Eat this! Expert tips for diabetes diet success

Whether you're new to diabetes or not, the more you know about how food can affect you, the better your diabetes control can be. Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN, author of the upcoming The Complete Idiot's Guide to 200-300-400 Calorie Meals and a food and nutrition expert, gives her top ten food tips for people with diabetes.

Ten diabetes diet and food tips

1. Avoid extremes

When people first hear they have been diagnosed with diabetes, it's common to go overboard and try to cut everything out of their diets, said McIndoo. "Gradual changes are best and more sustainable," she added. "Talk to a registered dietitian for your specific needs."

2. Carbs are not criminals

Even though eating carbohydrates directly influences your blood sugar levels, don't think of them as the enemy. "They are your body's main source of energy -- you need them!" said McIndoo. Grains, particularly whole grains, and fruits contain fiber, essential vitamins and minerals -- all are important components of a healthy diet.

3. Portion size is important

Just about any food can be incorporated into a healthy diet -- it's all based on how much you eat at a time. "The key to including carbs is to watch your portion size; instead of two cups of spaghetti, try ½ to ¾ of a cup," said McIndoo. Also, mix your carbs with other foods like lean proteins and vegetables; this will help you feel fuller and also help slow down a potential blood sugar spike post-meal.

4. Fruit facts

A big misconception is that people with diabetes cannot eat fruit, said McIndoo. "Not true -- just don't eat fruit alone." Instead, she counseled, eat it as part of a meal and avoid fruits made with added sugars or syrups. Fresh, frozen or canned is fine. "I'd skip juice, and limit dried fruits to small amounts once in awhile, as they are a more concentrated source of natural sugar," she said.

5. Fiber is your friend

People with diabetes have an increased risk of having a stroke and/or a heart attack. Eating enough fiber -- 20-35 grams a day for adults -- can help you lower those risks, says McIndoo. Why? Fiber helps lower your cholesterol levels if they're high and keeps them low if they're normal. High cholesterol increases your chances of having a cardiovascular problem.

6. Do this to lose weight

Besides cutting back on how much you eat (see tip #3, above), fill your plate with more vegetables -- either raw or cooked -- to make up the difference in how much food you eat, McIndoo says. And talk to your doctor about beginning or continuing to exercise. "Aim to be more active than you are by at least 30 minutes a day," she added. "Exercise helps promote weight loss, but also helps your body transport sugar into the muscles that need it for energy. This helps lower blood sugar levels at the moment."

7. Don't forget about protein and fat

Protein is an essential nutrient your body uses to build and maintain healthy tissue, while healthy fats are a source of essential vitamins, said McIndoo. "Both of these taken some time to be digested and therefore, help keep you feeling fuller longer."

8. If you are on insulin

Talk to your doctor, a nurse, or a registered professional dietitian to make sure you know exactly how your insulin works. Some insulins peak shortly after you take them, while others work steadily throughout the day. If you know exactly how your insulin will work, you can time your eating and insulin doses in order to know that you are eating properly without seeing increases in blood sugar levels, said McIndoo.

9. You can eat out

Restaurant meals are typically large and made with extra oils, sauce thickeners, and other ingredients that can cause your blood sugar to rise. To keep things under control, "stick to baked, broiled and grilled entrees, and avoid too much fried," said McIndoo. "Get sauces and gravies on the side so you can use just a small amount. Also, before you begin eating, separate out one serving of your meal and have the rest wrapped up to bring home for another meal."

10. Keep alcohol and sweets a treat

If you want to drink alcohol or have a sweet like candy or a cookie, make it only once-in-awhile thing. Keep portions on the small side and be sure to eat or drink them with other foods to slow its absorption. "For example, perhaps once or twice a week have a mini candy bar right after lunch or dinner," said McIndoo.

Article sources  expand

About Cheryl Alkon

Cheryl Alkon is the author of "Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby" and the creator of the blog Managing the Sweetness Within. As a longtime writer, her work has appeared in various print and online titles including the New York Times, Body&Soul, Boston, More and Woman's Day magazines.

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