What can I eat if I have diabetes?
A diabetes diagnosis can be a shock, leaving you wondering what you can still eat and stay healthy. Does this mean no more cookies? Michelle Stancil, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, answered some common questions.
Why is it important to manage how you eat when you have diabetes?
When you have diabetes, your body is not able to process sugar from food into energy like it should, which causes the sugar to build up in your blood. This elevated blood sugar can affect every part of your body. It can affect your brain, making you susceptible to strokes. It can affect your heart, increasing your chances of a heart attack. It can damage your kidneys, causing kidney failure. And it can affect your feet and hands, leading to circulation problems, slow-healing wounds or even limb amputation.
The good news is diabetes can be managed and your blood sugar levels can be controlled through diet, exercise and medication.
What types of diets are best for someone who has diabetes?
“Everyone wants to know what they can eat,” said Stancil. “There are many meal plans available, including the Mediterranean diet, plant-based or vegetarian eating, as well as low or very low carbohydrate diets.”
A great place to start is the plate method. Using a 9-inch plate, fill half of it with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with a protein source, and another quarter of the plate with a starch source.
“For those who want an individual meal plan, medical nutrition therapy can be helpful,” Stancil said. With medical nutrition therapy, the person with diabetes, their provider and a registered dietitian review lab work, medications and health history and incorporate food preferences into an individualized meal plan like a nutrition prescription.
“When someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, that’s a great time to ask for a referral for medical nutrition therapy because there are so many questions,” Stancil said.
Some other good times to consider medical nutrition therapy are at your annual visit, if you have a change in your health, such as if you develop neuropathy, or if there’s a life transition, such as moving from adolescence to adulthood. “If you’re transitioning to parenthood or retirement, those are some other good times to consider medical nutrition therapy,” Stancil added.
Is the keto diet or intermittent fasting safe for someone with diabetes?
The ketogenic diet focuses on high-fat, low-carbohydrate food. “To do the keto diet or intermittent fasting safely, you definitely want to have a conversation with your provider,” Stancil said. “There may be some additional lab work or medication modifications that need to be made.”
Is artificial sweetener a better option if you have diabetes?
Reducing or avoiding sugar sweetened beverages is helpful if you have diabetes. Many people do this by using sugar substitutes.
“Water is better, but sugar substitutes and sugar alcohols have been approved by the FDA for consumption by people with diabetes,” Stancil said. “It just boils down to balance and moderation with meal planning.”
Other healthy eating tips
Here are some additional quick tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help manage your blood sugar levels:
- Eat at regular times, and don’t skip meals.
- Choose foods lower in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and salt.
- Track your food, drink, and physical activity.
- Drink water instead of juice or soda.
- Limit alcoholic drinks.
- For a sweet treat, choose fruit.
- Control your food portions.
You can enjoy the food you like to eat, but moderation is the key. Just make sure you make healthy choices most of the time.
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