Eating to Beat Diabetes: Tips for the Right Food Balance


By Permanente Medical Staff

The statistics are staggering: More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, one-quarter of whom don’t know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 84 million are pre-diabetic, meaning their blood sugar levels are above normal, just not high enough – yet – to qualify for a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes (which accounts for at least 90 percent of all diabetes cases). By 2020, one in five adults is expected to have Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body cannot use insulin properly.Here’s the good news: You can halt the progression of Type 2 diabetes by adopting some healthy lifestyle habits, and at the top of the list is eating a healthy diet. If you already have diabetes, eating right will keep your disease in check by controlling your blood sugar as well as your weight and blood pressure. What you eat can go a long way toward preventing and managing diabetes.

In a nutshell, a healthy diet is one that is low in fats and calories and rich in nutrients. This means plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Below are some tips from MAPMG Pediatric Endocrinologist Michele Christie, MD to help you achieve the right food balance and keep your blood sugar in check and diabetes at bay.

Choosing Good Food

Most grocery stores sell plenty of salty, sugary, high-fat food. It’s best to make your food choices not from the inside aisles of the store, where the processed food is, but from the aisles on the periphery that contain fresh produce, fish, lean meat, and whole grain and dairy products. Make a shopping list ahead of time and try not to go to the store when you’re hungry!

Here are some guidelines about what food to put in your shopping cart:

  • Carbohydrates affect your blood sugar the most. Instead of bread and pasta products, choose healthy carbs in the form of fiber-filled whole grains, such brown rice, oats, quinoa, and beans.
  • Instead of increasing your carb load with starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas, get non-starchy vegetables filled with fiber and nutrients, such as broccoli, greens, peppers, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and kale.
  • Protein builds muscle and gives you energy. Meat, chicken, fish, and seafood provide protein, as do eggs and cheese. Choose low-fat sources of protein such as fish, lean cuts of meat, or reduced-fat cheese.
  • Other good sources of proteins are those derived from plants, such as beans, peas, edamame, tofu, lentils, black-eyed peas, and nuts.
  • Spend some time in that produce aisle because ideally, you should be aiming to eat five fruits and vegetables a day. Bonus points for buying dark, green leafy vegetables, which are packed with nutrients but low in calories; berries, which are full of vitamins and anti-oxidants and are a healthy way to satisfy a sweet tooth; and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, which provide potassium and vitamin C.
  • Stay away from cholesterol-raising saturated fat and trans fat, such as lard, butter, and shortening, and buy monounsaturated fats. These healthier fats include avocados, canola oil, olive oil, nuts, sesame seeds, and peanut butter.

Controlling How Much You Eat

It’s relatively easy to buy the proper foods, but not always so easy to keep your consumption under control or to know how much you should be eating.

  • Use the ?plate method,? which recommends the following: One-half of your plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter of it should contain a whole grain or starchy vegetable, such as potatoes, and one-quarter should hold a lean protein. Your plate should not be more than one inch deep.
  • Meat servings should be roughly the size of a deck of cards.
  • Pay attention to the serving size listed on food labels so you are aware of how many calories you are eating.
  • Try to eat three meals a day so you don’t get too hungry and then over-indulge.
  • Eat slowly so your brain has time to register that your stomach is full before you have overeaten.
  • If you are eating in a restaurant that serves large portions, ask your server to bring you a to-go container so that you can box up part of your meal to take home before you even start eating.

More Food for Thought

  • Avoiding frying as much as possible.
  • Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to one a day: a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
  • Eat fruit for dessert.
  • If you decide to go ahead and eat a sugary dessert, share it with someone.

The beauty of eating to control diabetes is that you’ll be eating in a manner that is healthy for anyone, even those at low risk for the disease. It’s a delicious way to keep your heart healthy, blood pressure and weight down, and diabetes in check. Bon appetit!

For more information on managing your diabetes-related conditions, visit MAPMG’s Staying Healthy pages.

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