What Can You Eat?

What Can You Eat?
By Prem Sahasranam MD and Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDCES  

When it comes to eating, it’s a tricky balance: you have to eat to survive, yet it also causes blood sugar to go up, and you want to eat to feel satisfied but not have that be the cause of your sugar going too high.   Worse, when people find out you have diabetes, they feel perfectly comfortable sharing their uninvited opinions about what’s on your plate and what you should or shouldn’t be eating. It’s easy to feel lost when deciding what to eat - if not downright annoyed - or even sometimes hopeless given the multitude of options and situations you regularly face.   Let’s review some nutrition basics that have science to back them up so you can feel confident in knowing your food choices are going to help your healthy, carb-conscious lifestyle.   

Carb-conscious? Yes, let’s start with carbohydrates, or “carbs” as they are affectionately known. Carbs make blood sugar go up the fastest, so knowing about them is important. You find carbs in pasta, bread, couscous, potatoes, beans, rice, oats, cereals, milk, fruits, sweets, juices, and regular sodas. That’s great.   Does this mean you can never have these foods? No! It’s a question of how much. Learn which foods and beverages have carbs as that will help you balance your blood sugar.   The 2 other main food groups are fats and protein. The reason it’s helpful to know your food groups is because of their impact on blood sugar. Vegetables, and foods in the fat and protein groups will not make your blood sugar go up.     

An Easy Way to Get Started: Use the Plate Method To keep it simple, get a 9-inch plate. On one half of the plate, fill it up with non-starchy veggies, as in yummy veggies, sautéed or steamed veggies - whatever you enjoy. On a quarter of the plate, fill it up with protein (about the size of the palm of your hand). This could be fish, lean meat, poultry without the skin, or tofu. On the last quarter of the plate, fill it up with carbs or starches.   To give you an idea of how this works given your personal food preferences, try out this interactive Create Your Plate from the American Diabetes Association website. You will find several different examples of foods within each category.   

What About Specific Diets? We now call them “eating patterns” because diets simply don’t last. You want to pick something that you can be consistent with most of the time. Try for 80% of the time. Whether you eat everything, are a vegan or vegetarian, follow a gluten-free, low-carb or keto plan, work with us to get an individualized plan and strive for consistency. It’s not realistic to think you can be perfect with eating. Very few people can follow their meal plan 100% of the time. But by being consistent, you help to stabilize your blood sugars. And there’s much more to it than that. A balanced diet also takes into consideration using “food as medicine” such that your eating style helps to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.   

 20 Ways to Improve Your “Diet” 
  1.  Follow an eating pattern 80% of the time. 
  2.  Choose a variety of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and low in calories (think produce and Farmer’s Market!) 
  3.  Bake, broil, grill, steam or barbeque instead of fry. 
  4.  Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, like bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, chilies, eggplant, jicama, spinach, tomatoes, or zucchini. 
  5.  Fill a quarter of your plate with protein the size of the palm of your hand. Examples include turkey, skinless chicken, lean beef or pork (trim off fat), fish, seafood, tofu, tempeh, soy burgers, hummus, or legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds, or eggs. Limit bacon, sausage, ham, luncheon meat, poultry skins, fatty meats, or hard cheeses. 
  6.  Fill the last quarter of your plate with grains and starchy foods, such as calabaza, corn, green peas, Chayote squash, plantain, quinoa, rice (brown, white, or wild), potatoes, pasta, sweet potato, yams, or yucca. Try a new veggie! 
  7.  Have fruit the size of your clenched fist for dessert. 
  8.  Choose healthy fats in small amounts. For cooking, use oils. For salads, some options are a couple tablespoons of vinaigrette and olive oil, some seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin), some nuts, and avocado. 
  9.  Stay hydrated with water (make it fun with a slice of lemon, lime, or other fruit, or add mint). Have unsweetened tea or coffee. 
  10.  Experiment. Check your blood sugar just before you eat and then 2 hours after you finished your meal. If it only went up 50 mg/dL, then your body was able to handle the amount of carbs. Luckily, we tend to eat the same things over and over, so in about a week’s time, you will understand one of your meals. For example, you could check your sugar before and after breakfast for a week, then move on to checking glucose before and after lunch the next week, then before and after dinner for the following week. 
  11.  Write down what you eat and drink! You are much more likely to reach your weight and nutrition goals. Use an app to help track your meals, like MyFitnessPal
  12.  Learn about carbs by checking CalorieKing.com. You can enter any type of food and it will tell you how much carb, protein and fat is in it, and – yikes – how much exercise it would take to burn it off (it’s just fascinating to see the energy expenditure needed to burn through those food choices)! 
  13.  Plan your weeks’ worth of meals and prepare the majority of them on Sunday. That will help you avoid decision fatigue when it comes time to cook during the week. 
  14.  Approach the kitchen with curiosity and patience. It’s so much more fun to deal with meal prep when you’re inspired. Enjoy the time preparing something healthy as a time out from the hectic day or as someone once shared, “The kitchen is where I meditate.” Or how about playing some fun music while you prepare something yummy? 
  15.  Eat fresh, whole foods and avoid trans fats which are found in processed snacks, baked goods, shortening and stick margarines. 
  16.  Avoid saturated fats, like high-fat dairy products and butter, beef, hot dogs, sausage and bacon. Limit coconut and palm kernel oils. 
  17.  Ditch the salt shaker. There’s already plenty of sodium in food. 
  18.  Pick scrumptious foods that are nutrient dense and that you enjoy. 
  19.  Don’t give up if you have a bad day! 
  20.  See a Registered Dietitian or Diabetes Care and Education Specialist for an individualized meal plan.   

Eating is meant to be enjoyable. After learning some basics, and getting an individualized plan from our team, you’ll build on your skills to navigate all the nutrition choices you face and not feel like you’re missing out on those items that got in the way of your healthful life.   

 Buon appetito!  

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