Healthy eating is one of the most important components of a comprehensive approach to managing, treating, or preventing diabetes. This is true whether you have type 1, type 2, or elevated blood sugar levels just short of a diabetes diagnosis (prediabetes).
Why is it so important? Diabetes and prediabetes do most of their damage by allowing the amount of sugar in the bloodstream to regularly rise to unsafe levels—typically because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin (type 1) or loses the ability to use it properly (type 2). This toxic level of sugar can cause a host of problems: nerve degradation, slowed circulation, impaired wound healing and immune function, impaired vision and hearing, foot problems, and a whole lot more.
Although most people with diabetes will still require insulin and/or other medications, it’s a lot easier to control your blood sugar if you’re carefully controlling your carbohydrate intake in the first place! And the better you keep your blood sugar within safe levels, the healthier you’ll be—and much better able to prevent life-changing complications.
A Diet Plan Everyone Can Use
With certain diseases or dietary practices, restrictions on what you can eat can be difficult to work around. Celiac disease, for example, forces a strict gluten-free diet. While that’s become more fashionable even among people without sensitivity to gluten in recent years, most people are generally going to want healthy whole grains in their diet—they’re a good (and delicious!) source of protein, fiber, and key minerals like iron and zinc.
A healthy diabetes diet is not really different in any significant way from a healthy diet plan in general. The health benefits are significant even for those who don’t have issues with their blood sugar: weight loss, better blood pressure and cholesterol, more energy, healthier immune system—the works.
If you’ve ever lived with someone with different dietary needs (whether they had a medical condition or simply chose an alternative practice, such as veganism), you know the frustration of having to plan separate meals (or go without favorite foods). But if someone you love has diabetes, it’s much easier to support them with healthy choices. You should probably both be on the same diet anyway!
What Foods Should Be On Your Plate?
If you do have diabetes or prediabetes, it’s a good idea to see a dietitian for more specific diet advice tailored to your needs and tastes. That said, we can give you a basic sketch of what a typical diabetic meal plan might look like. At the most basic level, you goal is to reduce your intake of sugar and simple / refined carbohydrates, while making sure you get plenty of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
For starters, let’s talk fruits and vegetables (especially non-starchy veggies). These foods should be the core of any diet, including someone with diabetes. Perhaps most importantly, they’re a source of healthy and complex carbohydrates. Like simpler carbs and sugars, they provide critical energy your cells need. However, they take much longer to break down and be absorbed by the body, which means they won’t send your blood sugar skyrocketing upward like a candy bar or sugary drink. Most vegetables are also high in fiber, which further moderates digestion. Get a good supply of these foods, alongside whole grains, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy.
Of course, you’re also going to want a healthy source of protein, ideally with a good ratio of healthy fats and other nutrients. If you’re vegetarian or just looking to reduce your meat intake, good plant-based sources include beans, lentils, and nuts. For meat-eaters, most fish and seafood tend to provide the most benefit, since they’re lower in saturated fat and cholesterol while being high in Omega-3 healthy fats. Poultry (without the skin), low-fat cheese, and eggs are also good choices.
Wash it all down with a glass of water, coffee, unsweetened tea, or low-fat milk.
What Foods Should You Limit or Avoid?
We want to avoid saying that anything is strictly off-limits. Once you’ve developed a good meal plan and are skilled at regulating your nutritional intake, you can feel more comfortable working the occasional indulgence or treat onto your plate—as long as you do so in moderation, and with a clear understanding of how it will affect you.
Foods to limit include:
- Saturated fats and cholesterol. These are especially common in high-fat meats and dairy. If you love red meat, it’s okay to eat a limited amount, though you should opt for the leanest cuts possible.
- Grains and starchy veggies. You should eat moderate amounts of these (especially whole grains) since they provide vital nutrients. However, because they can also raise blood glucose faster than other healthy foods, it’s important not to go overboard.
- Sugary drinks, snack foods, refined or processed carbs. Anything that provides “empty calories,” especially simple sugars, should be kept to a minimum. These foods are also often a source of significant trans fats, another reason you should avoid them.
- Alcohol. Moderation is key. We recommend you limit yourself to one drink per day, and always with food—never on an empty stomach.
It’s Not Just What You Eat, But When You Eat
You don’t want to treat your body like a gas tank, waiting until it’s completely empty and then filling it to the brim. Instead, eat relatively smaller portions at regular intervals and consistent times throughout the day, with small healthy snacks between your bigger three meals.
Why? If you eat smaller amounts more regularly, you are better able to keep your blood sugar levels at a consistent level. If you go a long time without food and then eat too much, your sugar will bottom out in the middle and is more likely to spike when you overindulge.
There’s a psychological component, too. If you generally feel satisfied throughout the day, you’re more likely to stick to your diet and eat healthy foods and portions. That’s good for your health and can even help you lose weight. After all, we all make decisions we regret when we’re really hungry!
Make sure you eat a good breakfast within an hour and a half of getting out of bed. Avoid going more than 4 to 5 hours without eating during the day, or more than 10 hours without eating overnight.
Diabetic Foot and Wound Care in Phoenix
We hope you’ve found the above advice useful! When combined with regular visits to your general practitioner and your foot doctor, a healthy diet is one of the best ways to maintain a full and active life despite your diagnosis. If it’s been over a year since your last foot check, or you have any wounds or sores on your feet that won’t heal, give us a call today at (480) 963-9000.