What can you eat when you have diabetes?

Individuals with type 2 diabetes often receive conflicting information, especially after their first diagnosis. All too often, people with diabetes think they need to avoid carbohydrates and other favorite foods in their diet. In reality, when you have diabetes, you should be able to eat anything you'd like, but in moderation.

The quantity and frequency of your foods, even healthy foods, matters. This article aims to give you specific, realistic tips on what foods to include when you have diabetes to help you create an eating plan that's right for you.

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The best bread when you have diabetes

You can still manage your blood sugar effectively if you're eating bread, toast, a bun, or a wrap. There are several varieties of nutritious bread for individuals with diabetes. When possible, go for those labeled 100% whole grain (or whole wheat), sprouted grain, high in fiber, or sourdough. If bread is labeled "multi-grain," read the ingredients for whole grains used and check the fiber content (look for a few grams of fiber per slice.)

Several bread brands are available on the market that is lower in calories and carbs. Some varieties like cloud bread or cauliflower-based bread are examples. In addition, you can find "thin" or "skinny" bagels, bread, or sandwich thins, which also tend to have fewer calories and carbs. Whole-grain bread, wraps, and buns should contain at least two grams of fiber or more per serving. The amount of fiber is listed in the "Nutrition Facts" section of the food label.

Best fruits for people with diabetes

One other myth that individuals with diabetes may hear is that fruit is off-limits and bad for your blood sugar. Not true! Fruit provides vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients beneficial for blood sugar management and overall health. Fruit juice, fruit cocktail, and canned or frozen fruit packed in syrup or sugar may raise blood sugar.

Of all the fruits, berries, including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, have the lowest sugar content. Kiwi, citrus fruit, melon, apples, bananas, pears, peaches, plums, grapes, and nectarines can also be included in your diet, though serving sizes may vary depending on the type of fruit consumed. Dried fruit such as apricots, dates, mangoes, raisins, or prunes have more concentrated sugar, so serving sizes are smaller. Think of these like candy instead of fruit.

Best snacks for people with diabetes

When deciding what kinds of snacks to eat when you have diabetes, consider your food preferences and what you enjoy eating. Eating foods that contain fiber and protein may help keep blood sugar levels in check. For example, pair an apple with string cheese or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg.

Including snacks that are lower in carbs between meals is best to help prevent elevated blood sugar levels before meals. Items such as veggies with hummus or yogurt-based dip, low-fat string cheese, nuts or seeds, or turkey jerky are lower in carbs to help manage blood sugar spikes.

Other snacks could include sugar snap peas or pepper strips with avocado or yogurt dip, grape tomatoes, light cheese chunks, or almonds with a high fiber, low sugar cold cereal (such as shredded wheat or bran Chex). Edamame (green soybeans), nuts, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds are other tasty snacks for individuals with diabetes that have fewer carbs, fat, and sodium than chips.

Other healthy meal choices for diabetes

When it comes to managing your blood sugar, health is in your hands! Making meals at home allows you to take control of the ingredients to manage your blood sugar better. Unwanted ingredients such as added sugar, salt, or excess fat can be limited when creating meals at home. Eating at home helps with portion control and food costs, too.

Be sure to include fresh foods in their whole form to obtain adequate fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in your diet that are necessary for the best health. Use whole-grain bread and other grains, including brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, farro, and other high fiber grains. Make homemade chicken nuggets instead of processed ones to limit the fat and sodium in your meals. Have baked or mashed potatoes in place of French fries.

Choose whole fruit in place of juice for more fiber and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that aid in disease prevention). Choose fresh or frozen fruit packed without added sugar. Include lots of colorful vegetables when possible. These are low in calories and carbohydrates but a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fresh or frozen are welcome!

Protein sources include beef, fish, pork, poultry, eggs, tofu, plain yogurt, and cheese. Baking, broiling, or grilling are healthier cooking methods than deep frying. Keep in mind that breading will add unnecessary carbohydrates to your meals! Beans, peas, and lentils provide protein, carbs, and fiber in your diet. Because they're a carbohydrate source, treat them as a "grain" in your diet when meal planning. Typically, a half cup of cooked beans or lentils is a serving.

There's nothing wrong with fat. It's tasty and helps you feel satisfied! However, large portions can make managing blood sugars and weight challenging. Try smaller amounts when eating or cooking with fats (one tablespoon is a service). In general, choosing plant-based liquid fats like natural peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olive, canola, and avocado oil is beneficial for cholesterol management over animal fats like lard and butter. Choose mustard, hummus, or guacamole for condiments and vinegar-based dressings for salads to help keep your fat portions and calories in check.

How to use the Plate Method?

The Plate Method is an excellent way to plan meals. Make half of your plate vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or leafy greens, one-quarter of it a starchy food like potatoes, rice, pasta, and one-quarter of it lean protein like chicken, fish or lean pork, or beef. The Plate Method ensures a balance of nutrients in your diet to help manage blood sugar.

Here are the 8 key takeaways:

  • Eat foods you enjoy in moderation.
  • Choose whole-grain bread, cereals, and other grains when possible.
  • Include lots of vegetables and lower-sugar fruit in your diet.
  • Snack on foods low in calories and carbohydrates but provide fiber and protein.
  • Make meals at home to control ingredients and portion sizes.
  • Pick lean proteins when possible.
  • Choose low-fat cooking methods when preparing meals.
  • Use the plate method to plan balanced meals.

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