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If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re probably wondering what types of dieting changes you’re going to need to make.
Using research-backed data, we’ve outlined the importance of watching what you eat and will explain in detail the healthy food and beverage options for diabetics. We’ll also alert you as to what you should avoid. Of course, there is no substitute to working with your doctor or dietitian to get the most out of your meals.
The Diabetic Diet | Why It’s Important for Diabetics to Monitor Their Diet
Watching what you eat is important for everyone, but it’s necessary for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. As a diabetic, you understand the importance of monitoring your blood sugar levels and the risks associated with these levels falling out of a healthy range.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases explains counting carbohydrates is one of the most important aspects for people with diabetes to avoid the unfavorable side effects of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, which causes headaches, blurred vision, confusion, loss of coordination, and other dangerous symptoms.
The sugars and starches found in carbohydrates get broken down into glucose by your digestive system. Eating carbs prevent your blood sugar level from dropping too low. However, eating too many carbohydrates can spike your blood glucose levels too high, which is why it’s imperative to regularly test and monitor your levels.
The experts at Healthline recommend limiting your carbohydrate intake to 15-30 grams during snacks and 30-60 grams for meals. These figures are not a hard rule, but it’s a good general starting point. Doctors and dietitians can give you a better understanding of your specific recommended carbohydrate intake per meal each day.
Educators at the Utah Education Network explain starches, sugars, and fiber are the three types of carbohydrates. Diabetics should understand the different sources for each type of carbohydrate so they can incorporate them into their daily diet.
Vegetables such as corn, lima beans, potatoes, and peas are great sources of starch. Other beans like lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, dried beans, and split peas also contain starch carbohydrates. These are all great options for diabetics to get healthy quantities of starch, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.
According to Diabetes Self Management, sugar is also referred to as fast-acting or simple carbohydrates. You can get natural sources of sugar in fruit or milk, or added sugars from foods such as desserts or canned fruits.
Often, sugar is listed on ingredient labels by its chemical name. Look for ingredients such as glucose, sucrose, fructose while monitoring and counting your sugar carbohydrate consumption.
Fiber helps aid in digestion and induces healthy and regular bowl movements. Fiber also helps reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels, which can be problematic for some diabetics. The Eat Right Organization recommends consuming 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.
Fruits and vegetables with edible skins such as apples, corn, and beans are great natural sources of fiber. Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, and whole grain cereals are also recommended as healthy fiber sources for diabetics. Try adding nuts such as peanuts, walnuts, and almonds into your diet as a snack in between meals.
Eat Plenty of Protein
In addition to carbohydrates, people with diabetes should incorporate protein into their diets as well. Many of the starches, sugars, and proteins mentioned earlier contain protein; however, most of these do not have any fat. As a diabetic, you want to consume healthy fats, which you can find in high protein foods.
Fish and other seafood dishes are perfect dinner options for diabetics if they are grilled, steamed, or baked. Try to avoid eating fried fish, since this is a less healthy method of preparation. The National Health Service Organization recommends eating a portion of fish at least two times per week.
Fish such as tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines, and salmon are high sources of protein and also have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also eat catfish, cod, halibut, tilapia, and flounder. If you prefer shellfish, try eating crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp, oysters, and clams. Just remember to eat them plain and avoid unhealthy sauces and butter.
Meat and Poultry
If you’re going to eat meat, choose the leanest options you can find. Examples of healthy lean meat which has high protein and good fat include:
- Sirloin beef
- Lamb (chop, leg, or roast)
- Veal (chop, roast, or leg)
Eat these meats in moderation two or three times per week. Since meats do not contain carbohydrates, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you’ll need to balance your meals with other sides including carbs to balance your blood sugar levels. Limit yourself to about 2 to 5 ounces of meat per meal.
Poultry such as chicken, turkey, Cornish hen are also great sources of protein. Eat your poultry dishes without the skin to reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol content. Game such as duck, goose, dove, and pheasant are other options if you remove the skin as well.
Beverage Recommendations for People with Diabetes
According to a medical expert, David Spero, BSN, RN, drinking more than 34 ounces of water in a day decreases your chances of developing high blood sugar levels known as hyperglycemia.
Drinking plenty of water also helps manage your weight, which can often be a problem for many diabetics. Water should be the staple beverage in your diet as a diabetic.
In addition to water, look for other zero-calorie or low-calorie drinks if you want to have some flavor in your beverages. You can drink hot or iced unsweetened teas, black coffee without any added sugars, and have the occasional diet soda.
Try squeezing a slice of fresh lemon or lime into your water for added natural flavor without adding too much sugar or calories.
Milk and Juice
You can also drink low-fat milk or juice with no added sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association. The Association continues to explain these beverages have more calories and carbs than other drinks, but they provide important vitamins and minerals.
Milk is also a natural source of protein. A cup of skim milk has roughly 12 grams of carbohydrates and 80 calories and provides calcium and vitamin D in addition to protein. Diabetics with a lactose intolerance can try drinking alternatives such as soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk instead.
Make sure all the labels on your juice say “no sugar added” and “100% juice” to ensure they won’t spike your blood sugar levels. If you don’t want fruit juice, try low-sodium vegetable juice which contains roughly 50 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates.
Drinks to Avoid
Drinks with artificial flavoring and added sugar are detrimental to diabetics. Some examples of beverages to stay away from include:
- Fruit drinks
- Energy drinks
- Fruit punch
- Sweetened teas
A can of soda contains roughly 150 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, and over ten teaspoons of sugar, according to the Nutrition Facts Organization. Consuming this amount of sugar is unhealthy for anyone, but for people with diabetes, it can raise your blood glucose levels to unsafe levels. Soda is also a contributing factor to unhealthy weight gain.
Can I Drink Alcohol with Diabetes?
Although alcohol consumption is not recommended, it can still be enjoyed in moderation. If you are going to have a drink during certain social situations, you need to keep yourself educated about drinks which are safe and which ones will cause your blood sugar levels to spike too high or drop too low.
According to WebMD, a 12-ounce beer contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Low-carb and light beers have about 3 to 6 grams of carbs, which make them the best option if you’re going to order a beer. Avoid craft beers because they typically have twice the amount of calories and double the alcohol content of a normal beer.
The Diabetes Forecast Organization explains a glass of red or white wine can help your body produce and use insulin more efficiently. An average glass of wine has roughly 120 calories, so keep this in mind if you are monitoring and counting daily calorie consumption.
Liquor has roughly the same alcohol content as a five ounce glass of wine, depending on the proof. Most liquor is carb-free, but mixing it with juice or soda will raise your blood sugar levels to an unhealthy and dangerous level. If you drink liquor, be sure to drink it straight or mix it water or a calorie-free and sugar-free seltzer.
Avoid sweet drinks like mojitos, margaritas, bloody Mary, and sangria. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water before, during, and after, you have a glass of alcohol. Never drink on an empty stomach.
Make sure you check your blood sugar levels more frequently after drinking. Alcohol can affect your blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours.
Always check with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.
You should also test your blood sugar levels more often when you are trying new foods if you are unsure how they’ll affect you. Checking your blood sugar will help you determine how much more or less you need to eat during meals and snacks.