Eat to Beat Diabetes: 5 Simple Rules
So, you’ve just been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. What can you eat now?
About 1 in 10 of Americans have diabetes, with Type 2 Diabetics making up 90–95% of that population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese,” the CDC says.
A Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis and the nutritional changes necessary to manage it can feel overwhelming but that doesn’t have to be the case. By following some simple nutrition rules, you can eat to beat diabetes.
Take Control Back with Nutrition
So many of my patients who are newly diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes think that they can never enjoy food again or that they can never eat carbohydrates again, but nothing is further from the truth.
Following a diabetic diet is one of the most powerful tools Diabetics have to:
- Reverse or manage their diabetes
- Achieve a healthy body weight
- Achieve glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid goals; and
- Prevent diabetes complications
A Diabetic Diet is NOT Complicated
In its most simple terms, a diabetic diet is a healthy diet that focuses on consuming nutritious foods, being mindful of portion sizes, and focusing on eating at regular mealtimes.
Yup, that’s it.
Eat healthy, fiber-rich foods, be mindful of your portion sizes, and eat at regular mealtimes.
By following these three rules, you’ll be better equipped to meet your goal of maintaining good blood sugar control and while avoiding dreaded large spikes and drops in our blood sugar.
Understanding Blood Sugar and Insulin
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the sugar that circulates in the blood stream and is delivered to the body’s cells to provide energy.
Insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas, is used to help transport the blood glucose from the blood stream into the cell.
Those diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes either have limited insulin production or impaired insulin utilization, often referred to as insulin resistance resulting in high blood sugar levels.
Hyperglycemia — Blood Sugar Spike
When glucose sugar is unable to enter the cells to be burned and used as energy, it remains in the blood stream. High amounts of sugar in the blood stream is called hyperglycemia. Continuing to have this high amount of sugar in your blood can lead to blood vessel, nerve, and organ damage.
Hypoglycemia — Blood Sugar Drop
Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar is too low. Although not very common in Type 2 Diabetics, it is possible to have low blood sugar, defined as blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dl (or 4.0 mmol/L) as a result of excessive exercise or excessive use of blood-sugar-lowering medication.
You want to avoid spikes and drops in your blood sugar.
What should my blood sugar level be?
Type 2 Diabetes should aim for a blood glucose reading of between 70 to 130 mg/dL BEFORE meals and less than 180 mg/dL approximately 2 hours AFTER meals.
You can check your blood sugar using what is called a Glucometer. A Glucometer, or a glucose meter, is a small portable device used to check and monitor your blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Now that we’ve covered some Type 2 Diabetes basics, let’s move to nutrition.
Understanding Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats
Macronutrients, commonly referred to as “macros,” are the nutritive components of food needed in larger amounts, compared with micronutrients, which are needed by the body to maintain physiological systems and structures.
The 3 types of Macronutrients are: Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. They are essential to fuel the body and the brain. The foods that contain both good and bad carbohydrates include:
- Grains, breads, cereals and dried beans
- Starchy vegetables — corn, peas, and potatoes
- Fruit and fruit juices
- Milk and yogurt
- Sweets, sugar, soda and desserts
Protein plays an important role in providing structure for tissues including, but not limited to, organs, muscle, skin, nails, ligaments, tendons, and bones. The foods that contain protein include:
- Lean meats like chicken, fish, seafood and beef
- Tofu and tempeh
- Eggs whites
Fats play an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, hormone production, cell growth, and organ insulation. The foods that contain fats include:
- Healthy oils like olive oil and avocado oil
Understanding these nutrition basics will make it easier to follow the simple rules of maintaining a healthy diabetic diet.
The 5 Rules of Diabetic Nutrition
1. Eat 5–6 Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Although everyone will have a slightly different eating patterns that work best for their lifestyle, typically the rule of thumb is to have 3 meals — Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, with 2–3 small healthy snacks in-between.
This will help keep your blood sugar levels steady, allow for multiple opportunities for nourishment, and prevent you from going long periods of time without eating — often leading to overeating following mealtimes.
Ultimately, these smaller, more frequent, and balanced meals containing carbohydrates, protein, and fats will help prevent glucose from entering your blood stream quickly.
2. Eat Carbohydrates with a Protein OR a Fat
One way to slow the release of glucose into the blood stream is by consuming your carbohydrate source like bread, rice, pasta, or crackers with either a protein source or a fat source. Protein and fats digest in the body more slowly than carbohydrates which in turn slow the rate of blood glucose released in the blood stream.
Some examples of diabetic friendly snacks to control blood sugar include:
- Apples slices + almonds
- Celery sticks + peanut butter
- Crackers + cheese
- Non-fat Greek yogurt + berries
- 100% Whole Wheat slice of toast + turkey, lettuce, tomato, and avocado
3. Use the Diabetes Plate Method
The Diabetic Plate Method is very simple, and can be broken down into 4 easy steps:
- Start with a 9-inch dinner plate
- Fill ½ your plate with “non-starchy” vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower or a leafy green salad
- Fill ¼ of your plate with lean protein like chicken, fish, turkey, beans, or tofu
- Fill ¼ of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables like pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, and peas.
4. Choose the Right Foods
- Non-starchy vegetables: leafy greens, asparagus, zucchini broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
- Healthy fats: avocado, olive oil, nuts, eggs, chia seeds, flax seeds
- Heart Healthy Fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines
- Lean Meats: chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef
- Whole Grains: brown rice, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, quinoa barley, rye
5. Steer Clear of the Wrong Foods
- White bread, white pasta, and white rice
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and sodas. That includes green juices! — When making green juices, the fiber is stripped away, which helps slow the absorption of sugar in the body. Without the fiber, like in whole fruits, you are essentially drinking a sugar-bomb that will spike your blood sugar.
- Saturated and Trans fat — Typically found in processed snack foods and meat (check the nutrition label for this!)
- Sweetened breakfast cereals
- Fruit-flavored yogurt — You can avoid added sugars by purchasing plain yogurt and adding your own fiber-rich fruit likes berries
Even if you don’t have diabetes, chances are you have a friend or family member that is diagnosed with diabetes. Knowing these principles can help you control your blood sugar, consume a healthy diet, help you achieve a healthy weight, and serve as a support system for those who do have diabetes.
Here’s What I Tell my Patients…
Type 2 Diabetes is one of most prevalent chronic illnesses in the United States. Through proper nutrition, healthy eating habits, and balanced meals it’s possible to manage and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes.
Your success lies in both your mindset and your action!
When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to remember that everyone’s individual needs are different whether you’re a pre-diabetic, Type 2 Diabetic, have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), heart disease, or are just sensitive to certain foods.
Type 2 Diabetes is no different.
There is an optimal way of eating to help you take control of your diabetes and in turn live your fullest, longest, and most optimal life.
Jasmine El Nabli MS, RD
Creating healthy eating and lifestyle habits without the right tools, skills, and knowledge is often seen as a daunting task, but that’s where I come in. I am here to show you that becoming the happiest and healthiest version of yourself can be done!
Through the combination of a whole-body approach and scientific research, I empower and educate individuals on how to implement small changes into their daily life that in turn lead to sustainable and lifelong healthy habits.
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