The grocery store is full of choices, and it can be pretty complicated to decide what to buy. Some people become so tired of thinking that they just start throwing stuff in the cart, which is exactly what someone with diabetes doesn’t want to do! Eating well is not as complicated as some people make it out to be, and these simple tips will make it easy for you to make good choices:
Aim for one or two servings of non-starchy vegetables at each meal. Examples of non-starchy vegetables are carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Jazz them up (without adding a ton of carbohydrates) with seasonings, a little olive oil, low-fat veggie dip, or hummus. Be sure to always count the carbohydrates in dips, though, and keep a close eye on your portion sizes. It’s also helpful to many people to incorporate vegetables into their main courses, rather than thinking of them as side dishes. My husband and I have made a game of counting how many different types of vegetables we eat in a day.
Don’t be afraid of the carbohydrate in fruit. If I had a dime for every time someone with diabetes told me they avoid fruit, I would never need to work again. Fruit provides vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. The high water content and fiber help to keep you satisfied until your next meal. Again, portions matter! Are you noticing a theme yet? Fresh fruit or frozen unsweetened fruit is better than canned or dried. A small piece of fresh fruit (or about a ½ cup of fruit) counts as one carbohydrate “choice” and contains around 15 grams of carbohydrate. A 1/3 – ½ cup of fruit juice or two tablespoons of dried fruit contains the same amount. Purple juices, such as grape and prune, usually contain more carbohydrates than other types, such as apple or orange juices. Aim to work three or four servings of fruit into your diet every day.
Adult men need around 60 grams of protein per day, while women need around 50 grams. Many of us actually get more than enough, which is hard to believe when you consider how many times we hear that we should be eating more! Most people don’t need more than six ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish to meet their protein needs each day. A three-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards. A ¼ cup serving of cooked beans, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, or a ½ ounce of nuts or seeds also count as a one-ounce equivalent of protein. Don’t be afraid of the cholesterol in eggs or shrimp, either, since we now know that the cholesterol in food does not have much of an impact on our blood cholesterol levels.
If you eat fish, choose fatty fish such as albacore tuna or salmon twice a week. Frozen salmon patties or canned/vacuum-packed varieties are fine, but be mindful of your sodium intake.
Choose skinless chicken and turkey, and make certain that the ground turkey you purchase either says, “ground turkey breast” or “lean ground turkey.” If it is simply described as “ground turkey,” it could contain as much fat as ground beef. The leanest cuts of beef are round, sirloin, chuck or loin; “choice” or “select” grades of beef are lower in fat than “prime” cuts. Any ground beef that you purchase should be at least 85% lean, and the leaner the better! Pork tenderloin or loin chops are good choices and can be used in a variety of dishes. Wild game, including rabbit, venison, and skinless wild duck, are lean. Processed sandwich meats are best considered “every once in awhile” foods, even if they are low-fat; if you really want them, look for the lowest sodium choices that you can find, and consider nitrite free varieties. Eating large amounts of nitrites may increase the risk of cancer, especially colon cancer, so limiting your intake of processed meats is probably prudent.
Choose cereals that contain at least five grams of fiber in a serving, such as bran flakes. In general, it’s a good idea to purchase unsweetened cereal and to sweeten it at home, where you have more control of what type and how much of the sweetener you are adding. Don’t forget to add fruit for an extra kick of natural sweetness, fiber, and nutrients. If you enjoy oatmeal, bypass the sweetened packets and choose the big canister instead. Keep an eye out for steel-cut oats, which have a lower glycemic index (meaning that they have a more modest effect on blood glucose). Adding nuts, seeds, Greek yogurt, or fruit will make your oatmeal taste better and will add a nutritious punch to your breakfast. If you don’t like oats, consider trying quinoa as an alternative. Quinoa is one of the highest protein grains and is a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
There are dozens of choices in the yogurt aisle, which can be both overwhelming and confusing. Your very best choice is plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, which you can flavor yourself with fruit, nuts, artificial sweetener, or even a small amount of honey (remember that one tablespoon of honey contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and a teaspoons contains 5 grams). If you really prefer the flavored yogurts, choose one with the lowest amount of carbohydrates and the shortest ingredient list that you can find. The conjugated linoleic acid in organic milk might reduce heart attack risk. Low-fat cottage cheese contains essentially no carbohydrates and is high in protein, but it is also very high in sodium, so eat it occasionally and on days when you won’t be eating other high sodium foods (like soup or canned vegetables). If you choose to eat full-fat cheese, be mindful of the size of your slice. A serving size of cheese, one ounce, is the size of four dice and can contain up to 10 grams of fat.
As long as you focus on purchasing minimally processed foods most of the time and enjoy treats as just that – a treat, you’ll do well. No one knows everything that there is to know about food and nutrition, and your body might react differently to certain foods than other people that you know. Keeping track of what you eat and what your blood glucose readings are is crucial to finding the perfect diet for you.