The BEST Diabetes Diet

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“What is the best diet for diabetes?”

This is a question I hear quite a lot. Often my patients and clients expect me to give an answer such as “Mediterranean-style,” “low carb,” “vegetarian,” or “high protein.” Instead, I usually say something along these lines:

“There are many ways to a healthy plate and healthy diabetes management. We can find your best way.”

Research doesn’t support the notion that a single ideal diet exists for diabetes… or for anything else, for that matter. The best diet is any healthy plan that a person enjoys and sticks to. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends individualizing dietary guidelines based on many factors including health status, cultural and individual preferences, and economics. In their position statement, “Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults with Diabetes,” the ADA specifically lists vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean-style, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), low-fat and low-carbohydrate eating patterns as suitable for the management of diabetes. Each of these plans should be modified based on preferences, laboratory values, and more.

Regardless of the eating plan, the ADA has a few key strategies for all people with diabetes.

  • Eat portions appropriate for your current or desired weight.
  • Choose nutrient-dense, health-boosting foods.
  • Having diabetes significantly raises your risk for heart disease, so give adequate attention to your blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, plant-based fats like nuts and olive oil, legumes, and fish.
  • Be able to identify carbohydrate-containing foods and know their effects on your blood glucose.
  • There are various ways to control carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrate counting and the Plate Method are two popular strategies.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Choose lean protein sources and meat alternatives. The exception is to eat fatty fish for their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Substitute unsaturated fats for solid (saturated and trans) fats.
  • Cook with oil, not butter. Substitute smashed avocado for butter in baking.
  • Limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day.
  • Enjoy herbs and spices.

Take confidence in knowing that there are many healthful eating patterns. If you need help creating your ideal diet, seek the help of a registered dietitian skilled in diabetes management.

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, CHWC

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