“In fact,” says the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), “there is nothing you can’t eat. But you need to know that the foods you eat affect your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose).”
That said, it’s not advisable to see how far you can push it by drinking high-sugar soda every day. There is a strong element of common sense built into the “how.”
“Portion control is the biggest component to this,” says Lauren Elkins, a dietitian at Marina Del Rey Hospital in Los Angeles. “Limit frequency of simple sugars – cakes, cookies, breads, crackers, sweets. Choose whole grain products with high fiber, dark leafy greens, lean protein, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.”
According to the AADE, a good meal plan should include complex carbohydrates from whole grain bread, oatmeal, and potatoes. Examples include fiber found in beans, fruits, and vegetables; protein from fish, chicken, turkey, eggs or egg whites, and Select or Choice beef trimmed of fat.
When it comes to vegetables, the more the better, especially dark green, leafy ones. Limited amounts of heart-healthy fats – from olive, peanut, or canola oil, and walnuts, almonds, and flax seed – are good choices as well.
Once you have an idea of the types of foods your diet should include, an occasional cupcake as a treat isn’t going to harm you, particularly if you get in the habit of counting the carbohydrates you eat every day.
“Carb counting is a great way to manage your lifestyle and keep yourself in check,” Elkins says. “It requires you to educate yourself on portions and read labels on all products to monitor the total carb intake. People dedicated to their health and proper nutrition intake can be very successful in managing diabetes.”
In fact, through a change in diet, weight loss, and regular exercise, many people with diabetes have reported that their blood sugar levels have dropped to pre-diabetes levels. Some, on the advice of their doctors, supplement those good habits with a drug called metformin, which also helps drop blood sugar levels into a much safer zone.
What you know about your food goes a long way toward how it affects your diabetes. Reading food labels, for example, not only helps you count carbs but also tells you whether a particular food is high in fiber and low in harmful saturated or trans fats.
The foods you have identified as healthy – a professional diabetes educator like Elkins can help you – need to be part of an eating plan. Your plan will have consistent meals every 4 hours and balance carbs throughout the day. “You don’t want your blood sugar to spike or crash,” Elkins says. “Think nutrient-dense foods and small carbohydrate portions.”
The AADE, for example, suggests that your protein portions should be the size of a deck of cards.
Everyone who has changed his or her meal habits will tell you it’s not a piece of cake. It can be overwhelming and confusing. The old proverb of how to eat an elephant applies; start with simple and realistic goals. Accomplishing those will keep you motivated and determined.
To help you keep going the AADE offers a flyer that includes recommendations, tips, and a worksheet.
“Living with diabetes doesn’t mean feeling deprived,” the American Diabetes Association (ADA) stresses. Just knowing what decisions to make will make your worry dissipate.
The ADA also offers a free 12-month information and self-help program. It includes informational packets to help the newly diagnosed live well with diabetes and a monthly e-newsletter. Your closest hospital probably offers diabetic education classes; you can also check out the American Diabetes Association for education materials or local consultations.
Use those resources. They are prepared by professionals who understand the challenges involved in controlling diabetes, and they try to make it easier for you.
Probably, the first thing to learn is that good foods for people with diabetes are good foods for people without it. Meaning healthy foods in the right amount – and that’s good advice for anybody.
March 25, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN