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The Diabetes Diet That Doesnt Cut All Your Favorite Foods

A common misconception about diabetes is that you have to cut out sugar. But that's not so. These principles will help you develop healthier eating habits.

By Gale Cohen, RD, Registered Dietitian—Virtua Nutrition & Diabetes Care

Almost 2 million Americans over age of 20 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year. This diagnosis means that your body can no longer produce enough of the hormone insulin to keep your blood sugar at normal levels.

A common misconception is that you’ll have to eliminate sugar from your diet. But that’s not so.

However, you will need to find the best balance of activity, food, and possibly, medication. This will help you understand some basics when it comes to healthy eating habits and adjusting to your new lifestyle.

High-quality carbohydrates

Carbohydrates need to be monitored carefully and can affect the level of glucose in your blood, but some are better than others. It may vary from one person to another, but there are some general guidelines that can help you choose healthy, high-quality carbohydrates and control portion sizes.

The best quality carbohydrates are high in fiber, which also helps you feel full longer, and rich in vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Whole grain starches (100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, hulled barley, whole farro, bulgur, quinoa)
  • Starchy vegetables (winter squash, peas, sweet potato)
  • Beans and lentils

Low-quality carbohydrates

Lower quality carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, are often found in foods that are high in calories and fat. In some cases, these can have a significant impact on raising blood glucose more quickly or making blood glucose unstable.   

Sweets and desserts don’t provide the important nutrients found in healthier carbs.  It’s best to put more limits on the following:

  • Sugary, sweetened drinks
  • Candies and other desserts
  • Foods with added sugar

What are superfoods?

The American Diabetes Association has put a list together of 10 “diabetes superfoods,” which you’re encouraged to include in your diet on a regular basis. These foods all have a low-glycemic index and provide key nutrients such as calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and E:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Dark green leafy veggies
  • Citrus fruits
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Salmon and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Low-fat milk and yogurt

Making a meal

Besides carbohydrates, a balanced diet will include plenty of non-starchy vegetables, lean protein (fish, skinless poultry, egg whites, lean cuts of beef and pork), and unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. These foods have little impact on your blood sugar.

The American Diabetes Association can assist you with meal planning using a tool called Create Your Plate. These guidelines have been shown to be very effective whether you are cooking at home or eating out:

Virtua is staffed with certified diabetes educators and dietitians who are here to answer all of your questions. Call 888-847-8823 to schedule an appointment.