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A glucometer sitting on a restaurant table. On the screen are a fork, spoon, knife, and fork.

Healthy Eating with Diabetes

Eating well with diabetes plays a central role in managing your blood sugar, can help prevent diabetes complications, and protect your body down to your DNA.

Tips for healthy eating with type 2 diabetes

Here are six tips and strategies to help you make the best nutrition choices for health now and later.

1. Opt for whole over refined grains

When it comes to eating well with diabetes, choosing the right kind of carbohydrate is an integral part of blood sugar management. One study found that focusing on whole grains is among the most important nutrition choice you can make to prevent type 2 diabetes!1 Whole grains are jam-packed with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients give plants their flavor and color and contain protective nutrients such as antioxidants. Each color has a different benefit, which is why it’s good to eat the rainbow, plus black (blackberries), brown (kidney beans), and white (cauliflower)! When shopping for whole grains, make sure to check ingredient labels for the term “whole,” such as whole wheat flour. Though don’t feel limited by just whole wheat- there are TONS of other whole grains to try! Examples include oats, rye, barley, farro, corn, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, kamut, millet, spelt, and teff. Popcorn is fun, but have you tried polenta? You can buy it pre-made in a tube, then cut into squares and cook in a cast iron pan or oven until crispy. It’s simple and fast, and delicious served with onions, tomato, spinach, and scrambled eggs! Polenta also offers great fiber, and its golden yellow color signals a phytonutrient boost!

2. Choose unsweetened beverages and boost hydration

Studies have found that drinking sugary beverages, such as soda and 100% fruit juice, increases your risk of developing diabetes.2 For those with diabetes, sugary drinks can cause those unwanted rapid spikes in your blood sugar. Instead of reaching for soda when you have low blood glucose, try a cold glass of skim milk. It has carbohydrate and protein along with needed vitamins and minerals. Now for the good news: replacing sugary beverages with water or other unsweetened beverages can decrease other disease risk and improve your blood sugar control. You can make your healthy hydration fun and convenient by investing in a nice water bottle that you can carry around with you wherever you go. You can also make your own spa water for a bit of extra flavor- simply add cucumber, mint, basil, or lemon to your water. Want to unwind to a glass of wine? Try serving up sparkly water in a wine glass with an ounce of pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice has anthocyanins and other phytonutrients that protect your heart and brain. You’d be surprised, I served it up recently, and everyone passed on the wine (and no, they were not dietitians)!

3. Don’t forget the lean protein (even at breakfast)!

Including lean proteins in your meals is an essential part of making your meals balanced. When it comes to protein, focus on lean proteins, such as beans, legumes, soy (tofu, edamame), fish, eggs, skinless white poultry, and lean cuts of meat. Don’t forget to include protein at breakfast, too! One study found that for those with type 2 diabetes, including protein with breakfast helped with blood sugar control not only at breakfast but also at lunch!3 Tasty protein options to fit in your breakfast can include low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt, eggs, soymilk, or a tofu scramble.

4. Shop smart

Stocking your pantry with nutritious foods will help you stay on track with your eating plan. Before you head to the grocery store, make a list and then do your best to stick to it! You can even try planning out your meals for the week and make your list based on your plan. Check out the meal plans on type 2 diabetes – here is a Mediterranean plan to get started. Next, avoid shopping while hungry. Hunger will make those less nutritious, impulse purchases harder to resist. Pre-made short cuts to cooking can work, just boost them up with veggies. For example, buy a whole grain frozen pizza and add fresh garlic, roasted peppers, and cooked broccoli to it. Buying canned soup? Choose low-sodium and mix in some frozen veggies to boost the fiber. Make sure to also read the nutrition facts label to choose options lower in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat and higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Don’t forget to compare the serving size to the portion you will actually eat! If you find a healthy option that you enjoy, stock up! Keeping your pantry and refrigerator supplied can help you avoid eating food that may not offer such health benefits. Stock up when healthy items go on sale, too! If you see a good deal on a healthy lean protein like fish or beans, buy extra, label, wrap properly and date them and follow the FIFO method, first in first out. In other words, older foods go on top. For fresh foods, your freezer can truly become your best, money-saving, and health-focused pal.

5. Eat well when eating out

When eating out, eating well is still possible! For starters, choose restaurants that you know will have nutritious options and check out the menu online ahead of time. Having a plan makes ordering easier! When ordering, choose baked or steamed over fried, look for whole grains over refined, and ask if you can, swap the side of fries for vegetables or salad. Think back to what plant-based colors you ate today. Remember, each color offers a different health benefit. If you haven’t had anything green today, choose a green veggie. Let your plate be as colorful as possible! Be careful with sauces as many are high in sugar and salt – ask for them on the side and use only half. If the portion size is too large for one meal, take half to go. You can ask for a to-go box right when they bring the food to avoid the temptation of eating more than you need to. Sharing with a friend or family member can also be a fun way to enjoy a larger dish. Don’t feel pressure to always order one big entrée or multiple courses, too. Two appetizers or one generous appetizer can make a lovely meal as well.

6. Seek out social support

Enlist friends and family to support your nutrition goals. Research has found that sticking to your plan will be more doable and enjoyable when you have the social and emotional support of others.4 Find a friend to be your healthy eating accountability partner and check in on each other regularly. Get your family on board with your nutrition goals - making changes together as a family will help you accomplish your goals, while also boosting everyone’s health!

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