The Diabetic Diet: Food Is Not the Enemy

The Diabetic Diet Food Is Not the Enemy

It's estimated there are around 422 million people living with diabetes in the world today - a number that is expected to grow significantly in coming years. This frightening trend is partially due to lifestyle choices and diets heavy in sugar and other unhealthy foods.

If you have diabetes, watching what you eat is by far one of the most important ways of staying healthy. The goal should be to avoid spikes in your blood sugar (blood glucose levels). Some people interpret this as needing to completely avoid sugar and carbohydrates, which isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, people typically need 40-60% of their calories to come from carbohydrates. It’s the amount and consistency of carbohydrates in a diabetic diet that makes the biggest difference in controlling blood glucose levels.

As a diabetic, you can and should eat a wide variety of foods. So instead of focusing on eliminating certain foods from your diet, emphasize increasing vegetables and fruits, limiting added fats and sugars, and paying close attention to portion size. For example, it’s probably okay to eat peaches, melons, and dried fruits if you are being carefully not to eat too much. These basic healthy eating practices are key, along with establishing a regular exercise routine. Establishing lasting healthy behaviors is much more important than focusing on how much weight you need to lose right now, and the foods you should eliminate from your diet.

There are certain foods you should be more careful about if you are diabetic. Again, this doesn’t mean you should entirely eliminate these foods from your diet; it just means you should be more mindful about how often you eat them, and watching portion sizes more carefully.

Here are a few examples, along with suggestions for what you could try instead.

Fatty Meat

Meat is a good source of protein, which should be included as part of a balanced diet. However, people with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease, which means they should avoid eating fatty meats such as red meat, processed meat that is high in sodium, or any meat that is fried or breaded.

Seafood and chicken are a great source of protein and are often lower in saturated fats. Also consider plant-based protein such as peas, beans, and soy.

RELATED: How the Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

White Rice

A diet high in wholegrain foods – such as healthy rice options – has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. White rice and some pasta are particularly high in carbohydrates, which can easily cause a spike in blood sugar.

In fact, even if you aren’t diabetic, white rice can actually increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, researchers showed that participants who ate more than five servings of white rice per week increased their risk of type-2 diabetes by 11 percent.

If you love the taste and texture of rice, try whole grain rice, brown rice, or even Basmati rice. These rice varieties are more nutritious and don't lead to the same blood sugar spikes as white rice.

Breakfast Pastries

We all occasionally hear the call of toaster pastries, doughnuts, and bakery delights in the morning, but if you’re diabetic and want to keep your blood sugar levels in check, use caution. These sweets tend to be brimming with extra sugar and they're usually made from processed white flour, which means they're high in carbohydrates and sodium.

Remember portion control. It may be okay to have a couple bites of that maple bar, but avoid eating the entire thing. Instead, try a whole-grain English muffin or brown-rice cake that's been topped with low-sugar jam and peanut butter. This combination offers the sweetness you crave, without the added fat, sugar, carbohydrates, or sodium.

Melons and Bananas

Fruits like melons and bananas are packed with fiber and essential vitamins, making them very healthy. However, some fruits like melons, bananas, and peaches contain more natural sugar than others, which is what diabetics need to watch out for. Eating too much of these sweet fruits can cause blood-sugar spikes in your system.

If you're craving something fresh and healthy, try grapefruit, apples, and berries that are lower in natural sugars.

Fruit Smoothies

A delicious smoothie might seem like a great idea for quick refreshment, but may not be a great idea if you suffer from diabetes. A large smoothie can contain up to 92 grams of carbohydrates and 510 calories. They’re also full of sugar – in some cases, more than what you would find in a can of soda.

If you really want a smoothie, try making one at home using fresh fruits and vegetables. This way you can control every ingredient going into the drink, and you can even add extra vegetables like spinach and kale for a superfood boost.

This is also another great example for portion control awareness. If the craving for a tasty peach smoothie is just too much, try only drinking a little and sharing the rest.

Trail Mix

The trail mix varieties found at your local grocery store typically contain a mixture of milk chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts. The nuts are a great source of protein, but only in moderation. The dehydration process used to make dried fruit generally causes the natural sugar in the fruit to become very concentrated, which can lead to unwanted blood sugar spikes. Again, portion control. We can’t say that enough.

If you're looking for a simple snack, try making your own low carb trail mix with walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut, and peanuts. Eating a handful of this homemade trail mix each day may also help to reduce problems with blood glucose.

French Fries

The American Diabetes Association suggests that even though starchy foods like potatoes are a source of fiber, vitamins and, minerals, they should be avoided when mixed with added sodium or fat. That’s pretty much the definition of a French fry.

Trading your French fries for a side salad may not seem glamorous, but it’s the best way to watch your health, and your waistline. Even in places were French fries are the normal side dish, it's usually possible to ask for a change, and most restaurants will be happy to meet your requirements.

Diabetic Diet: The Bottom Line

Eating healthy can be a delicious and rewarding experience. Food is not the enemy. In fact, if you are diabetic, it’s even okay to have the occasional dessert. Just remember that most healthy people don’t eat more than one small dessert a day, and allow 150-200 “discretionary” calories once in a while. So instead of completely avoiding that smoothie, save part of it for later.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to feel deprived all the time if you practice mindfulness techniques. By learning to experience dining with all of your senses, enjoyment of food is substantially enhanced. Such techniques help to indulge the need for culinary satisfaction and actually make it a lot easier to stop eating when the time is right.

Try this. Eat a small piece of chocolate while slowly sipping a cup of hot mint tea, savoring every sip. This experience can be enjoyed much more than gobbling down a maple bar (25 calories vs. 350 calories). This also helps you to appreciate and enjoy healthy foods as much or more than decadent ones.