When thinking about healthy foods for diabetes control, words like restriction, bland or even boring may come to mind. However, in recent years, more data around diabetes and nutrition has indicated that this need not be the case. Controlling blood glucose in people managing diabetes does not have to be limiting, tasteless, or dull. There are many ways to include a variety of healthy, flavorful, and even sometimes indulgent foods into your routine.
Historically, some of the most common perceptions around controlling diabetes through diet included the need to use an array of engineered foods and beverages loaded with sugar substitutes. Many traditional, carbohydrate rich foods which form the staples of many cultural cuisines around the world became the target of industries marketing to people with diabetes. Foods such as bread, rice, pasta, noodles, pulses (beans, lentils, and peas), and to a certain extent even fruits were considered less desirable and were rarely to be consumed or altogether avoided. But as medical advancements, such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, have allowed for greater ease of managing blood glucose levels, the dietary restrictions of traditional diabetes management have also become more relaxed and inclusive.
Here are a few ideas for eating healthy with diabetes and improving blood glucose levels:
- Eat the Rainbow: by including more color in your day with a variety of non-starchy (higher water content), colorful vegetables and fruits, you are ensuring that you are getting the full range of vitamins (think A, B, C, E, K) and minerals (think iron, copper, selenium, zinc, magnesium, etc.) needed to keep you energized and fueled. Wise vegetable options include asparagus, beets, brussels sprouts, eggplant, bell peppers, greens (collards, kale, etc.) and onions to name a few. Suitable fruit choices can be anything from apples, avocado, blackberries, cantaloupe melon, kiwi, and papaya, to pineapple, strawberries, citrus (oranges, tangerines, etc.) and everything in between. While fresh produce is a great option, frozen, dried, and even canned fruits and vegetables offer lots of nutritional value as well. Be adventurous and mix up the ways you prepare fruits and vegetables by including raw, steamed, stir-fried, and roasted options into your day. The choices are bright and the healthy options limitless once you know what to look for.
- Lean Protein Sources: these foods, including both plant and animal sources, provide not only energy but the raw materials to build new cells and tissues while stabilizing blood glucose. Excellent choices with lower fat content include eggs, chicken (no skin), sirloin steak, pork tenderloin, low-fat and nonfat milk/yogurt/cheese, beans (kidney, black, pink, etc.), lentils, nuts and nut butters, edamame, and soy products (think tofu).
- Whole Grains: Don’t shy away from starchy carbohydrate foods like breads, cereals, rice, or even pasta. However, when you do make these choices, go for the whole grain options and be mindful of portion sizes and food combinations to keep your blood glucose in check. Whole grain foods are rich in fiber, a superstar carbohydrate with many health benefits including improved digestion, slower rise in blood glucose, prevention of constipation, and greater levels of satiety (that satisfying feeling of fullness). Moving beyond all that fabulous fiber, whole grain foods are also packed with protein, B vitamins, and minerals like copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Top picks in this group include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, wild rice, whole-grain corn, popcorn, quinoa, whole oats/oatmeal, and whole grain flours for baked goods (100% whole wheat, oat, amaranth or buckwheat flours). Products made with these grains range from cereals, flours, breads, muffins, crackers, pancake mixes, pastas, and even breadcrumbs to name a few. Get creative and use a new whole grain in soups, stews, muffins, or even breading for added texture and flavor.
Food should be satisfying and fun, not stressful and boring. Take control of your health by managing your diabetes with greater confidence and nutritional know-how by trying some of these tips. Your hemoglobin A1C levels will have never looked so good!