Recently Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes? Here Are Some Helpful Meal Planning Tips
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it probably came as somewhat of a shock, and you are likely still comprehending the dizzying amount of medical, health and treatment information that was suddenly tossed at you.
The first thing to do is take a deep breath and understand that you are not alone. There are more than 34 million Americans currently living with diabetes and the vast majority have the Type 2 form of the disease just like you. The good news is that living with diabetes nowadays is a lot easier than ever before thanks to new and more accurate blood sugar testing and treatment technologies.
Still, being diagnosed means you are going to have to make some important lifestyle adjustments and one of them is changing up your diet.
The Relationship Between Diet and Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes means that your body is not processing blood sugar properly. If left unchecked, you can experience dangerously high blood sugar levels that can contribute to health complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, kidney disease and stroke.
Diet plays a huge role in determining your blood sugar level. So it only makes sense that one of the first changes to be made when diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes is what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat.
Let’s Start with the Basics
The easiest way to start planning a diabetes-friendly diet is to understand the basics - what’s good for you and what’s bad. What you’ll soon find out is that a diabetes-friendly diet is essentially just a healthy diet. It’s about eating right with a few extra caveats to help you control your blood sugar.
The Bad Stuff
This is probably going to be the most difficult adjustment because some of these “bad” diabetes foods are admittedly pretty darn yummy. The problem is they can dramatically spike blood sugar and that’s the last thing you need when you’re just starting out managing diabetes. So here we go:
Sugar and sugary drinks
Sweets like candy and cakes are pretty obvious foods to avoid or at least limit when you have diabetes. But don’t be fooled by the many so-called fruit drinks on the market that tend to pack in boatloads of added sugar. These drinks are diabetes nightmares and will make those blood sugar tests head in the wrong direction. They also tend to be loaded with calories, which are no friend to those with Type 2 diabetes looking to control weight.
What’s the alternative? Go for unsweetened iced tea or try one of the many zero-calorie sparkling water products on the market. You might even try adding fresh lemon, lime or berries to a sparkling water to create your own healthy concoction.
Cut back on foods like processed snacks, potato chips, canned soups and many frozen foods found at the grocery store. These “convenient eats” can certainly make our busy lives easier, but they are also often extremely high in sugar, sodium, fat and calories, which can do a number on your blood sugar. If you do occasionally go processed, look for labels that read things like “low-sodium” and “reduced fat”.
Cut back on carbohydrates
Foods like white bread, pasta, and white rice are not inherently unhealthy, however, they are rich in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber. Your body will digest these foods very rapidly, which, in turn, causes the body to release more glucose into the blood stream. As you can imagine, this can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.
Watch the salt
Living with Type 2 diabetes puts you at greater risk for certain health complications, including cardiovascular issues and high blood pressure. So it’s a good idea to limit how much sodium you allow into your diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, aiming for less than 2,300 milligrams a day is a good goal for most people. However, your diabetes physician may tell you to aim even lower if you are overweight or already have high blood pressure.
The Good Stuff
A diabetes-healthy diet is certainly not a boring one. There are plenty of delicious foods that can also help you better control blood sugar, highlighted by lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables.
Healthy fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are all great options to help manage your diabetes and provide you with some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, to boot. Other great sources of protein include chicken and poultry, lean beef, eggs, black beans, pinto beans, tofu, shellfish, peanut butter, black-eyed peas and so much more. Try to eliminate processed meats, such as ham, hot dogs and bacon as these items tend to be high in saturated fat and sodium.
The list of diabetes-friendly veggies is a long and a delicious one. From artichokes to asparagus; broccoli to baby corn, cucumber to cauliflower, there’s no shortage of great choices. Others include mushrooms, peppers, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and carrots. All these veggies are low in carbs, calories, and sugar, while also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends at least three servings a day (a serving size being ½ cup of cooked veggies or 1 cup of raw). You can’t go overboard on non-starchy vegetables, so dig in as often as you like!
Dietary fibers include whole-grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, beans, whole-wheat pasta, and fruit. The great thing about high-fiber foods is that they are digested very slowly, which minimizes sudden spikes in blood sugar. It’s important to note that fruits contain carbohydrates, and this must be considered as you plan your meals. However, you need some carbs and fruits are a great choice because they are also loaded with vitamins and other nutrients.
Putting a Healthy Meal Together – The Plate Method
Remembering what to eat and how much to portion for each meal can get complicated when you’re managing diabetes. To help, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) put together The Plate Method.
This simple guide makes meal planning stress-free by eliminating the need to calculate carbs, watch calories or measure portions. If you’re new to diabetes, The Plate Method is a great tool to help manage your blood sugar. It’s this simple:
- Grab a 9-inch plate
- Fill one half of the plate with non-starchy veggies
- Fill ¼ of the plate with carbohydrate foods
- Fill the remaining quarter with a protein
Top off your meal with a glass of water, iced tea, or a zero-calorie, zero sugar drink. Congratulations! You’ve effectively taken the guesswork out of meal planning and are ready make a healthy diet part of your diabetes management program.
Learn to be consistent with meals and snacks
A consistent meal and snack routine is important because eating irregularly with diabetes can have a negative impact on blood sugar control. For example, skipping meals can cause unintended drops in blood glucose (hypoglycemia) and cause you to feel lethargic or exhausted. Skipping meals also often leads to extreme hungry later on which can lead to binge snacking and poor food choices. This can wind up spiking blood sugar. If you can stick to three regular meals each day with a few healthy snacks in-between, you’ll enjoy far better control over your blood sugar.
Plan your menus in advance and eat out less
Planning is key to a diabetes-friendly diet. Make a list and go to the supermarket at the beginning of each week to stock up on fresh proteins, vegetables, and snacks. It’s also a good idea to plan out your menu each week. This way you won’t find yourself suddenly wondering what to have for lunch or dinner, which often leads to last-minute and not-so-healthy choices. You might even consider preparing a few days of lunches or dinners at one time, so they’re ready in advance and all you have to do is heat and enjoy.
Dining out is a treat and one that’s certainly not off the table. However, if you’re accustomed to eating fast food regularly or going to restaurants numerous times a week, it’s a good idea to try and curb that habit. Restaurants menus are tempting, and while many include diabetes healthy options, if you eat out too often, particularly when new to managing diabetes, it can knock you off your healthy routine.
Being newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes means making some lifestyle changes. There’s no way around it if you want to live a happy and healthy life. Eating right is important and it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of your favorite foods. It just means you need to make smarter choices, focusing on healthier options and cutting back on those that aren’t. Not only will you gain better control over your blood sugar, you’re also likely to lose excess weight, which is an important benefit for many people managing Type 2 diabetes.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this - eating right will help you feel better and live better. That’s great for you and everyone who cares about you. Good luck.
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