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Foods to Eat, Limit, or Avoid if You Have Diabetes

You know what they say: you are what you eat.

That’s true for all of us. But if you have diabetes—or are at high risk of developing it—the quality of your diet is even more important than usual.

It all comes down to the amount of sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream. Chronically elevated sugar levels gradually damage your body’s tissues over time, leading to complications like neuropathy, foot wounds that don’t heal, damage to eyes and kidneys, and more.

Eating Healthy

Under normal circumstances, your body releases a hormone called insulin that helps your body absorb excess glucose, lowering the levels in your blood. However, diabetes impairs this process, usually in one of two ways:

  • In Type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet demand.
  • In Type 2 diabetes, your body develops a resistance to insulin. When sugar levels are constantly spiking, insulin must be released repeatedly in high quantities. Over time, your body learns to “tune” the insulin out, making it less effective.

In either scenario, a healthy diet is one of the most important strategies for keeping your sugar levels within a healthy range. This is especially true for those with Type 2, since they can’t use insulin injections to help control sugar.

So, what should you eat? And what should you avoid? It’s not always as clear cut as you’d like it to be.

Many foods, for example, can raise blood sugar while also providing key nutrients that you need. Even carbohydrates serve a valuable purpose. So portion control is often just as important as the foods themselves.

Let’s give some examples of what we mean:

Eating Decisions

Foods and Drinks to Avoid or Restrict

The following foods all raise your sugar levels without providing much in return from a health perspective. We’re not saying you can never indulge your sweet tooth, but these foods should be kept to a minimum. Enjoy rarely, on special occasions, in small portions.

  • Sugary drinks. Pop, juice (even 100% fruit juice) and other high-sugar beverages provide a lot of simple carbs and not a lot of offsetting nutritional value.
  • Sweets and desserts. Like sugary drinks, sugary sweets and desserts offer tons of processed, simple sugars with few positives besides taste.
  • Refined grains. Here, we’re talking about white rice and white flour products (bread, pasta, etc.). Once they’re in your body, these simple carbs basically operate like any other sugar.
  • Saturated fats and trans fats. You need some fat in your diet, but saturated fats (which are common in full-fat dairy and fatty meats, for example) and trans fats (common in packaged snacks and fried food) can trigger inflammation, spike sugar, and increase insulin resistance.
  • Alcohol. Many alcoholic drinks are loaded with carbs and calories that increase your sugar levels. Alcohol also tends to increase your appetite (not to mention decrease your inhibitions), which is not a great combo. Limit yourself to one drink per day—always slowly, with food.

Healthy Living

Foods to Enjoy in Moderation

The following items have pros and cons. They might be a little higher in carbohydrate content, but they also offer essential health benefits as well. These foods are appropriate to enjoy in moderation. Just keep an eye on your sugar levels.

  • Fresh fruit. Foods like apples, berries, and oranges are indeed sweet. But the carbs are more complex, and these fruits also contain fiber—which helps slow glucose absorption and keep your sugar levels from spiking too much, too fast. Apples and peanut butter (which adds a little protein to the mix) is just about the perfect snack!
  • Lean meat. Meat can be a great source of protein, but you want to stick to the leanest cuts. Lean beef and pork tenderloin are good choices in moderation, along with poultry (remove the skins first).
  • Low-fat dairy. Same deal here—dairy is rich in protein, calcium, and other healthy nutrients, but also add a lot of calories. We recommend low-fat versions for your milk, yogurt, and cheese, along with eggs. If you like the higher-fat dairy, just remember to keep your portions small.
  • Whole grains. Recent dietary trends have made cutting all grains popular. However, the research continues to show that, in moderation, intact whole grain foods can be beneficial for diabetes. High fiber contact allows your body to digest the sugar more slowly, and the whole grains also offer healthy fat, minerals, vitamins, and even some protein.
  • Healthy fats. Too much fat is obviously a bad thing, since it leads to weight gain and increased difficulty with managing sugar. But your body does need healthy fats in appropriate quantities. Good natural sources include nuts, seeds, avocados, and most fish.

Foods to Enjoy Guilt-Free

Go ahead and load up on these items. Although we suppose it’s possible to go overboard—too much of anything is bad for you in the long run—these foods offer great health benefits with very low risk for diabetes sufferers.

  • Fresh veggies. We’re guessing you’re not surprised by this one. Tons of fiber, tons of vitamins, virtually no salt or fat. The best way to enjoy them is raw, lightly steamed, grilled, or roasted. (Do, however, limit potatoes and corn—which are carb-rich—and avoid canned veggies with lots of added salt.)
  • Plant-based proteins. Even if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan, plant-based protein (beans, nuts, tofu, seeds) is a great choice for your diet, since they also provide fiber and some nutrients that aren’t in meat, dairy, or other animal products.

A Few Quick Tips

Here are a couple of other things to consider when putting together your meal plan:

  • Check your sugar regularly. No matter how careful you are with your diet and exercise, the results aren’t always what you want or expect. Monitoring your sugar regularly (and recording the data) allows you to assess the effectiveness of your diabetes plan, and intervene if your sugar suddenly gets too high or low.
  • Eat at regular intervals throughout the day. When and how often you eat can be just as important as what you eat. Don’t skip breakfast. Do your best to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same times every day. Have healthy, filling snacks on hand to curb those between-meal cravings. These strategies will help your sugar stay more level and constant throughout the day, rather than swing wildly between and after meals.

Also, this isn’t exactly diet-related, but do make sure you’re checking your feet every day for cuts and injuries, and checking in with your foot doctor at least once per year for a full diabetic foot checkup.

You should also discuss a comprehensive diabetes strategy with your primary care physician. Regular checkups, an exercise plan, and other common-sense proactive tactics can make a big difference in managing your condition without impairing your lifestyle.

If you’re past due for your diabetic foot exam, or you have any current issues or concerns about your feet or ankles, please make an appointment with us today. You can schedule at any of our six convenient locations by calling (888) 689-3317.

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