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7 Tips for Sticking to a Diabetic Diet

If you suffer from diabetes, cooking can be a challenge. But by paying attention to the types of food you eat and when, you can help control your blood sugar naturally and improve your overall health.

I often say that cooking at home is a great way to manage your waistline. When dining out, we have less control over the quality of ingredients used and the amount of sodium, fat, and sugar that goes into a meal; and it’s not always ideal for your budget.

 

For some, cooking at home is a natural part of their everyday lifestyle. For others, it takes a bit more effort. Things can also become challenging when you are managing a health condition like diabetes. With a greater risk of heart disease and hypertension, how you manage and make food choices can be a very helpful and preventative tool.


Making a meal should fill you with joy and pleasure. While I understand our lifestyles often prevent us from making “fancy” meals, there is beauty in simplicity. My philosophy when it comes to nourishing our bodies is that you want it to taste good and be good for you. Use the best possible ingredients you can, nothing artificial or funky, and use spice for flavor to minimize added salt or sugar.


Our diet (and it's just a healthy diet, not one specifically catered toward diabetics) consists of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. This is the basis for the formula I share in my book: "The One One One Diet." Each meal and snack should consist of one serving of each of the macronutrients. This keeps your blood sugar stable and your cravings at minimum and leaves your brain and body satiated and full from the fats. The balance within your meals and food choices makes the difference between a high blood sugar reading and a crash, or stable blood sugar with minimal cravings and satisfaction.


There may be foods that are suggested as “diabetes-friendly” or recipes presented in this same manner. However it’s really important to avoid the use of artificial ingredients. Here is how I see it: A cookie is a cookie. The key when you have diabetes (or for anyone for that matter) is to pay attention to how hungry you are, make sure you have balance, and to not overeat. When your blood sugar gets too low (hypoglycemia), you seek out fast-acting sugars like simple carbs, which can stabilize your blood sugar but will leave your body craving nutrients.


Often with desserts, they don't contain a major source of protein, but do contain fats and carbohydrates. My recommendation here is to enjoy protein with your treat, such as a cup of milk. You can also make the treat your “side” with your meal when you enjoy a protein and vegetable meal. Make it work so that your blood sugar doesn’t shoot through the roof.

 

Below, I share seven other easy ways to tweak your diet for a healthier you.

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Skip the Fryer

How you prepare your food has a significant impact on how your body digests the meal as well as how you feel at the end of the meal. Fatty fried foods can wreak havoc on your arteries long term, increase your overall cholesterol, and add calories that can lead to weight gain and belly fat. Smarter cooking techniques like making a stir-fry, baking, or poaching your foods require minimal to no oil. This is great for meats and veggies.

 

Spice It Up

When a recipe calls for sugar, especially when baking, think about using less and adding in sweet spices and flavorings, such as ground cinnamon and vanilla extract. When a recipe calls for fruit, fresh is best, then frozen, then canned. If you are using canned fruit, make sure it is packed in water or their own juices instead of sugary syrups.

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Photography by: Bryan Gardner
Kale and lentil bowl with avocado dressing.

Beans for Better Blood Sugar

Beans, chickpeas, and lentils and other legumes are known as complex carbohydrates. They are high in fiber, have a low glycemic index and also contain protein. Diets including these foods have been shown to improve blood glucose control; can help you maintain a healthy weight; and improve or reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels (free-floating fats in your bloodstream). With so many ways to incorporate these heart-healthy beans, you can easily add variety to the dinner table a few nights per week.

Avoid Artificial Food

I know many people suffering from diabetes may use artificial sweeteners in their cooking, baking, and general meal prep (especially when it comes to desserts), but I think the more natural your diet is the better. Remember, it is all about pairing, so you will no longer be enjoying the brownies or cookies without protein on the side -- this means you will be more satisfied and less likely to overeat. So, go ahead and just use the sugar.

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Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Make Healthy Fats Your Friend

Healthy fats include wild salmon, avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters. Healthy fats are good for your heart as well as your brain.


Slash the Sodium

This is a general recommendation for anyone looking to stay healthy. However, when you have diabetes, keeping your blood pressure in check is critical, as hypertension (high blood pressure) can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke -- which are common complications of diabetes. In any given recipe, try to use half of the suggested amount of sodium and replace it with additional herbs and spices. This actually adds more flavor to your dish. Another smart strategy: Don’t salt your food after it has been prepared.

 

Choose Whole Grains

Stock your pantry with healthy carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats, and whole-wheat pasta. Whole grains may contribute to maintaining healthy blood glucose levels because of the higher fiber content.

 

Watch the video below for a delicious, easy recipe made with salmon, avocado, and toasted nori.

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About the Author

Rania Batayneh

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book "The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss." She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine ...

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