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For most of us, dialing back on sugar and simple carbs is an effective way to fast-track the weight loss process. However, for those living with diabetes, adhering to this diet strategy can be a matter of life and death.
Diabetics are two to four times more likely than people without diabetes to die of heart disease or experience a life-threatening stroke, according to the American Heart Association. And for those who don’t properly control their condition, the odds of health issues—which range from cardiovascular trouble to nerve damage and kidney disease—increases exponentially.
Though the consequences of veering off track from a diabetes-friendly diet can be downright terrifying, that doesn’t mean you have to adhere to a bland, boring diet. In fact, this common misconception.
After working with a few diabetic individuals over the last couple of months, I noticed that many asked me the same question at their first appointment. “Can I still eat my favorite foods?” And the answer from me was always ‘Yes!’ It’s the portion sizes and frequency that makes the most difference, in addition to how the food is prepared.
Read on to get some awesome tips on how you can still eat your favorite foods and keep your blood sugar under control.
Substitute Your Starches
If you love fried rice, spaghetti and meatballs, and other starchy dishes, swapping in veggies for grains should be your go-to move. Cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, and spaghetti squash are all easy and delicious ways to lower the amount of carbohydrates in some of your favorite dishes.
Focus on Adding Flavor
Despite what you may think, nixing sugar or salt doesn’t have to be synonymous with bland, cardboard-like dishes. So often, we think about what we can’t eat when we start cutting out sugar. Instead, focus on ways to add more flavor to the foods you are eating. There are so many great ways to add flavor without adding sugar or salt. Try fresh herbs, freshly squeezed lemon or lime, ginger, garlic, or spice things up with jalapeño or cayenne pepper.
Did You Know?!
When most people hear the word “diabetes,” they typically think about things like carbs and sugar. But salt plays a role in diabetes health, too. Dialing back on salt can help lower your blood pressure, and in turn, your risk for heart attack or stroke, two diseases commonly associated with diabetes.
Since eating protein helps stabilize blood sugar and keeps us full longer. I can’t stress the importance of adding a lean protein to every meal. Some of the best sources include beans, hummus, nuts, wild salmon, Albacore tuna, chicken, turkey, flank steak, and pork tenderloin, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Remember: While fish, meat, and poultry don’t contain carbs or raise blood glucose levels, that’s not the case with plant-based proteins like beans and hummus, so be sure to read labels carefully before digging in!
Fill Up on Non-Starchy Veggies
Think your new diet will leave your tummy rumbling? Think again. To keep hunger at bay. I suggest building meals and snacks around non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and green beans. These are nutrient dense foods that can be very filling without adding many calories.
Measure Your Plate
While there are many reasons for our nation’s ever-expanding collective waistline, our gigantic dinnerware is definitely playing a role. Ensuring you have the standard 9-inch dinner plate will help make it easier for you to eat well at home. If our plates are too large, we tend to serve ourselves portions that are too large as well. Losing as little as 5 pounds can help control diabetes, so shedding some excess pounds should be among your chief health goals—and this is a super easy way to get the ball rolling.
Keep Snacks On Hand
When you have diabetes, snacks are more than just tasty treats. They’re tools used to aid weight loss and ward off low blood sugar levels. Always have something with you that can hold you over until your next meal. It will come in handy for those times when you’re stuck in traffic or when your meeting runs late. If it’s been more than four or five hours since your last meal, combine a protein with a carb, such as 1/4 cup almonds with a small apple or a tablespoon of almond butter on a slice of whole wheat bread.
If you’re trying to slim down in an attempt to improve your condition, you may be tempted to skip meals. Don’t do that! Be mindful to not skip meals and try to eat a balanced meal every four to five hours throughout the day. This will help keep your blood sugars steady throughout the day, give you more energy, and if you’re on medication or insulin, eating regularly will help these aids be more effective.
Rethink Your Drink
We know that we promised you a plethora of tips that would allow you to eat whatever you want and still control your diabetes, but there’s one thing you shouldn’t ever keep in your diet whether you’re diabetic or not, and that’s soda and other sugary drinks. It’s best to choose unsweetened drinks when you are managing your blood sugar. Watch out for your morning coffee drinks with added sweeteners, fruit juices, and even sports drinks.
Know Sugar’s Aliases
When you’re trying to avoid the sweet stuff, it’s important to read labels and be familiar with all of sugar’s aliases. There are over 56 different names for added sugar including high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, molasses, agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and sucrose. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything ending in “ose” or “syrup.” These all add additional carbohydrates to your meals.
Staying adequately hydrated can help keep blood sugar levels normal, which is why Zanini suggests always keeping water by your side. Staying hydrated can also help ward off excess munching and aid weight loss efforts by boosting feelings of satiety. If you hate the taste of plain water, consider drinking up a bottle of fruit-filled detox water.
Be Portion Savvy
“Knowing how much you are eating may seem like common sense, but we often eat more than we realize. For a week, measure out your portions and see what it looks like on your plate at home. You might be surprised, and you will be better prepared to make better decisions in the future.
Cook Foods Strategically
Roasting, baking, grilling, and steaming are all the preferred ways to cook your foods since this will not require much, if any, added fat. Plus, these cooking methods help enhance the natural flavors of food. Why does the amount of fat in your food matter? Some fats like those found in poultry skin, lard, margarine, and shortening can raise blood cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke, two conditions that diabetics have an increased risk of developing. But just to be clear, not all fats are off limits. Monounsaturated fats, which are the kinds found in avocados, almonds, cashews, olive oil, peanut butter, and peanut oil, can actually help lower your cholesterol levels.
Planning what you will eat in advance helps everyone adhere to a healthier diet. But when you have diabetes, it is especially important to map out your food—especially the carbohydrates you will be eating, so that your medicine and insulin will work optimally. At the beginning of each week, sit down with a list of approved foods and whip up a few batches of carb-, protein-, and veggie-based dishes to ensure you have plenty of healthy options available the second hunger strikes. Never meal prepped before?
Despite conventional wisdom, it’s not mandatory to slave over a stove for hours to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table. To save time in the kitchen, I suggest buying frozen or pre-washed and sliced produce and investing in a slow cooker, a large electric pot that cooks everything from stews and oatmeals to entrees and sides super slowly—and safely—while you’re sleeping or away at work.
Stock Your Freezer
I love to encourage my clients to stock healthy meals in the freezer. This way, if they come home and are too tired to cook or happen to be out of groceries, they always have a homemade meal ready to go.