lean sources of protein, such as boneless, skinless chicken, turkey, and fatty fish, like salmon
- Healthy fats, such as peanut butter, nuts, and avocado (in moderation)
- Whole grains, like quinoa and barley
- Nonfat or low-fat dairy, like milk and plain yogurt
The Top Foods to Limit or Avoid if You Have Type 2 Diabetes
Likewise, certain foods are known to throw blood sugar levels out of order and promote unhealthy weight gain. Foods that should be limited or avoided if you have type 2 diabetes include:
- White bread and pasta
- Canned soups, which are high in sodium
- Microwaveable meals, which are also high in sodium
- Sources of saturated fat, like bacon or fatty cuts of meat
A Diabetes Diet Sample Menu to Follow
Breakfast: Veggie omelet (1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites), topped with reduced-fat cheese, plus fruit
Snack: Plain, nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt and berries
Lunch: Salad (dark lettuce or leafy greens) topped with chicken breast and chickpeas with olive oil and vinegar dressing
Snack: Celery and carrot sticks with nut butter
Dinner: Grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, and quinoa
Breakfast: Fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk, yogurt, and chia seeds (optional)
Snack: Unsalted almonds with a piece of fruit
Lunch: Turkey chili with reduced-fat cheese
Snack: Sliced vegetables and hummus
Dinner: Tofu and veggie stir-fry over brown rice
Breakfast: Old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts
Snack: Roasted chickpeas
Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole wheat with sliced veggies
Snack: Fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese with a sliced peach
Dinner: Tray bake (all foods baked on the same tray) made with shrimp and roasted vegetables
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