Diabetes is a growing problem in the United States. Diabetes is a condition in which sugar levels in the blood are elevated. A related, and often undiagnosed condition called pre-diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to reach an official diabetes diagnosis.
Left untreated, high blood sugar, or glucose, levels can cause complications such as tingling of the fingers and toes, blurred vision, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease or even loss of limbs.
The good news is that both diabetes and pre-diabetes are very manageable. With proper diet and exercise, many people live long healthy lives by controlling blood glucose levels.
Kelly Cantrell, RD, a Certified Diabetes Educator®, at EvergreenHealth, says, “A key factor in controlling diabetes is balancing your meals. As long as you focus on portion sizes, most foods can be included in your meal plan.”
Kelly states that healthy eating for diabetes is the same as for the general population: choose a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal.
Carbohydrates include whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables and milk. People with diabetes must be especially careful about the amount of carbohydrates they eat because they directly raise the blood glucose.
Good carbohydrate management can allow people with diabetes to choose a variety of foods without causing increased blood glucose.
“You must keep your carbs in check, not eat too many at one time, and make sure they’re spaced throughout the day so you don’t spike your blood sugar,” she says.
No particular diet will be the right one for everyone with diabetes.
People who are insulin treated need to make healthy food choices and match their insulin dosage to the amount of carbohydrates they plan to eat, says Kelly. They can include a variety of foods in their diet and keep blood glucose in balance when they learn to use an appropriate pre-meal dose of insulin.
For people with all types of diabetes, Kelly says, it is important to follow a healthy diet and exercise program as well as maintain a healthy weight.
“Lifestyle changes, eating right, and exercising, are the first steps,” says Kelly. “It really is a self-managed disease.”
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends meeting with a Certified Diabetes Educator or registered dietitian (RD) to determine the best plan to manage your diabetes.
Many approaches can be effective – some follow low-carb plans, while others prefer a plant-based diet.
Research has found that plant-based diets are particularly effective, despite being high in carbohydrates, because they are generally high in fiber and low in fat.
Other meal patterns include the Plate Method (similar to the new federal ChooseMyPlate guidelines) or carbohydrate counting.
Carb guidelines vary from person to person, but women should generally get about 30-45 grams of carbs per meal, men about 45-60 grams.
Kelly suggests spacing meals throughout the day, starting with breakfast.
She doesn’t recommend a particular diet but encourages people to choose lean protein sources, complex carbs and whole fruits and vegetables.
It is helpful to avoid highly processed starches and juices.
Complex carbs, like legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, have more fiber and take longer for your body to digest, resulting in a slow and steady release of sugar into the blood.
Simple carbs, like white flour products and sugars, break down quickly and can cause a spike in blood sugar.
An individualized diabetes meal plan can help you determine the approach that’s best for you. EvergreenHealth offers diabetes management programs and classes to help you on this journey.
The American Diabetes Association offers these tips on making healthy food choices for those with diabetes or blood sugar issues and their families:
The ADA particularly recommends the following 10 “superfoods” to superpower your eating plan:
Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.