9 Healthy Diet Tips for Diabetics in 2024
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
“Eating right” for a person with diabetes is a vague term that gets thrown around often, especially with the advent of fad diets with limited science to support them.
Following a diet restricting many available food groups can be tempting but promise fast results. However, a healthy diabetes diet is evidence-based, balanced, nutritious, and can help you control blood glucose levels more efficiently.
The first step is to start cooking more at home, so here are 9 healthy diet tips for diabetics that should help you accomplish your health goals.
Meal planning and preparation are sustainable ways of ensuring you get all the nutrients your body needs. It allows you to do your grocery shopping only once or twice weekly, which is a good idea if you’re strapped for time because of work, household chores, or childcare.
When you have all the ingredients you need to cook a healthy, filling meal, you’re less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks packed full of sugar and refined carbohydrates between meals. You also don’t have to waste time thinking about what to cook for dinner daily, only to opt for pre-packaged foods that might not be the best for you.
We suggest you look up weekly meals that support a healthy, balanced diet. Then, on the weekend, you can gather the ingredients you need into a shopping list, buy them, and prepare some as soon as you get home.
Roasting root vegetables and squashes, cleaning out and portioning greens and herbs, and even slow-cooking your proteins in bulk can help you make cooking on weekdays a breeze.
Cook a large batch of vegetable soup and freeze some of it for reheating later, and mix a batch of salad vegetables in a large container to toss with a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing when you’re ready to eat later.
These tips should help you avoid unhealthy takeaway foods because you have a better alternative.
Making healthy food choices can be difficult if you’re not aware of what you consume. That’s why all food manufacturers are required by law to disclose the ingredients and nutritional information of their products on food labels.
Checking nutritional info can help you with carb counting to adjust your insulin intake. It can also alert you to foods high in sugar that you presumed were low carb.
Added sugars are a notorious method food manufacturers use for improving the flavour of low-fat pre-packaged foods. For someone managing diabetes while also trying to lose weight or control their fat intake, a low-fat dairy or grain product could be even less healthy than a regular one.
Eating healthily when living with diabetes means paying attention to your carbohydrate intake. However, what matters isn’t just how many carbs you consume, it’s also the type of carbs.
Controlling your blood sugar levels through diet means replacing refined carbohydrates with healthier carbohydrates that take longer to digest and release into your bloodstream.
Choose healthy carbohydrates that include a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre, which keeps them longer in your digestive system, makes them more fulfilling, and makes them less likely to spike your blood sugar level.
Replace white bread with wholegrain and multigrain bread, white rice with wild or brown rice, and potatoes with sweet potatoes or even cauliflower if you’re making a mash. Replace sugary drinks, like soft drinks and fruit juices, with coffee, tea, or mineral water.
If you have an affinity for sugary foods, consider replacing the sugar with an artificial or low-calorie sweetener. That said, you should keep in mind that consuming artificially sweetened foods can affect your cravings for sugar and make them harder to control.
One of the most challenging diabetes complications is the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. That’s why maintaining your cardiovascular well-being is a priority when choosing the fats you consume.
The biggest offenders are saturated fats, like butter, lard, suet, and hydrogenated oils. You can find them in red and processed meats, prepackaged cakes and breads, and regular, homemade fried and baked foods.
These fats increase the concentration of low-density cholesterol (LDL) in the blood, which attaches to artery walls, narrowing them and making it harder for blood to flow easily.
Healthier fats, mono-unsaturated fats, are found in olive oil, oily fish, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. They help with the concentration of high-density cholesterol (HDL), which scavenges the LDL and prevents the accumulation of arterial plaque.
When you choose healthier fats and incorporate them into your cooking, you can satisfy your daily needs for dietary fat without resorting to harmful alternatives.
Protein is an essential food group. If you don’t follow any special diets, you’re likely getting most of your protein in the form of white, red, and even processed meat.
If you’re living with diabetes, aim to include more plant-based proteins, like legumes, and pulses, and prepared plant-based proteins such as tofu or tempeh in your diet.
Aside from containing zero saturated fats, plant-based proteins have the added benefit of containing a good amount of dietary fibre. This makes beans, lentils, and some nuts more satisfying, filling, and less likely to cause blood glucose spikes.
They’re also versatile and fun to cook. You can experiment with different flavours from South Asian, South American, and Middle-Eastern cuisines, which have many naturally meatless dishes.
Keep canned, low-sodium chickpeas or fava beans in your cupboard and tofu blocks in your fridge. When making lunch or dinner, you’ll have a quick, easy source of plant-based protein that can easily replace chicken, beef, or fish in most soups, stews, and curries.
Just like plant-based protein makes for an excellent addition to your meals, vegetables can add bulk and leave you feeling fuller for longer, Their numerous health benefits go without mentioning.
Adding more nutritional value to your meals in the form of steamed, roasted, or even fresh vegetables is also a surefire way to reach your health goals.
Let’s take pumpkin, butternut, and kabocha squashes as an example. They have several benefits, including a good amount of antioxidants, vitamin A (improved insulin release) & vitamin C (lowers blood sugar for type 2 diabetes), and dietary fibre.
Leafy greens, like spinach, rocket, and kale are also rich in calcium, iron, and magnesium, which helps lower your blood sugar levels. Cruciferous veg, like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, contain glucosinolates that help delay the advent of chronic metabolic illnesses.
Fruit is also important in your diet, but some of it should be approached with a little more care due to its naturally high glycemic index. These include grapes, bananas, mangoes, oranges, and pears.
Instead of drinking fruit juices, eat the whole fruit with the peel if possible, to consume enough fibre with simple sugar. As for dried fruits, such as dates and raisins, you should eat them as an occasional treat and avoid them if they have any added sugar.
If you need insulin to control your diabetes, count the carbohydrates in the fruit you’re having, just like with other carbohydrate sources. That way, it’s less likely for your blood sugar levels to spike after having them for a snack.
Sodium is an essential mineral our bodies need to function properly. However, when there’s too much sodium in the diet it can cause high blood pressure, as well as disruptions in the level of water retained by the body.
Having diabetes also predisposes a person to cardiovascular diseases, and consuming too much sodium can compound the risk, making it more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
Table salt is the main source of dietary sodium, but it can also be found in preservatives and processed food additives. Diabetes UK recommends only using 6 grams (1 teaspoon) of salt daily.
It can be difficult to measure how much salt you consume if you rely on prepackaged foods for most of your meals, which brings us to the following tip.
Many people rely on prepared foods because they’re tasty, cheap, and convenient, which can come in handy if you work long hours or don’t like the taste of many healthy foods.
However, due to the large list of ingredients these foods use, which are designed to make you come back for more, there’s no real way to know what’s in your food unless you’ve cooked it yourself.
Keeping track of how much sugar, salt, and fat you’ve eaten daily becomes much harder when processed foods form a considerable portion of your diet. It goes without mentioning how many of these foods are considered “empty calories” that don’t provide enough nutrition to fill your dietary needs.
When you’re living with diabetes, cooking at home can be an excellent way to keep track of your macronutrients; carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also allows you to:
Customize your meals to fit your individual healthy eating goals,
Manage nutrient deficiencies without using mineral and vitamin supplements and
Experiment with new, healthy recipes that taste good.
Cultivating the habit of home cooking might be challenging at first, especially if it’s new to you. We suggest you start with simple dishes requiring only 30 minutes of active cooking. Try to steam, braise, bake, or air-fry the food instead of frying it in oil, and monitor the amount of salt you add to the dish, replacing some of it with spices that enhance the flavour without adding sodium.
Portion control might be one of the most challenging aspects of eating right. It requires vigilance and mindfulness while eating, and can be difficult at first if you’re not used to it.
Here are a few tips that can help you control the amounts of food you eat, and still feel satisfied after every meal:
Invest in a kitchen scale to weigh foods when you’re not sure of the portion size in tablespoons/cups.
Serve the food in smaller plates and cups to make them appear fuller.
Take smaller bites and chew them thoroughly. It also helps to put your utensils down between bites as you chew.
Avoid eating while watching the television. It can distract you from realizing you’re full, so you end up eating more than you usually do.
Use the Diabetes UK weight loss planner to log your meals, including portion sizes, and how full you feel after every meal. It can help you with your healthy weight loss goals and encourage you to keep going.
Food is an essential factor in controlling diabetes, that is just as important as diabetes medications. Maintaining a healthy diet, however, requires you to invest more time and effort than usual, which might be challenging for some people with diabetes.
That said, planning your meals ahead and grocery shopping for them, or making large batches of soup or salad to have quick meals on hand, are small steps that have a huge impact. Instead of ordering takeaway, you’ll have delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals with the ingredients you chose to help you reach your health goals.
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