6 Diet Tips To Manage Diabetes

Back in the early days of diabetes care, a “diabetes diet” was all about what you couldn’t eat. Patients were put on carefully restricted diets that limited starches and sweets. No bread. No peas. No dessert. Basically no fun at all.

But today diabetes-care experts agree that the principles of a healthy diet are the same for the person with diabetes as they are for everyone else. And, most importantly, having diabetes doesn’t mean the end of good eating.

The following tips — as surprising as they may be — will help you live well with diabetes and rediscover the foods you love.

Eat whatever you want  

“There are no bad foods that have to be eliminated forever,” according to Gretchen Scalpi, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author of The Everything Diabetes Cookbook and The Everything Guide to Managing & Reversing Prediabetes.

She tells her patients, “If blood sugar is in control, then work (any food) in and enjoy it.”  However, if you’ve had a day (or days) with very high sugar readings, that’s not the best time to have dessert. When you do have sugary treats, be sure to keep the amount within your carbohydrate allowance by substituting those sweets for starch, fruit or milk in your diet.

Have some sugar! 

Contrary to popular belief, having diabetes does not translate into having to eat sugar-free versions of everything. In fact, avoid too many sugar-free foods, warns registered dietitian Angela Ginn, senior education coordinator at the University of Maryland Center for diabetes and endocrinology.

“It’s just a tummy ache waiting to happen,” Ginn explained. That’s because many sugar-free cookies, candy, cakes and pies are sweetened with sugar alcohols. Eating too many of these foods can cause diarrhea and upset stomach.  “Enjoy naturally sweet fruit first and if that can’t satisfy your sweet tooth, reach for the real thing,” says Ginn.

Take bigger bites

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that the larger your fork and bigger your bite when you eat, the less you will probably eat. Translation: weight loss! And losing weight is one of the best ways to manage type 2 diabetes.

In fact, losing as little as 10-15 pounds is enough to improve blood sugar levels. Weight loss can also decrease insulin resistance in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which means you may require less oral diabetes medications and/or insulin to control blood sugar levels. So open wide and eat up.

Make fat your friend

Many people with diabetes (and lots of folks without it) believe fat is harmful. “Some have obliterated all fats from their meal plans — often in favor of more carbohydrates,” says Lorena Drago, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, author of Beyond Rice and Beans: The Caribbean Latino Guide to Eating Healthy with Diabetes.

However, research has shown that replacing carbs with healthy fat reduces triglycerides — the major storage form fat in the blood, and after-meal blood sugar. Drago teaches her patients to include moderate amounts of healthy fats such as those found in avocados, and olive and canola oils.

Skip the snacks 

People with diabetes used to be encouraged to eat every few hours to keep their energy up and control blood sugar. “But the full body of research does not support this,” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, author of  Diabetes Weight Loss — Week by Week.

In fact, for some people, snacking just means more opportunities to overeat. Years ago, when there were few diabetes medications, snacking was required to avoid low blood sugar. Today, there are so many options that snacking is rarely necessary.”

Stop worrying about a “diabetic diet”

“There are many ways to a healthy plate, so stop worrying about which diet is the perfect diet,” says Weisenberger.  “Choose a variety of wholesome foods in portions just enough to fill you up.”  The “plate method” can take much of the stress out of diabetes meal planning.

Make sure half your plate is full of non-starchy vegetables, like spinach or broccoli; a quarter of the plate is filled with starchy vegetables, like potatoes, rice or pasta; and the other quarter is filled with fish, poultry or meat.