Food for Diabetics: What to Eat and What to Avoid
The question of what would pass as the perfect ‘healthy’ food for diabetics is one that’s worth answering appropriately.
As we covered in our recent article on diabetes mellitus, there is more than one type of diabetes.
On top of this, everyone has a different constitution, so there is no cut and dried approach to eating right if you’re diabetic.
Worthy of mention among the recommended food for diabetics include but aren’t limited to fruits and veggies as well as some proven healthy snacks as you’ll get to see later in this article.
You’ll already know well that you have to pay constant attention to what you eat (and where your blood sugar is at), but if you’re doing the right things consistently, you shouldn’t have to focus on it obsessively.
The aim of the game is to keep your blood glucose (sugar) levels balanced while managing your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Surely the last thing you need is high blood pressure (hypertension) as well.
If you take care of your diet, you’ll also be taking care of your waistline (which may put type 2 diabetes in remission) and lowering your risk of the unpalatable diabetes-related complications mentioned in our previous article.
Type 1 diabetics have to work the hardest to keep blood sugar levels stable, and that means estimating carbs and insulin intake before eating.
Although that’s annoying and challenging, it can be made easier by eating mindfully. So whether you’ve got type 1, type 2, or even one of the less common diabetes types, you can benefit from our tips on food for diabetics.
Food for diabetics: What to eat habitually
#1. Healthy carbohydrates
Even the healthiest carbs will affect your blood sugar levels, so be sure you know your carbs (as well as how many you should be eating according to your type).
As a rough guide, you should be eating between 45 to 60 grams of carbs for each meal, and between 15 and 30 grams in your snacks.
These are the kind of carbs you can chow down without spiking your blood sugar, provided you don’t overindulge:
- Whole grains: brown rice, buckwheat and whole oats
- Pulses: Lentils, beans and chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds
#2. Fruit and vegetables
Obviously this applies to everyone since they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibre, but diabetics should fill up on these as part of meals and snacks alike.
Don’t worry about fruit sugars – the naturally occurring sugars in fruit don’t spike your blood glucose the way refined sugars in cakes, sweets and biscuits do.
So fruit is a healthy food for diabetics, provided you’re consuming whole fruits and not fruit juices (which have added sugar a lot of the time).
It’s also good to eat fruit over the course of a day rather than gorging on it all at once.
#3. Healthy fats (MUFAs and PUFAs)
Healthy fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetables, nuts, seeds and oily fish. You can get it in vegetable oils like sunflower and olive oil too.
However, go easy on the oils in favour of grilling, steaming and baking foods from time to time.
MUFAs and PUFAs are much better for you than the saturated fats found in animal products, which (again) are not a good food for diabetics as they can push you down that slippery slope toward heart disease.
#4. Healthy snacks
At the risk of sounding like parrots, we can’t emphasize enough the benefits of fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts as healthy food for diabetics.
When you feel like stuffing cookies down by the bucket load, remember that this is going to have repercussions.
Fruit is the one if you fancy something sweet, and if you’re just peckish, any of those will sort the problem.
Good snacks for diabetics include avocados, hard-boiled eggs, almonds, hummus, apple slices with peanut butter, edamame beans, roasted chickpeas, or black bean salad.
Wholegrain crackers, popcorn, protein bars and trail mix are also good (but look out for the sugar content).
Meat and fish eaters might enjoy tuna salad or beef sticks (beef jerky).
Food for diabetics: What to avoid or moderate
#1. Low fibre junk foods
Low fibre foods such as white bread, white rice, pasta and processed cereals could be considered junk by anyone’s standards… and they’re just not good for you as a diabetic, since they’re also high in carbs.
Even when you’re pushed for time and reaching for convenience foods, it’s wise to limit your intake of these as much as possible.
Sorry, but salt is not a good food for diabetics. It needs to be thrown on the scrap heap.
In particular, bleached, dried table salt – that has no nutritional value and can actually skyrocket your chances of hypertension.
The end results of that aren’t pretty: stroke and heart disease. No thanks.
You can probably get away with a teaspoon of salt per day, but make sure it’s the healthy kind.
Himalayan salt is much better than the standard varieties on your supermarket shelves.
Oh, and don’t forget the stuff that’s already been tossed into your ready meals – you’ll need to count that too if you’re not making your own meals from scratch.
If you are, we salute you… and we have one more food for diabetics tip for you: use spices to flavour instead of salt.
#3. Red meats and processed meats
Animal products in general are linked to heart disease and cancer.
Red meat is not a healthy food for diabetics.
It’s pretty bad for all of us, actually: studies on high intake of red and processed meats found links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. So if you’re already diabetic, the equation isn’t difficult to solve.
If you’re diabetic you’ll need to cut down at the very least.
Change the red meat up with beans and lentils, omega-3 rich oily fish, nuts (unsalted, mind you) and, if you really want to eat meat, lean meats like poultry.
Beans and lentils contain lots of fibre too, which should keep you feeling full and keep steak lust to a minimum.
#4. Refined and added sugars
It may be a no-brainer but we’re going to reiterate anyway.
Refined sugar is one of the most addictive substances known to man and it’s simply not good for any of us.
It’s probably the worst food for diabetics though, since it sends your blood sugar through the roof.
As a diabetic you’ll need to phase out any dependency on such sugars, by ditching the fizzy drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices.
Cutting the added sugar out of your teas and coffees will also do you good.
If you’re a sucker for sweet things, why not switch it up for xylitol or stevia sweeteners?
Stay away from the chemical, artificial ones though – they’ll just make you crave sugar even more and they do all sorts of nasty things to your body.
Even if you’re a fan of swinging from the rafters and slurring, your diabetes really won’t like it.
It’s time to either kick booze to the curb completely or consume it in sensible amounts.
Not only is alcohol high in calories, it doesn’t really mix well with insulin and other diabetic medications, instead causing a higher risk of hypoglycemia. So, it’s better to take it easy.
To summarize, if you commit to eating the right food for diabetics you should feel much better, more of the time.
A lot of it is common sense in that healthy food is a sensible choice for everyone, but diabetics have to be extra careful not to let diet progress their condition and lead to other undesirable conditions.