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Foods to Include in a Diabetic Diet

It’s easy to say what a diabetic shouldn’t eat: sugars, simple carbohydrates, alcoholic beverages. Sometimes it seems that all the tasty foods are forbidden – pizza, donuts, cake, ice cream, brownies, etc.

Is a diabetic doomed to a diet of broccoli and broiled fish?

Not at all. For the most part, people can eat normal foods – but wisely.

The biggest problem diabetics have is consuming too many calories. Simply limiting caloric intake to 1500-1800 calories would stabilize blood sugars for many patients. Not only that, but body weight and serum cholesterol would drop as well. If you are diabetic and make only one change in your diet, choose to eat less.

Problem foods for diabetics are those that raise the blood glucose level rapidly. Sugar does, of course, but so do simple carbohydrates and alcohol. It doesn’t mean you cannot have even a bite of these foods, but that you need to use discretion, and limit portion size to only 100-200 calories a day. Avoiding the “white” foods is a good idea: white flour, white rice, white potatoes, white pasta. All of these turn to glucose in your blood stream nearly as quickly as sugar itself.

Beyond that, what should a diabetic eat? And why?

Some of the best foods for diabetics are fruits and vegetables, which are high in soluble fiber. These promote a feeling of fullness, help the bowels eliminate properly, add potassium, vitamins, and anti-oxidants to the diet, and generally are low in calories. Aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Among the fruits, those that are less sweet are desirable, such as apples, berries, and cantaloupe. The very sweet fruits such as watermelon and pineapple may be eaten, but in limited amounts. A cup full of watermelon has nearly the same number of calories as a cup of 7-up, and may raise your blood sugar equally. A large slice of watermelon may have as many calories as a hot fudge sundae.

Vegetables tend to have more fiber and fewer calories. Lettuce, spinach, celery, cucumbers, cabbage,radishes,onions, leeks,kale, and other greens may be eaten as desired. Carrots have a higher glycemic index, but it’s difficult to eat too many carrots. Green beans and pea pods are good since they include the low-calorie pod. Beans and peas are high in fiber, a good source of protein, but higher in calories than the salad-type vegetables. Corn is actually a grain, not a vegetable, but is preferable to a processed grain such as white flour or cereal.

If not for toppings, a diabetic could eat an unlimited amount of salad. Dressing may add hundreds of calories, as may other toppings such as eggs, croutons, seeds, and bacon bits. Tasty low-calorie dressings are an option, or using a small amount of regular dressing. Again, portion size is vital. A restaurant portion of regular dressing for a large salad is easily 500 calories, whereas a large portion of diet dressing may be under 100.

Most diabetics love carbohydrates, but limiting these to whole grains is a good idea. And although oatmeal has been touted as a health food, processed oatmeal is metabolize nearly as quickly as sugar-coated cereal. If you like oatmeal, choose unprocessed steel-cut oats (but note, these take much longer to cook).

Everyone needs protein in the diet, to keep muscles strong and healthy. While it’s possible to consume sufficient protein from a vegetarian diet, most people prefer to add animal products such as fish, chicken, eggs, or meat. Many diabetics have high cholesterol levels, and therefore should avoid red meat and excess eggs. Lean meat such as chicken, fish, or turkey is preferable, but watch out for salted lunch meat, which may raise your blood pressure.

Five daily servings of calcium foods should be included in the diet (1500 mg) in the form of green leafy vegetables or dairy products. Skim milk, low-fat cheese, and artificially sweetened yogurt are good choices.

Lastly, what about dessert? Nowadays many desserts are available in no-sugar-added varieties, including ice cream, cookies, and pies. These are sweetened with alcohol sugars, which do not raise the blood glucose as quickly as regular sugar, but are equally high in calories. A bowl of berries with a little sugar-free ice cream is a reasonable choice.

Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, M.D.

Published inRecipes