Medically Reviewed By: Tom Iarocci, MD
Food is a very important part of life for everyone, but it becomes even more of a focus when you have diabetes. When establishing healthy type 2 diabetes diets, there are several things that should keep in mind. Knowing which foods are good for you and which ones you should avoid (note the word avoid and not eliminate here) is one key aspect of gaining control over your disease so that you can manage it better. You do not have to give everything up, you just have to reprogram yourself when it comes to portions and treats. Establishing a healthy type 2 diabetes diet should always be kept foremost in your mind, as well as knowing what type 2 diabetes foods to avoid.
There are four key components that should be considered in every meal plan for diabetics. These are carbs, fiber, fat, and sodium. Of course, you need protein, too, but let’s focus on these four, for now. Knowing how each of these food groups can affect your health can help you to determine how they should be incorporated in your diet and in the proper quantities.
Carbohydrates in items like fruit, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, grains, and starchy vegetables give you the energy you need to get through the day. They do this with their effect on your blood sugar level. Simple carbs, like sugar, are the least healthy for you. Instead, you should try to incorporate more complex carbs like beans, nuts, vegetables and grains. These take longer to digest so they give you a steady flow of energy for your body to use. If your diet includes more quick-release carbs than your body can handle, glucose levels rise, and if you consume too little then your glucose level will drop. When planning a healthy type 2 diabetes diet, keep in mind that 1 serving, such as ½ cup of frozen fruit or 1 slice of bread, is the equivalent of 15 grams of carbs. How much carbohydrate you need depends on many things including how active you are which medications you take, if any. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that a good ballpark starting range is about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate at a meal, but individuals with diabetes may need more or less.
Fiber usually comes from plants, grains, nuts, and legumes. These help the body to digest better and can also help to stabilize blood sugar. Dietary fiber is one of the hidden secretes of weight control. When you eat fiber you will feel full more quickly and you’ll naturally eat smaller portions. This is one of the reasons the ADA recommends things like filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli. Ideally you want your sources of fiber to be from various foods like brown rice, whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies.
Diabetes is a big risk factor for heart disease. While your body needs some fat, the key is to consume the right kinds and in smaller portions. Avoid saturated and trans fats and instead opt for lean cuts of meats, low-fat foods, and use vegetable cooking oils, such as canola oil, instead of animal fats.
Another thing you want to be careful of in all of your meals is your salt consumption. Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is another risk factor for heart disease or stroke—another, meaning in addition to your diabetes. Care must be taken when it comes to salt as many processed foods already have too much salt content in them, so your doctor may suggest that you avoid eating canned foods, condiments like ketchup, mustard, and salad dressings, pickled foods, salty snacks, and MSG. Instead, try to use more of the natural herbs and spices. It will change the flavor of the foods you eat, but you’ll feel better for it.
Learning how to carefully plan your meals when you are a diabetic can have a major impact on how well you feel and how you are able to carry on to live your life. The more knowledge you have, the better your health will be and the more benefit you’ll get out of a healthy type 2 diabetes diet.