Life with diabetes can become a numbers game - counting carbs, measuring portions, testing your blood glucose levels. But when you're hungry you just want to eat - not measure and count!
Depending on how strict and specific your dietary recommendations are, it can help to get to know the general qualities of a diabetes-friendly diet. Then you can keep your kitchen stocked with the kinds of go-to, good-for-you foods that you can count on for planning healthy meals and snacks. Once you know the basics, you can draw on your knowledge when choosing to eat this or that food.
Make your carbs count. Carbohydrates directly impact your blood glucose levels. So, how many grams of carbs you consume throughout the day is important. But your choice of which carbs to consume is also important. Get familiar with the carb-containing foods that are better for your health, and identify the "bad carb" foods to eat in moderation, like sugary candy and pop. Most of your daily carbohydrates should come from whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. These foods fill you up without spiking your blood glucose levels, and they're packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Find high-fibre foods you love. High-fibre foods slow digestion, making post-meal blood glucose spikes less likely. High-fibre foods also protect your heart by helping to reduce levels of bad cholesterol. Most North Americans consume only 4 g to 12 g of fibre per day. The recommended daily intake should be upwards of 26 g to 35 g, and if you have diabetes, you need to consume up to 50 g per day. You'll find fibre in whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and legumes. High-fibre packaged foods contain 5 g of fibre or more per serving. People with diabetes who are on insulin therapy must closely monitor their carbohydrate intake, but fibre is factored separately from other carbohydrates.
Get the gist of the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a system that rates foods by how quickly they raise your blood glucose levels. Each type of food is given a GI number so you can compare it to other foods. Foods with low GI will be digested more slowly and have less effect on your blood glucose. Low-glycemic foods, which are often foods that are low in sugar and net carbs but high in fibre or fat, include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Keep in mind, though, that the glycemic index measures only a food's effect on blood glucose - not the overall nutrition of a food. The GI should be considered just one of the tools you use to make diabetes-friendly food choices.
Keep your heart in mind. When you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk of heart disease. So, in addition to your "diabetes diet," you also need to eat with your heart health in mind. Avoid foods that raise your blood pressure or your levels of bad cholesterol. The riskiest foods for your heart are those high in sodium, saturated fats, or trans fats. Check food labels for sodium content and cook with less salt, substituting in other spices to add flavour. And stick to fats that have a positive or neutral effect on your health, including monounsaturated fat, omega 3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats. You'll find these better fats in olive oil, canola oil, avocadoes, and in fatty fish like salmon. While most animal products are high in fat, you can select leaner cuts of meat and skinless poultry. Cook in ways that do not boost fat content, opting to grill instead of deep-fry.
Swap your sweets. When you have diabetes, sugar will be on your mind whether or not you have a sweet tooth. But you don't have to give up all sugar, though. Instead, come up with a list of healthy sweets to substitute for your favourite treats. Love pop? Swap it for sparkling water spiked with fresh berries or a slice of citrus fruit. Screaming for ice cream? Switch to frozen fruit. But every now and then a cupcake calls to you, right? For a now-and-then indulgence, swap out a high-carb food in one of your daily meals for a lower-carb option, which will give you the wiggle room to enjoy that brownie or cheesecake - or that cheesecake brownie!
Stock your kitchen with diabetes-friendly foods. Have the right foods handy for prepping balanced, nutritious meals and satisfying snacks. You can start with the American Diabetes Association's list of 10 so-called "diabetes superfoods" - beans, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, sweet potatoes, berries, tomatoes, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, nuts, and fat-free milk and yogurt. Invest in a few glass jars and keep them filled with slow-release carbohydrates to use as a base for meals. Good choices include quinoa, barley, brown rice, oats, and whole grain pastas. Keep another jar filled with your favourite nuts, an affordable and easy grab-and-go snack. And on each grocery trip, pick up a few types of vegetables to cut and store in baggies for quick, simple snacks.