The key to effectively managing diabetes: exercising regularly, taking the medications prescribed by your doctor, getting plenty of quality sleep, frequently monitoring your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels—and, of course, watching what you eat—and how much.
Apria’s Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Carly Burton states, “Studies show that following a healthy, balanced meal plan is a powerful way to control your blood glucose levels and manage your diabetes. It can also help you lose weight, which is critical to managing diabetes.”
Just like anyone else, people with diabetes can choose from a world of tasty, healthy foods. But they should also limit or avoid others. Here’s how to shop smart at the grocery.
Foods to Add to Your Cart
Fruit is a natural, nutritious way to satisfy a sweet tooth. And most fruit has a low glycemic index (or GI, a tool used to measure how quickly foods raise your blood sugar levels). Some fruits you should be eating:
- Red raspberries
- Peaches and nectarines
- Cantaloupes and other melons
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
Vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Because many vegetables contain fiber and complex carbohydrates, they make you feel full. So you don’t overeat—and gain weight.
Next time you go shopping, add these to your cart:
- Lettuce, kale, spinach, and other greens
- Green peas
Meat and protein
Proteins are important for people with diabetes because they digest slowly and increase blood glucose slightly.
The following are good choices:
- Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Skinless chicken or turkey breasts
You can also choose plant-based proteins:
Beans and legumes
Canned or dry, beans and legumes are an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber. Some examples:
- White beans
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Garbanzo beans
Whole grains often have a lower GI. Rather than buying white bread or pasta, consider the following:
- Whole-grain bread
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Wild rice
Low-fat dairy and dairy alternatives
Dairy products are a good source of such nutrients as calcium and protein. Some of the best choices are:
- Nonfat or low-fat milk
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-salt cheeses such as mozzarella
- Plain, unsweetened yogurt
- Unsweetened almond, soy, or flax milk and yogurt
Here are some delicious, satisfying thirst-quenchers:
- Flat or sparkling water
- Unsweetened coffee or tea
- Herbal tea
- Unsweetened plant-based milk
- Vegetable juice
Dressings, dips, and spices
You can increase the flavor of your food without increasing your blood sugar. Try the following:
- Olive oil
- Any spice or herb
Yes, you can snack—as long as you choose well. For instance:
- Celery or carrot sticks dipped in hummus
- Fresh fruit with a protein or fat, such as an apple with almond butter
- Homemade, not store-bought or sweetened, popcorn
- Almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, peanuts
Choose low-cal, low-carb desserts in small portions. Some examples:
- Popsicles with no added sugar
- Fruit salad without added sugar
- Strawberries with balsamic vinegar
Foods to Leave Out of Your Cart
People with diabetes—and all people, for that matter—should limit or avoid unhealthy foods.
Apria’s Carly Burton adds, “Many of these foods can cause your blood sugar level to shoot up or down.” These include:
- Foods with simple carbohydrates, such as sugary drinks and cereals, candy, syrups, table sugar, and fruit juice concentrate
- Foods with high levels of saturated fat, such as red meat, full-fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, and ice cream
- Foods with high levels of trans fat, such as vegetable shortening, fried fast foods, and nondairy coffee creamers
- Packaged foods, such as desserts, baked goods, and chips
- Processed meat, such as sausages, hot dogs, salami, and beef jerky
- Food with hidden sources of sugar, such as fructose, dextrose, and corn syrup
- White, packaged bread made with highly processed flour and additives
- Pasta made from refined flour (as opposed to whole-grain pasta)
- Foods high in salt, which can increase your risk for high blood pressure (hypertension)
More Helpful—and Healthy—Tips
Plan your meals for the week ahead. Need ideas? Ask friends. Go digital—there are websites and apps dedicated to meal planning. After a while, you’ll have lots of tasty, healthy recipes at your fingertips. And if one night you don’t feel like cooking—that’s okay. Order in. Just choose the healthiest option.
Make a shopping list
Now that you know what you’ll be eating in the week ahead, you’ll know what to buy. This not only saves time but also money since you won’t be “impulse” buying.
To help make your trip to the store faster and easier, organize your list by department. Shop the outside aisles for produce, meat, fish, and dairy. Shop the inside aisles but with caution—that’s where you’ll find many packaged and processed foods.
Read the Nutrition Facts label
Reading and understanding the label can help you make healthy food choices.
The label details the amount of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, and vitamins per serving. This lets you easily compare the nutritional value of similar foods.
People with diabetes should especially check total carbohydrates since carbs increase blood sugar more quickly than fats or protein. The label lists carbs from sugar, which can increase levels, and carbs from dietary fiber, which can help control levels.
Try to eat more foods that are higher in vitamins, minerals (such as iron and calcium), and fiber. Limit or avoid foods that are higher in added sugars, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
The Art of the Cart!
Want to feel healthy? Fill your cart with healthy foods! Says Carly Burton, “If you have questions, talk to your doctor or a dietitian, who will work with you to develop a tasty, satisfying meal plan that will help you effectively manage your diabetes.”