More than 11% of Americans have diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.
As a nutritionist living with type 1 diabetes for over 30 years, I’ve discovered that having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to completely stop eating what you love. Blood sugar management is often more about making small food swaps or adding, rather than eliminating, certain foods.
For example, you can still eat carbs, but you should also add protein, a small amount of healthy fats, and lots of fiber. Protein, fat, and fiber all moderate how quickly food is digested, which is helpful in balancing blood sugar.
Here are the foods I eat — and the foods I try to cut back — to help me manage my diabetes:
1. Pasta made from beans or vegetables
Wheat-based pasta contains mostly carbohydrates and can cause blood sugar levels to rise if eaten alone in large portions.
Instead, I’ll opt for pasta made with beans or pasta with vegetables. Processing vegetables (for example, carrots, zucchini, and sweet potatoes) into noodles using a spiralizer is a great way to boost your fiber and vitamin intake.
If you choose to eat traditional pasta, whether gluten-free or wheat-based, be sure to add plenty of protein and fiber to your dish. I recommend poultry, fatty fish like salmon and beans, and vegetables like kale, peppers, onions, and broccoli.
2. Broccoli rice, zucchini or chickpeas
As a substitute for grain rice, try broccoli rice, mushrooms, zucchini, chickpeas or cauliflower. These are high in fiber and easier on blood sugar.
Brown rice is a common substitute for white rice in diabetic diets, but the carbohydrate amounts in the two are actually quite similar. And the small amount of extra fiber you get from brown rice is usually not enough to have a significant impact on blood sugar.
So, just like with pasta, when you want to enjoy rice, just pay attention to your portion sizes and stock up on protein, fat, and fiber (e.g. nuts, vegetables, fish, or beans) .
3. Almond, coconut or oat flour
Instead of using traditional flour when baking or baking, I’ll opt for a blood-sugar-free flour made from almonds, coconut, or oats.
One of my favorite tricks is to use a mixture of almond flour and oatmeal. The resulting flour is lower in carbs and higher in fiber and protein than wheat flour.
And it’s just as tasty: this recipe for Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Breakfast Bars is delicious!
4. Breakfast cereal with protein and fiber
Breakfast cereals can impact your blood sugar if you’re not careful. Instead of choosing cereals with high amounts of added sugars, choose brands that contain more fiber and protein.
My recommendation for a high-fiber, low-sugar option: bran flakes. With about five grams of fiber per serving, this type of cereal has 19 grams of net carbs per 3/4 cup serving, making it lower in carbs than many breakfast cereals.
A bonus: The added fiber is beneficial for digestive health, heart health, and weight management.
5. Low Sugar Fruits
Many people with diabetes are told they should avoid fruit. But there’s often no reason to eliminate whole food groups, especially something as nutritious and tasty as fruit.
I always choose fruits that are lower in sugar, such as berries, kiwi, melon and citrus fruits. Watermelon is also excellent if consumed in moderation. A cup of diced watermelon contains less than 10 grams of sugar.
If you want to eat high-sugar fruits like bananas or mangoes, enjoy them with a source of protein, like peanut butter, cheese, or plain yogurt.
Marie Ellen Phipps is a dietitian, nutritionist and founder of Nutrition milk and honey. She is also the author of “The Easy Diabetes Desserts Cookbook: Blood Sugar-Friendly Versions of Your Favorite Sweets” and a writer for health day. Follow her on ICT Tac and instagram.
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