Living with type 2 diabetes means making smart choices for meals, snacks, and beverages — especially if you are also trying to lose or maintain your weight. You may often feel as though you are given a long list of foods to avoid and a shortlist of recommended ones.
Instead of restricting yourself to certain foods, think in broader terms. The following five tips can serve as general guidelines to help you make smart choices while still leaving you a number of options.
1. Opt for Whole Grains
Fiber is the big benefit of whole grains — it helps keep blood sugar levels steady, helps with digestion, and fills you up faster so you’re less likely to overeat. In addition, research has shown that eating whole grains can lower your risk of heart disease by 20 to 30 percent.
An easy way to follow this guideline is to avoid white foods such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta. Replace them with whole-grain foods such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta. Just make sure the label reads “whole grain”; otherwise, the food may just be colored dark brown to make it look like a whole grain.
2. Choose Lean Protein
There are lots of ways to get protein without a lot of saturated fat. While it’s fine to have beef, pork, or lamb once in a while, opt for lean animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, or fish instead of red meat for most of your meals.
Replace two of the eggs in a three-egg omelet with egg whites. Buy low-fat or fat-free versions of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk. Good non-animal protein sources include beans, legumes, and tofu. Nut and nut butter provides protein and healthy fats, but they are high in calories, so use them sparingly.
3. Eat Whole Foods
Skip the orange juice or “green” drink made in a juicer, and eat the whole fruit or vegetable. When you drink a juice version of something, most of the pulp has been filtered out — as well as the fiber. The fiber in fruits and vegetables helps slow down how quickly your body absorbs sugar, therefore helping to keep your insulin levels in check. If you just drink the juice, you get all of the sugar without the benefits of fiber. Plus, eating the whole piece can help you feel fuller than drinking juice.
4. Add Color to Your Plate
Deeply colored vegetables and fruits are generally the most nutritious. For example, dark greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli have more vitamins, nutrients, and fiber than iceberg or romaine lettuce. Rich red tomatoes, bell peppers, beets, and blue and red berries are all good choices. Minimize white potatoes and corn, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise more quickly.
5. Bake, Broil, or Steam
Finally, change the fat and nutrition profile of foods simply by changing how you prepare them. Because it uses oil, frying is typically going to add more fat and calories to food than baking or broiling it. Stir-frying in a ceramic non-stick pan that requires minimal or no oil may be another option. Steaming vegetables preserve more of the nutrients than boiling them. Instead of buying fried chips, bake your own.
Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, is an endocrinologist and the corporate vice president of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute at Scripps Health in San Diego.