"Please, Just Tell Me What to Eat!"
10 tips for the newly diagnosed on how to enjoy healthy eating with diabetes.
When people are first diagnosed with diabetes, they often feel as though their world has been turned upside down, and their first concern is usually about diabetes and ... eating. When I sit down with newly diagnosed patients, they often say to me, "Please, just tell me what to eat." Some people are so afraid of getting it wrong that they have only been eating salads since their diagnosis, thinking that somehow diabetes and eating are mutually exclusive; others have been indulging in all their favorite foods and thinking of the meal prior to their appointment as their "last supper."
I have good news: A diagnosis of diabetes does not mean you can't enjoy eating! Here are ten tips to get you started:
1. Choose the Healthiest Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels and include foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta, chips, crackers, fruit, milk, candy, and desserts. Aim for the healthiest carbohydrates, which are the most natural forms, like beans, fruit, milk, and 100-percent whole-grains.
2. Watch Portion Sizes. Limit portions if you tend to eat too much. You can start by avoiding second servings of food or eating half the amount you used to eat. Try to keep higher-carb food portions such as whole-wheat pasta or potatoes to no larger than the size of your fist.
3. Choose High-Fiber Foods. Fiber may help prevent heart disease and some cancers, slows digestion, and also fills you up. High-fiber foods include oatmeal, beans, fresh fruit (with skin), vegetables, and whole grains like barley and quinoa.
4. Include Protein in Every Meal or Snack. Protein foods have little or no effect on blood glucose levels and tend to be very satisfying; they are generally superfoods for diabetes. And eating protein is easy! Good protein foods include fish, turkey, chicken, lean beef and pork, tofu, cheese, milk, eggs, and beans.
5. Limit High Saturated and Avoid Trans-Fat Foods. Foods very high in saturated fats should be limited, because saturated fats can have negative health effects and they're high in calories. Trans fats raise "bad" cholesterol levels, lower "good" cholesterol levels, and are usually found in high-carb, high-calorie foods. So watch your intake of very fatty meats, and eliminate packaged snacks and baked goods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as cakes, cookies, crackers, chips, and pies.
6. Choose Healthy Fats. Healthy fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can help improve your cholesterol levels. Foods high in these fats include fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados. These foods tend to be calorie-dense but they also are filling and satisfying.
7. Limit High-Sugar Foods. All foods high in sugar are going to be high in carbohydrates and will raise blood glucose levels, so think of them as anti-diabetes. And eating these foods should be considered "special occasion" eating. Try to eliminate things like soda, juice, sweetened beverages, syrups, candy, and regular desserts.
8. Eat More Veggies. You've heard it before — vegetables are good for us and you should eat more of the low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic veggies such as green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, greens, cabbage, and lettuce. These foods have little effect of blood glucose levels and are high in fiber and many other disease-fighting nutrients. Aim to make half or more of your plate vegetables and you'll be off to a good start.
9. Eat Less Processed Foods. If you stick to more whole, natural foods and less processed foods your diet will be substantially healthier. Processed foods are often full of trans fats, sugar, sodium, and excess calories while providing little or no nutritional value.
10. Use the Plate Method to Put It All Together. Eating with diabetes does not have to be complicated. The Plate Method is an easy way to put together all the basics of healthy eating. Fill half of your plate with low-carbohydrate vegetables, such as broccoli; fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein such as chicken, fish, or lean pork, and fill the remaining quarter of your plate with a healthy higher-carbohydrate food, such as a small sweet potato, a whole grain like barley or quinoa, or whole-grain pasta.
Note: If you have a personalized meal plan, the number of servings you choose per meal may be different.
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One of my ongoing dietary issues has been one of protein. Right after diagnosis, I ran a bit scared of all of the "excess protein kills the kidneys" lines and into the old-school health-foods' "you don't need as much protein as you think you do" train of thought. Combined with the calorie and sodium restrictions of my initial diabetes diet, a move away from animal-based proteins because of my cholesterol levels, and a medication which seemed to block nutrient...