Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | March 12, 2012

Healthy Eating (and an Occasional Treat) for People with Diabetes

Healthy Eating (and an Occasional Treat) for People with Diabetes

If you’re diabetic or care about someone who is, you have probably heard a lot about the restrictions of a diabetic diet. Whether it’s that you can never give in to your sweet tooth or that you have to prepare a special meal that’s different from what your family is eating, it can seem like having diabetes means the end of good eating. But there is a way you can eat tasty foods and still keep your blood glucose levels on target.

Diabetes Super Foods

Ever wish there were a magic list of foods that would leave you feeling full without spiking your blood glucose? Wish granted! The American Diabetes Association lists these 10 “superfoods.” Each of these foods has a low glycemic index (has less of an impact on your blood glucose) and provides important nutrients. Include a variety of these super foods in your diet:

  • Beans provide about one-third of the fiber you need each day in just a half cup. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium. Some examples are kidney, pinto, navy and black beans. Dried beans are also an economical way to stock your pantry. Beware of canned beans, though, as they can add unwanted sodium to your diet.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale, are low in calories and carbohydrates, so do not be afraid to pile your plate!
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits, provide fiber and vitamin C.
  • Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes and are packed with vitamin A.
  • Berries, whether strawberries, blueberries or another variety, are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. A parfait made with berries and low-fat yogurt can satisfy your desire for something sweet.
  • Tomatoes can be eaten raw, added to soups and stews or made into pasta sauce. However you eat them, you will be getting an extra dose of iron, vitamin C and vitamin E in your diet.
  • Fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, is a great choice. Aim for six to nine ounces of broiled or baked fish each week. Breaded or fried fish does not count!
  • Whole grains are a great alternative to processed grains like white bread or pasta. Whole grains contain nutrients like magnesium, chromium and folate, just to name a few.
  • Nuts provide healthy fat and keep you feeling full longer. Be careful though, since there can be a lot of calories in a small amount.
  • Fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of calcium. Fortified dairy products are a good source of vitamin D, as well.

As you can see from this list of super foods, many healthy options fit into a diabetic diet. For an even healthier diet, remember these tips:

  • If eating meat, choose lean meats and remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose nonfat dairy, like skim milk and nonfat yogurt.
  • Choose water or calorie-free drinks instead of soda, sweet tea or other sugary drinks.

Caving in to Cravings    

Everyone experiences food cravings from time to time. The best way to deal with them is to make room in your meal plan to eat your crave-worthy foods occasionally. If you were diagnosed with diabetes many years ago, you may have been told to avoid sugar in your diet. Now, however, experts agree that you can substitute small amounts of sugar for other carbohydrate-containing foods and still meet your glucose goals.

So if it is a sweet treat you crave, you may be in luck. For example, if you want  a cookie with your lunch, substituting the white bread on your sandwich for low-carb bread may help you stay within your carb limits for the meal. The total amount of carbohydrates you eat has more of an effect on your blood glucose than the type, so just be sure to adjust your total carb intake to make room for the treat you crave. Talk to your doctor about your own particular condition before making any changes in your diet.

Sweet as Sugar: The Real Story on Sugar Substitutes

If you just cannot live without sweets, consider foods sweetened with sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners are 200 to 600 times as sweet as sugar and usually do not contain carbs, so they will not affect your blood glucose.

Sugar alcohols are natural sugar substitutes. Food manufacturers are not required to list these in the nutrition facts label, but you can find them in the ingredients list. Sugar alcohols end in “ol,” like maltitol and sorbitol. Carbs from sugar alcohols are included in the total carbohydrate amount on the nutrition facts label. The body doesn’t absorb half the carbohydrate in sugar alcohols, so if you are counting carbs, you can subtract half the sugar alcohol grams from the total carb grams.

A Balanced Diabetic Diet

Many healthy foods can be a part of a diabetic diet. You can even curb cravings by including a sweet treat now and then. As always, a healthy diet means healthy portion sizes—even if you are eating a sugar-free food.

As always, talk to your doctor or dietitian about what foods are right for you.

With a doctor’s guidance and common sense, most diabetics can indulge their cravings once in a while.


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