Avoiding or limiting fatty desserts and sugary alcoholic beverages will help you keep your blood sugar balanced.
A healthy type 2 diabetes diet includes healthy carbs like fruits, veggies, and whole grains; low-fat dairy; heart-healthy fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines; and good fats like nuts, avocados, and olive oil. But feeling your best when you have diabetes isn't just about choosing the right foods, it’s also about limiting or avoiding foods that can spike your blood sugar and increase your risk for 1 last update 11 Jul 2020 of complications.A healthy type 2 diabetes diet includes healthy carbs like fruits, veggies, and whole grains; low-fat dairy; heart-healthy fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines; and good fats like nuts, avocados, and olive oil. But feeling your best when you have diabetes isn't just about choosing the right foods, it’s also about limiting or avoiding foods that can spike your blood sugar and increase your risk of complications.
“It’s all about moderation and making careful food choices for overall balanced blood sugar control,” says Amy Kimberlain, RD, CDE, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Wellness Dietitian at Baptist Health South Florida. “You want to eat a balanced, healthful diet, and avoid refined carbohydrates, which raise blood sugar. You also want to avoid the saturated fat found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy, and fried foods, as people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of getting heart disease.”
A healthy diet for diabetes will also help you manage your weight or lose weight if you’re overweight, which is important, because losing just 10 to 15 pounds may help you prevent and manage high blood sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Research shows that losing some weight can also help improve insulin sensitivity, meaning you’re less resistant and better able to respond to insulin, Kimberlain explains. A small study published in June 2017 in Nutrition & Diabetes showed sustained enhanced insulin sensitivity in successful female weight-loss maintainers compared with those who had no history of weight loss.
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Skip Sugary Foods Like Sweets and Soda
Foods that are made primarily of processed sugar, like many desserts, candy, and soda, are considered low-quality carbohydrates. Not only are these foods lacking in nutritional value, they can also cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar, says Kimberlain. They can also lead to weight problems. “Refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar," she explains. “Your body then produces extra insulin to bring your blood sugar down. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. With more circulating insulin in your bloodstream, your body converts the carbohydrates to fat and stores them — on your buttocks, thighs, abdomen, and hips.”
Instead of sweets, reach for delicious fruits like apples, berries, pears, or oranges. These high-quality carbohydrates contain plenty of fiber to help slow down the absorption of glucose, so they’re a far better choice for blood-sugar control. Pair fruit with a high-protein food, such as peanut butter, for even better blood-sugar levels. One caveat: Even though fruit is healthy, it too raises blood sugar, warns Kimberlain. “I always tell patients that timing is everything,” she says. “If you just had a meal two hours ago (which is when your blood sugar is at its peak), and now you have a piece of fruit, you will only raise your blood sugar even more.” It’s better to give your body time to return to a normal range, or opt for a hard-boiled egg or a handful of nuts (protein foods that won’t directly affect your blood sugar level), she suggests.
Sip on Flavored Seltzer Rather Than Fruit Juice
While fiber-rich whole fruits are considered healthy carbohydrates for people with diabetes, fruit juice is another story. People with diabetes should avoid drinking juice, even 100 percent fruit juice, says Kimberlain. Fruit juice contains more vitamins and minerals than soda and other sugary drinks, but the problem is that juices have concentrated amounts of fruit sugar and therefore cause your blood sugar to spike quickly. Plus, sipping fruit juice doesn’t fill you up the same way that eating a piece of fruit does, because juice doesn't have the same fiber that's found in whole fruit, she adds. If you want a refreshing drink, go for zero-calorie plain or naturally flavored seltzer with a spritz of lemon or lime. Infusing water with cucumber and mint is nice too, suggests Kimberlain.
Snack on Fresh Fruit Instead of Dried Fruit
Although dried fruit contains fiber and many nutrients, the dehydration process removes the water, so it's easier to eat more — think about how many more raisins than grapes you can eat. While snacking on raisins or dried apricots is better for you than eating a cookie, it’ll still send your blood sugar soaring. Skip the dried fruit and instead choose whole fruits that are high in fiber, which cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose (but remember to eat fruit at a time when your blood sugar isn’t already at its peak, says Kimberlain).
Replace White Carbs With Whole Grains
Big offenders on the low-quality carb list are refined starches, like white rice and anything made with white flour, including white bread and pasta. These “white” carbs act a lot like sugar once your body begins to digest them, which means they will increase your glucose levels. Replace white carbs with whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, barley, oatmeal, high-fiber cereals, and whole-grain breads, for carbs that break down more slowly the 1 last update 11 Jul 2020 and have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar. “The first ingredient should say a whole grain —whether it’s whole grain or whole rye, it should say ‘whole,’” explains Kimberlain.Big offenders on the low-quality carb list are refined starches, like white rice and anything made with white flour, including white bread and pasta. These “white” carbs act a lot like sugar once your body begins to digest them, which means they will increase your glucose levels. Replace white carbs with whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, barley, oatmeal, high-fiber cereals, and whole-grain breads, for carbs that break down more slowly and have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar. “The first ingredient should say a whole grain —whether it’s whole grain or whole rye, it should say ‘whole,’” explains Kimberlain.
Favor Low-Fat Over Full-Fat Dairy
You’ve probably heard that the saturated fats in dairy products can raise your LDL cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. But saturated fats may cause yet another serious problem for people with diabetes — research has found that eating a diet high in saturated fat may worsen insulin resistance. Do your best to avoid full-fat dairy products made with whole milk, such as cream, full-fat yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, and other full-fat cheeses. Look for reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products instead. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone should get no more than 5 to 6 percent of their total calories from saturated fat, and this guidance is even more important for people with type 2 diabetes, says Kimberlain. So if you consume 2,000 calories per day, that’s about 120 calories from saturated fat, or 13 grams.
Opt for Lean Proteins Over Fatty Cuts of Meat
People with type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid high-fat cuts of meat, such as regular ground beef, bologna, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and ribs, because like full-fat dairy, they’re high in saturated fats, explains Kimberlain. Saturated fats in meat raise cholesterol and promote inflammation throughout the body, and can also put people with diabetes at even greater risk for heart disease than the average person, since their risk is already elevated as a result of diabetes (people with type 2 diabetes may have other conditions that contribute to their risk for developing cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides, obesity, a lack of physical activity, poorly controlled blood sugars, or smoking, according to the American Heart Association). Instead of fatty cuts of meat, choose lean proteins, including skinless chicken and turkey, fish and shellfish, pork tenderloin, and lean beef. When it comes to ground beef, make sure you choose beef that’s at least 92 percent lean and 8 percent fat, advises Kimberlain.
Limit Packaged Snacks and Baked Goods
Aside from all the sugar, junky white flour, sodium, and preservatives they contain, packaged snacks and baked goods — like chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and snack cakes — often have unhealthy trans fats. Trans fats increase your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, lower your “good” (HDL) cholesterol, and raise your risk of heart disease. They're also even more dangerous than saturated fats, especially for people who have type 2 diabetes, who are already at increased risk of heart disease, explains Kimberlain. In fact, there’s no amount of trans fats that you can safely include in your diet, especially if you have type 2 diabetes, she notes.
The good news is that trans fats are now listed right below the amount of saturated fats on food labels, making it easier to steer clear of them. Look for labels that list 0 grams (g) trans fat, but keep in mind that according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), products with less than 0.5 g can claim 0 g, so they may not be trans-fat free. Check the ingredients list as well to make sure the product doesn’t contain any partially hydrogenated oils, a major source of trans fats. Seek out healthy fats in salmon and other fatty fish, as well as in nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive and canola oils.
Forget About Eating Oily, Breaded Fried Foods
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For the same flavor without the fat and calories, Kimberlain suggests finding new ways to prepare the ‘fried’ foods you like, such as baking, roasting, or grilling (think fish tacos grilled vs. fried). “You can even make baked ‘fried’ chicken,” she says. “Air fryers are popular now as well, so there's that option, too. And if you don't have an air fryer, I have a little convection oven that works just the same. I make baked fries in there that taste so crispy, you'd think they were fried.”
Avoid Alcohol or Drink Only in Moderation
Before you indulge in a cocktail or even a glass of wine with dinner, check with your doctor to make sure that it’s safe for you to drink alcohol, since it can interfere with your blood-sugar levels. If you do drink, keep it in moderation, advises the ADA. “Moderation” is generally defined as no more than one serving per day if you’re a woman, and no more than two if you’re a man. A typical serving is measured as 5 ounces (oz) of wine, 12 oz of beer, or 1.5 oz of distilled liquor.
“Diabetes medication is processed through the liver, and so is alcohol,” explains Kimberlain. “This double whammy can be too much for your liver. If you’re taking insulin, it can cause low blood sugar, especially if you’re drinking and not eating.”
As for best and worst choices at the bar, Kimberlain recommends mixed drinks like diet soda with rum (hard liquor has no carbs), or hard for 1 last update 11 Jul 2020 liquor with ice or calorie-free mixers. Avoid sweet wines like prosecco and “foofy” umbrella drinks with lots of sugar.As for best and worst choices at the bar, Kimberlain recommends mixed drinks like diet soda with rum (hard liquor has no carbs), or hard liquor with ice or calorie-free mixers. Avoid sweet wines like prosecco and “foofy” umbrella drinks with lots of sugar.
Skip Sweeteners That Spike Your Blood Sugar
People tend to think that “natural” sweeteners like honey are okay, but the body doesn’t distinguish between sugars — it just knows it’s sugar, explains Kimberlain. These natural sugars still cause a spike in blood sugar. The goal is to learn to enjoy food for its natural flavor, and start cutting back on added sugar, she says.
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