Diabetes Nutrition: The Top 5 Tips

Whether you’re preparing a meal at home or ordering a meal in a restaurant, healthy eating is important when you’re living with diabetes. Following these tips will help you make the right choices.

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Why is nutrition important?

As you learn to live with diabetes, you will realize that the food choices you make are one of the most important tools you have to help you manage your condition. Making the right food choices for you can help you:
  • Manage your blood glucose levels
  • Reduce your bad cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
There’s no single “diabetes diet” for you to follow, so it’s up to you to watch the types and amounts of foods you eat every day. The good news: you don’t need to feel “restricted” … there are plenty of healthy food choices out there, and plenty of different ways to keep your blood glucose under control with the right food options.
If you’re not certain what impact nutrition can have on your diabetes, it’s easy to learn more. Your doctor, a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator can all help.

Tip 1: Plan ahead

It’s been said that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”. There’s some truth in that old saying, at least when you are talking about the food you eat. Last-minute, impulse eating decisions may not be the best ones, so it’s important to make a solid plan for a healthy diet, and stick to it.
What does this kind of nutrition planning involve? Well, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep in mind a few basic rules, and you’re off to a good start:
  • Take a few minutes at the start of your week to plan your meals. It can start with a few simple questions, like “What nights will I be eating at home and when do I need to eat out?” or  “What do I intend to eat for breakfast each morning?” Think of it as starting a trip by buying a map, or getting a good set of directions for where you’re going.
  • Always take a list when you go grocery shopping.  Shopping with a list will help you stick to your meal plan, and avoid those unnecessary “impulse buys” in the grocery store. Not only will it help you eat healthier … it can save you money, too.
  • Make a daily plan for meal timing. Eating meals at regular times is the best way to help make sure your blood glucose stays under control throughout your day. So it’s important to schedule your day around those regular mealtimes. And for days when you know you won’t be able to eat lunch or dinner at your regular time … you can plan to bring along some healthy snacks.


Tip 2: Max out the veggies!

Did your mom always tell you to “eat all your veggies” when you were growing up? Well, she was right … eating veggies is a good way to get lots of vitamins and minerals without maxing out on calories.
Veggies can be your friends when you’re living with diabetes. Keep some of these tips in mind:
  • Buy what’s in season – that’s a great way to get the most flavour, and often, the lowest cost.
  • Buy what’s fresh – canned or preserved veggies are better than none at all, but they often come with a higher salt content. You’ll need to check the labels. Remember, frozen veggies are a good option, too.
  • Go for the bright colours – in general, the brighter or darker the colour, the higher the nutrient count (think bright red peppers, or dark green broccoli).
  • Know your veggies – starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn or peas are higher in carbohydrates, and could increase your blood glucose. You can load up on the non-starchy veggies, like asparagus, carrots, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, radishes … there are so many to choose from. Eating corn or potatoes is OK – just remember to count them as a “starch” choice, and eliminate another carb choice (like pasta, or bread) to keep your glucose levels balanced.
Why not try a vegetarian meal the next time you’re cooking for your family? Canada has plenty of ethnic cuisines that feature meatless meals … like a spicy or savoury Indian curry! Herbs and spices in general are a great way to bump up the flavour without bumping up the salt or sugar.

Tip 3: Fight those fats

Fatty foods may be tempting, but many of them are dangerous … a high-fat diet is bad for your heart health.
You should learn which fats are harmful for you, and which are not. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats (like red meats, chicken and full-fat dairy products) and trans fats (foods cooked in partially-hydrogenated oils). But eating foods that are rich in unsaturated fats or omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout, tuna, walnuts or sunflower seeds) can actually improve your heart health.
There are plenty of ways you can learn to reduce the levels of harmful fat in your diet:
  • At home:
    • Steam your veggies, to retain nutrients without adding fat
    • Avoid frying. Grilling meats is a better option, or use a pan with a rack below to allow fat to drip away.
    • Use non-stick cookware, so you can sauté without adding oils
    • Keep sharp knives handy, to trim away excess fat from meats … and slice them more thinly
    • Chill soups or stews, allowing the fat to congeal. Then remove the fat before you reheat.
  • In a restaurant:
    • Get your sauces, dressings and gravies on the side. Then use your fork to get a small amount on what you’re eating.
    • Don’t order breaded or fried foods.
    • Ask if the kitchen will broil your fish or meat without added butter or oil.
    • If you order an appetizer, share it with a friend.
    • If the main dishes are too big, choose two small, lower-fat appetizers. Or ask for a “doggie bag” to take home a portion to save for another meal.
    • If you must eat in a “fast food” place, ask to see the nutrition information for their meals  … and try to choose one that’s not loaded with fat and calories.

Tip 4: Watch your serving sizes

We live in a society where “super-sizing” has become the norm, both in restaurants and in grocery stores. But just because ‘bigger’ options are out there, doesn’t mean you have to choose them. Watching your portion sizes is one of the best ways to make sure you’re not eating too many calories, fat and salt.
In the grocery store, try to choose the smallest size you can find, especially when buying snacks. Healthy snacks are better choices, but if you do give in to your “junk food” cravings once in a while, mini-sized chocolate bars and half-sized bags of chips are at least better options than full-sized ones.
At home, let your plate be your guide. If you think of a plate as a kind of map, think of filling ¼ of the plate with a protein choice (chicken or fish), ¼ of the plate with a starch (rice, pasta, couscous, corn or potatoes) and the remaining ½ with vegetables. Remember, choosing a smaller plate (a luncheon size rather than a dinner plate) is a good way to watch your calories. And stick to just ONE plate … don’t go for seconds!
In a restaurant, try going topless. No, no, not you … your food. Don’t add cheese atop your burger, as that can add a lot of calories. And try having it without the top bun, or without a bun at all. The extra bread can add carbs and drive up your blood glucose levels.
Need a quick guide to proper portion sizes? Your hands can help:
  • One serving of meat is the size of the palm of your hand.
  • One serving of oil or fat is the size of your thumbtip.
  • One serving of cheese is the size of two thumbtips.

Tip 5: Count your carbs

Carbohydrates (or “carbs”) are found in many of the foods you eat, including grains and starches (breads, rice, pasta), fruits and some vegetables (potatoes), legumes, milk, and many prepared foods. For people with diabetes, carbs are important to watch, because the body breaks them down into glucose, which can raise your blood glucose levels.
A good general carbohydrate target is no more than 45-60 grams or carbs per meal, but that number will vary from person to person.
And remember, not all carbohydrate-rich foods are the same. You should get to know the Glycemic Index (GI), a tool that helps you choose foods that are less likely to raise your blood glucose (100% whole grain breads, barley, beans) and avoid the ones that may raise it more (white bread, short-grain rice, French fries).  You can learn more about the Glycemic Index here: www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthy-living-resources/diet-nutrition/the-glycemic-index
In order to help watch your carbs, you’ll need to:
  • Write down what you eat and drink through the day. Keep a notebook handy, and remember to record portion sizes. A portable scale can help you measure things. Or download a carb-counting app for your smartphone.
  • Check the nutrition labels of the packaged foods you eat … they should all list their carbohydrate content per serving size.
  • Ask for nutritional information sheets when you’re eating out, or check a restaurant’s website for nutrition information.
Ask the Certified Diabetes Educator Pharmacist at Walmart for ways you can watch the carbs in your diet.

Important information

For more tips on how to eat healthy, nutritious meals and snacks that can help keep your diabetes under control... Just ask the Pharmacist at Walmart!

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