A diabetes-friendly meal plan worth tasting

Diabetes and high blood sugar go hand in hand. The type you have — type 2type 1, or prediabetes — dictates how your body reacts to sugar in the blood. Since the reaction is often dependent on what you eat, diet is one of the best ways to help regulate fluctuating blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association agrees that medical nutrition therapy is important at all levels of diabetes prevention and management.

When it comes to diabetes and dietary needs, Alison Evert, a registered dietitian (RD) and certified diabetes educator (CDE) at University of Washington Medicine, says to think of it less like a “diet” and more like an “eating plan.”

“Diet has a negative connotation and is usually a short-term thing that’s used to lose 10 pounds,” she says. Instead, a meal plan is something that should be constructed to fit your ongoing individual needs.

This means that people with diabetes — especially those who have T2 or have been diagnosed with prediabetes — can follow just about any trendy meal plan (like keto or paleo) they choose… with one caveat. “Carbohydrate component of the meal/snack is the main determinant of the post-meal blood glucose level,” Evert says.

This doesn’t mean that everyone has to restrict carbohydrate intake. But choosing carbs wisely can have the biggest positive impact on managing blood glucose levels.

In fact, research has shown that counting carbs can be an effective way to not only help plan your meals, but improve blood sugar control.

Carbohydrates are usually thought of as anything with grains: pasta, bread, cereals, etc. But there are sneaky sources of carbs hiding in foods we might initially think belong in a different category.

The reason why carbohydrates should be monitored by people with diabetes is that your body breaks them down into sugars — mostly glucose — which raises blood sugar. Even though foods high in carbs don’t always necessarily taste sweet, that’s how your body reacts to them.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all eating plan for everyone. Studies have found improvements in blood sugar levels when carbs were restricted to 20 grams or less per day, while the general recommendation is between 20 to 50 grams per day.

MAIN TAKEAWAYAnywhere from 20–90 grams of carbs daily might be healthy for someone with diabetes. To determine the right amount for you, the most important thing is to track your carb- and fiber-intake and then test your blood sugar two hours after eating. Then work with your medical team to decide what’s best for your body.

Additionally, foods that are naturally sweet, like fruit, can contain carbs in high numbers. According to the ADA, a small piece of fruit or a half cup of frozen or canned fruit can contain about 15 grams of carbs.

“A fruit smoothie (such as Jamba Juice) has over 100 grams of carbs, but it’s in a liquid form. It has the same amount of carbs as five pieces of fruit and a glass of milk. I don’t know if I could eat five pieces of fruit, but it’s pretty easy to drink down a smoothie,” Evert says.

That’s a good reason to be mindful of the nutrients you’re putting into your body.

Other sneaky sources of carbs

  • Milk has a surprisingly high-carbohydrate content, meaning that tempting iced cafe mocha could have nearly 40 grams of carbs.
  • Starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and corn are sources of carbohydrates.

Because carbs quickly break down into sugar, one way to delay their digestion and absorption is to increase fiber intake — depending on the type of fiber.

There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. When it comes to helping people with diabetes, look for soluble fiber.

Foods that are high in soluble fiber include:

  • lentils
  • artichokes
  • peas
  • broccoli
  • black beans
  • avocados
  • barley

Managing carbs and coming up with a well-balanced meal plan is easier when using the Plate Method. Visualize a dinner plate. Fill half with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with a protein, and the remaining quarter with a starch.

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