What should you eat if you have diabetes?

September 09, 2021 | by Elizabeth Jones, RD, CDE
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

This blog originally appeared on the Healthy Driven Chicago website.

If you have diabetes, what you eat can greatly impact your overall health and how you feel. Fortunately, managing your nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be done by making simple, sustainable changes to your diet.

Moderation is the key for successful nutrition management. A few additional guidelines are to keep it simple; aim for three, similarly-sized meals that are spaced throughout the day; choose complex carbohydrates over refined ones and aim for minimal added sugar in foods.

Breathe a sigh of relief: there aren’t any foods that are off-limits. Patients often ask if it’s okay to indulge in a piece of birthday cake or enjoy a pancake breakfast with their family. Everything can fit and we don’t label any foods as bad foods. It’s all about finding ways to incorporate your favorite foods into a meal plan and balancing, in a way, that keeps your blood sugar under control.

There are a few different dietary plans we recommend for patients with diabetes:

  • MyPlate – The great thing about this one is the flexibility it offers – it’s easy to adjust to patient preferences and different cultural norms. The method includes using a 9-inch plate and filling half the plate with vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with a complex carbohydrate. It’s an easy visual whether you are on the go or at home.

  • Mediterranean diet – This eating pattern is frequently touted for being heart-healthy. It has the bonus of improving blood sugar metabolism. The diet focuses on eating primarily vegetables and fruit; lean protein, such as fish; whole grains and extra virgin olive oil.

  • Counting carbs – This method is a more advanced way of managing nutrition but can be especially beneficial for someone who takes insulin. An overall reduction in carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes can lead to significant improvement in blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c over time.

Wondering what a day of eating looks like for a person with diabetes? Here are some examples of healthy meals:

  • Breakfast
    • Vegetable 1-2 egg omelet with whole grain toast and a cup of fruit
    • Plain Greek yogurt with fruit and a sprinkle of cereal and sprinkle of nuts or chia seeds
  • Lunch
    • Vegetable salad with grilled salmon and 1 cup of cooked quinoa
    • Pulled chicken on two slices of whole grain bread, slice of lettuce, tomato, avocado, 1 cup of carrots and a yogurt
    • Burrito bowl with shredded chicken, 1 cup of beans, non-starchy veggies, part skim cheese and 1 whole grain tortilla
  • Dinner
    • 1 cup of whole grain, high-fiber pasta (add zucchini noodles to increase serving size), 1–2 cups of broccoli/peppers/carrots, mixed with ground turkey meatballs and a light red sauce
    • Shrimp and vegetable stir fry with 1 cup of brown rice or quinoa (mix with cauliflower rice to increase serving size)
  • Snacks
    • 3 cups of light popcorn paired with a part skim string cheese
    • 1 Tbsp peanut butter and banana
    • Whole grain toast with smashed ¼ avocado

With the help of a certified diabetes care and education specialist, you get an individualized plan of care and the support you need to achieve long-term success. To learn more, contact the Diabetes Learning Center in Elmhurst at 331-221-6440 or the Edward Diabetes Clinic at 630-527-3213.

Learn more about diabetes care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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