While being diagnosed with diabetes probably means you will have to change your diet, it doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying food!
In fact, foods diabetics should eat are no different from the foods included in any healthy diet.
The key is to make smart, healthy choices, and watch your portions. Like anything else, it’ll take some practice.
But once you know what foods to avoid – and what foods you can eat – you’ll be healthier and still enjoying every bite.
Why Develop a Healthy Eating Plan for Diabetics?
Diabetes starts when your body can no longer make enough insulin to control your blood sugar levels. The result is blood sugar that is consistently too high. Which may not sound like a problem, but it is a very serious health condition.
If left untreated, diabetes can cause eye, skin, and nerve damage. It can make it difficult to control your blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, raising your risk for heart attack and stroke. Circulation issues can become severe enough that amputation of toes, feet, or even legs may become necessary.
And your first line of defense once you've been diagnosed with diabetes is your diet. The food a diabetic chooses to eat can help keep them healthier – or set them back and keep them sick.
What to Look for When Avoiding Foods
If you, or your loved one, has diabetes, understanding how foods react in the body can be helpful in deciding what foods stay in a diabetic’s diet and which ones go.
All carbohydrates break down into blood glucose. However, healthy carbs don’t cause the same kind of blood sugar spikes that unhealthy carbs do.
Fiber also helps control blood sugar levels, which is another good reason to choose healthy, fiber-filled carbohydrates. The American Diabetes Association suggests 45-60 g of healthy carbohydrates per meal to help regulate blood sugar.
Since diabetes increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure, avoid foods that increase those risks as well. Foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and sodium should be strictly limited – but that’s true for all of us, not just people with diabetes!
And what about sugar?
You don’t have to completely avoid sugar just because you have diabetes. The key is to remember that carbohydrates act like sugars in your body.
If you’re going to splurge and have a little sugar, you need to balance that by skipping the baked potato.
Now, that doesn't mean that you can have cake instead of whole wheat pasta every night. Sugar should stay a small treat, not an all-the-time occurrence. But the occasional indulgence, when balanced by the rest of a meal, is okay.
So What Foods Should Diabetics Avoid? And What Can You Eat Instead?
Here’s a short list of popular foods to avoid, along with equally tasty replacements.
Skip: French Fries (yes, even the sweet potato ones). Although potatoes are a healthy carb, by the time they are fried in oil, any health benefit they might have had is long gone. Even the added nutrition of a sweet potato can’t compete with how bad deep frying is for you.
Swap: Oven-baked “fries.” You might also know these as potato wedges. They fave all the nutritional value of a potato, all the flavor and satisfaction of a fry, without the unhealthy effects that come from coating in oil and frying them. Give a light spray with olive oil cooking spray to help crisp the edges, and season them with your favorite spices (just go easy on the salt if sodium is an issue).
Skip: Vegetables in butter, cheese, or cream sauce. Sadly, broccoli cheese soup really doesn't count as a vegetable. Like with French fries, the nutritional value of any vegetable is automatically negated once you bury it in a rich sauce.
Swap: Grilled veggies. Get flavor and satisfaction from grilling or broiling vegetables instead. Cook them long enough that they start to brown – but not burn – for a delicious layer of flavor you've been missing. And you can even add a little pepper, or spice, to liven up the flavor a bit.
Skip: Canned Fruit in syrup – What could be easier than grabbing a can of fruit for a mid-day snack? Be careful though, because fruit packed in syrup skyrockets the amount of sugar. Suddenly, your healthy, smart snack isn't so heathy or smart.
Swap: Fresh fruit. It’s not that much harder, messier, or more expensive to grab a fresh piece of fruit for your snack. And if that’s still too much prep work or too sticky, go ahead and grab a can of fruit. Just make sure it’s packed in juice, not syrup.
Skip: Fried Fish/Chicken. Unfortunately, frying anything, including fish and chicken, makes it unhealthy. First, the frying adds fat and cholesterol. Then the batter itself adds more carbs. The truth is fried fish and chicken is hard to work into any healthy diet.
Swap: Oven “fried” fish and chicken. Instead of batter, coat the fish or chicken with panko or whole wheat cereal. Season it the same way you would season your fried fish batter, and you've got a healthy fisherman’s platter worth eating.
Skip: Sour cream. You know the routine. Fat. Cholesterol. Calories. 1 ounce of sour cream has 54 calories, 1 g of carbohydrate, 6 g of fat, 15 mg of cholesterol, and only 1 g of protein. Yikes.
Swap: Fat free Greek yogurt. Instead, get that same creamy, tangy pleasure with fat-free Greek yogurt. That same 1 ounce of fat free Greek yogurt has 16 calories, 1 g of carbohydrate, 10 mg of cholesterol, 0 fat, and 3 g of protein.
Now you can use this list as a short guideline to take control of your health. Planning food around diabetes doesn't have to make you miserable. You don’t have to resign yourself to bland, boring meals. Talk with your doctor and nutritionist, make your swaps, and enjoy delicious meals – all while controlling your diabetes.