Changing your diet can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. These tips will help you get started with a diabetes-friendly diet.
Does a type 2 diabetes diagnosis have you worried you’ll never again enjoy your favorite foods? Diabetes management takes discipline, but it doesn’t mean you’re destined to a life without carbs. You don’t even have to make drastic changes immediately.
In fact, Sandra J. Arevalo, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, encourages taking it slow.
“If you incorporate changes little by little and you give yourself time to adjust to those changes, you have a better chance of maintaining them for a long time“, she says.
Tips For A Diabetes-Friendly Diet
Here’s how to get started with a diabetes-friendly diet:
1. Meet With A Dietitian
There are plenty of books and even more places online to go for information about what a diabetes-friendly diet looks like. But there’s nothing like meeting one-on-one with a dietitian.
“A registered dietitian will be able to assess your diet—not only what you’re eating but how much and when—and make recommendations based on your lifestyle, including your activity level, budget, likes and dislikes, and even who in the family does the cooking“, Arevalo says.
Medicare and many insurance plans cover diabetes education, including nutrition counseling. Ask your doctor for a referral.
2. Pile On The Vegetables
Rather than being a proverbial side, make nonstarchy vegetables the star of your meal.
“Vegetables are very, very important“, Arevalo says. “They provide us with vitamins and with dietary fiber that aids in digestion and keeps us full. They also help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels.”
If you’re thinking, “but I don’t like vegetables“, Arevalo says to keep looking. “There are so many out there, it’s impossible not to find some you like“, she says. “I invite people to create a list of all the vegetables they haven’t tried and just give them a chance.”
Once you find some, fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal.
3. Choose Your Carbohydrates Wisely
Carbohydrates have a place in a diabetes-friendly diet. You just need to be discerning at the grocery store.
Skip the white rice and all-white flour-based products. Opt instead for pasta, bread, and cereals with a whole grain as the first ingredient.
Some examples of whole grains are:
- Whole-wheat flour;
- Whole oats;
- Whole rye;
- And quinoa.
Limit starchy vegetables, too, such as potatoes, peas, and corn. Carbohydrates should take up no more than a quarter of your plate.
4. Make Dessert The Exception, Not The Rule
Sweets have become a mainstay in the Western diet—doughnuts in the morning, office birthday cake in the afternoon, and ice cream after dinner. But too much sugar is dangerous for people with diabetes.
“With diabetes, the concern is glucose —sugar in your blood“, Arevalo says. “So, the more sugar you eat, the worse your condition is going to get.”
Uncontrolled blood glucose can lead to complications, including nerve damage, kidney disease, and vision problems.
But that doesn’t mean sugar is completely off-limits. “A piece of cake on your birthday or a few bites of a shared dessert when out with friends—that’s manageable“, she says. “But sweets should truly be a treat and not a mainstay.”
5. Monitor And Make Adjustments
Healthy eating with diabetes is all about balance. If you overeat or indulge in sweets at one meal, go lighter on the next one and up your activity.
“If you’re not insulin-dependent, even 30 minutes of walking every day can be enough to lower your blood sugars big-time“, Arevalo says.
Regularly monitoring your blood sugar can help you find a balance between eating and activity.