Yes, having diabetes does put some restrictions on what you eat. But here’s some good news: making smart food choices can help you manage diabetes. These 9 quick tips help you take control of your eating, one step at a time.
Compare carbs. It is the total amount of carbohydrate of a meal or snack that most affects blood glucose levels, not whether the source of the carbohydrate is starch or sugar. And sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free. Compare the total carbohydrate content of a sugar-free food with that of the standard product. If there is a big difference in carbohydrate content between the two foods, you may want to buy the lower-carb food. If there is little difference in the total grams of carbohydrate, choose the one you want based on price and taste.
Proper portions, no measuring required. It’s no fun to whip out a measuring cup every time you eat—so how can you dish up a meal that’s balanced and just the right size? Try this trick: Divide your dinner plate. Fill one half with vegetables and split the other half into two quarters. Fill one quarter with a lean protein, such as fish, skinless poultry, beans or tofu. Fill the other quarter with a grain- or starch-based side dish, preferably a whole-grain food, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or a slice of whole-grain bread.
Pick the right “white” bread. “White” flour is usually made by refining (whole) “red” wheat. The process strips away the germ and the reddish-colored bran—as well as most of the grain’s minerals and fiber. If you prefer the taste and look of “refined” flour, good news: many brands now offer loaves made from a milder-tasting white whole-wheat flour. Look for products labeled “white whole-wheat” or check the ingredients list.
Learn to love whole grains—gradually. You may know the benefits of eating whole-grain products—more vitamins, minerals and fiber—but find it too hard to make the switch from your old refined favorites. Phase in a whole grain by mixing it half-and-half with a refined one—for example, a blend of whole-wheat and regular pasta or brown and white rice. Gradually increase the proportions until your palate—and digestive tract—adjust.
Think beyond brown rice. If brown rice seems boring to you, get inspired with other whole-grain options. Head to the natural-foods aisle of your supermarket and check out the bulgur (cracked, steamed and dried wheat kernels), whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and millet.
Don’t be fooled by fake whole grains. Brown-colored bread or crackers labeled “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” are sometimes made mostly from refined white flour. The only way to ensure that your choice is a true whole grain is to check the ingredients list: the term “whole” or “whole-grain” should precede the grain’s name, such as “whole-grain rye.”
Pick sweet snacks that pack nutrition. If you have diabetes, sugar can be counted just like any other carbohydrate, but since most foods containing sugar—think cream-filled cookies—are usually low in other nutrients, it’s best to limit high-sugar snacks and go for mini meals that give you more nutritional “bang for your buck.” Try this: Combine ½ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt with half a sliced banana and ¼ cup blueberries. This snack packs calcium, antioxidants and only 2 carbohydrate servings.
Celebrate “free” foods. “Free” foods have little to no carbs. Make a protein-packed “free” snack, like this: Cook ¼ cup frozen edamame (in pods) according to package directions. Sprinkle with coarse salt and enjoy. (Be sure to account for the calories.)
Sip smarter. The average 12-ounce can of regular soda supplies about 150 calories and 38 grams of carbohydrate—the equivalent of more than 9 teaspoons of sugar. Replace your soda with herbal iced tea or seltzer water with just a splash of cranberry juice: both drinks are low in calories but still refreshing and tasty.