The Diabetic Diet

Updated:Oct 15,2014

Couple Shopping at Farmer's MarketIf you’re a person with diabetes, you may juggle a lot of concerns. Eating a healthy diet is a big part of the balancing act.

Unmanaged diabetes can double the risk of developing heart disease. Diabetic patients are also at risk for blindness, amputation and kidney failure. Find out more about why treating diabetes matters.

“It’s critical that people with diabetes pay attention to their heart health,” said registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “They should combine a healthy complex carbohydrate with some protein and a little bit of healthy fat for meals and snacks. They should also avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats.” Know your fats.

Shop smart
When grocery shopping, plan ahead for the week and always bring a list — and a full stomach.

“Stay on the perimeter of the store, and stock up on seasonal produce that’s on sale,” McManus said. “Not everything has to be fresh. Plain, frozen vegetables and fruits can be easy and convenient substitutes.”

Look for whole-grain, high-fiber, unprocessed foods and limit your time on the aisles where there are boxed foods that may not be healthy. Take a close look at serving size and salt and sugar content.

“We all need to be sensitive to the added sodium and added sugar in packaged, processed, take-out foods and the Salty Six,” McManus said. Avoid products with too much sucrose, honey and high fructose corn syrup.

Be wary of buy-one get-one free deals, because if they’re not healthy, you’re getting more than you bargained for.

Balance your plate
Ready for dinner? Your best bet is to start with a small plate. Fill half of it with vegetables such as roasted squash, grilled asparagus or a salad.

For the next quarter, consider a healthy carb like a small, plain sweet potato, brown rice, whole-wheat couscous or whole-grain pasta.

Finish off your plate with a lean protein, like a piece of fish, poultry without the skin or a very lean cut of meat.

Dining out
When dining out, call ahead or look online to find out what’s on the menu. Avoid buffets, because the value to your pocketbook won’t be felt in your waistline.

“The biggest thing is portion control — for everyone, but especially for people living with diabetes,” McManus said. “Look at the amount of food that’s on your plate.”

Consider ordering a salad and an appetizer for your meal. If you get an entrée, split it or send half of it back to be boxed up to go.

Keep a polite distance from the bread basket, but make friends with your water glass. Watch out for the calories in other beverages — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

“Start off with a small portion and wait 20 minutes,” she said. “Give your stomach enough time to tell your brain that you’ve eaten and are getting full.”

More tips
Whether you’re at home or on the go, it’s not always easy to make the right food choices.

“It’s complicated out there. That’s one of the reasons we recommend that if you have diabetes,  see a registered dietitian,” McManus said. “It’s best to have  someone who can guide you through your own individual eating plan and give you advice on how to make difficult choices.”

The American Heart Association has delicious recipes for diabetics, a health assessment, personal stories and more great tools here. You can also set up a free Heart360 account to help you track your information and manage your heart health online.

Searching for healthy snack ideas?

Try these:

  • Small apple with tablespoon of peanut butter
  • ½ cup baby carrots with two tablespoons of low-fat cottage cheese or hummus
  • Small handful (about an ounce) of unsalted nuts
  • Two whole-grain crackers with low-fat, low-salt string cheese
  • ½ whole-wheat English muffin topped with low-fat shredded cheese and fresh tomato and broiled. 
  • ½ cup plain low fat or fat free Greek yogurt, topped with ½ cup blueberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon 
Learn more:

Diabetes

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