If you, or someone in your family, has type 1, type 2 or another type of diabetes, you’ll know it can sometimes be difficult to know what to eat.
There are different types of diabetes, and no two people with diabetes are the same. So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all ‘diabetes diet’ for everyone with diabetes. But we’ve come up with tips you can use to help you make healthier food choices.
These healthy eating tips are general and can help you manage your blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They can also help you manage your weight and reduce the risk of diabetes complications, such as heart problems and strokes, and other health conditions including certain types of cancers.
At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center our tips are based on research involving people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. If you have a different type of diabetes, like gestational, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes or MODY, some of these tips are relevant to you. It’s important, whatever kind of diabetes you have, to see your dietitian for specific advice.
1. Choose healthier carbohydrates
All carbs affect blood glucose levels so it’s important to know which foods contain carbohydrates. Choose the healthier foods that contain carbs and be aware of your portion sizes.
Here are some healthy sources of carbohydrate:
- Whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat and whole oats
- Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils
- Dairy like unsweetened yogurt and milk.
At the same time, it’s also important to cut down on foods low in fiber such as white bread, white rice and highly-processed cereals. You can check food labels when you’re looking for foods high in fiber if you’re not sure.
2. Eat less salt
Eating lots of salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases risk of heart diseases and stroke. And when you have diabetes, you’re more at risk of all of these conditions.
Try to limit yourself to a maximum of 6g (one teaspoonful) of salt a day. Lots of pre-packaged foods already contain salt so remember to check food labels and choose those with less salt. Cooking from scratch will help you keep an eye on how much salt you’re eating. You can also get creative and swap out salt for different types of herbs and spices to add extra flavor.
3. Eat less red and processed meat
If you’re cutting down on carbs, you might start to have bigger portions of meat to fill you up. But it’s not a good idea to do this with red and processed meat, like ham, bacon, sausages, beef and lamb. These all have links with heart problems and cancers.
Try swapping red and processed meat for these:
- Pulses such as beans and lentils
- Poultry like chicken and turkey
- Unsalted nuts
Beans, peas and lentils are also very high in fiber and don’t affect your blood glucose levels too much – making them a great swap for processed and red meat and keeping you feeling full. Most of us know fish is good for us, but oily fish like salmon and mackerel are even better. These are rich in something called omega-3 oil, which helps protect your heart. Try and aim to eat two portions of oily fish a week.
4. Eat more fruit and vegetables
We know eating fruit and vegetables is good for you. It’s always a good thing to eat more at meal times and have them as snacks if you’re hungry. This can help you get the vitamins, minerals and fiber your body needs every day to help keep you healthy.
You might be wondering about fruit and if you should avoid it because it’s sugary? The answer is no. Whole fruit is good for everyone and if you have diabetes, it’s no different. Fruits do contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. This is different to the added sugar (also known as free sugars) that are in things like chocolate, biscuits and cakes.
Products like fruit juices also count as added sugar, so go for whole fruit instead. This can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned (in juice, not in syrup). And it’s best to eat it throughout the day instead of one bigger portion in one go.
An important part of managing your condition is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. There’s no such thing as a ‘diabetic’ diet or ‘diabetic’ recipes.