Individuals diagnosed with diabetes may have found themselves asking, “What am I allowed to eat?” Have you gotten a good answer to this question? Probably not. That’s likely because everyone responds to the same foods differently. There’s not a single “magic” diet that works for everyone who has diabetes. The good news is there are some simple rules that everyone can follow to help make sure your diet is working for you.
The next time you fix yourself a plate of food, try to imagine dividing your plate into four sections that are about the same size. Two of those four sections should be full of non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are things like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, green beans, lettuce, spinach and zucchini. That’s right, half of your plate should be made of vegetables. One of those sections should have grains and starchy foods. Grains are things like beans, bread, pasta, rice or tortillas. Starchy foods are things like apples, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, corn, potatoes and peas. Finally, look at your plate again. The last section of your plate should be protein. Chicken, eggs, low-fat cheese, fish, tofu and turkey are all good sources of protein.
Another important part of building a diet that helps you manage your blood sugar is looking at what you’re drinking. Sugar sweetened beverages are loaded with sugar and carbs, which increases your blood sugar and your waistline. When you can, choose unsweetened tea rather than sweetened tea. Try to stop drinking sodas and soft drinks. Even diet sodas raise your blood sugar. Water is always a safe choice. If water is too boring, try flavored seltzer waters. Seltzer water has no sugar, no calories, and no sweeteners but more flavor.
If you’re looking for a more measurable way to use diet to manage your blood sugar, give carb counting a try. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the starches, sugar, and fiber in food. Your body breaks down the carbs you eat into glucose, or blood sugar. Your body then uses that blood sugar to fuel your muscles and brain throughout the day. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble using the carbs in food. Carb counting is a way to keep your body from being overwhelmed by the food you eat.
Carbs are naturally found in most foods. You can find the number of carbohydrates in a food by looking at a food label. You’ll find this value under “Total Carbohydrate.” If a food doesn’t have a nutrition label, there are plenty of online applications which can help you find this information. Get started today by writing down what you eat and drink at each meal and snack throughout the day. You’ll want to make sure you write down the serving size of the food you’re eating as well. A serving size is how much of the food you’re eating at one time. Add up all the carbohydrates you ate at each meal and snack on any given day. Bring your diary to your next appointment and your diabetes care team will help you adjust your meals to help you better manage your blood sugars.
Kelsey Simmons, D.O., is a family medicine physician who completed a fellowship in diabetes at Duke/Southern Regional AHEC in Fayetteville. She provides care at Southeastern Health’s Southeastern Medical Clinic Gray’s Creek.