Many of my clients fret over their food choices when they’re first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In their confusion, some might cut out so many foods that they feel they barely have anything left to eat. I help my clients devise a personalized meal plan that works with their specific health issues, food preferences and lifestyle. They are often relieved to learn that most foods can still fit! If you’re overwhelmed about your diagnosis or confused about what to eat, ask your diabetes care team for help; and try some of these tips I’ve found helpful in making smart food choices when type 2 diabetes is on board.
Start with what’s called the “plate method”
The beauty of this simple method of meal planning is that there is no counting and little measuring!
1. Start with a 9-inch dinner plate. Divide the plate in half with an imaginary line down the middle. Fill one half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, okra or mushrooms.
2. Divide the other half of the plate with another imaginary line. In one of these smaller sections, put a lean protein-rich food such as chicken, fish, beef, eggs, egg whites, tofu, low-fat cheese or cottage cheese.
3. In the last section, place a small portion of a grain or starchy vegetable such as rice, pasta, bread, tortilla, crackers, potatoes, corn, lima beans, black beans or peas. (Read more about choosing healthier grains here.)
4. Round out your meal with a piece of fruit the size of a tennis ball (or ½ cup cut fruit), or an 8-ounce glass of nonfat or low-fat milk, or both. (Read more about low-carb fruit choices here.)
Pay attention to portions
The beauty of the plate method is built-in portion control. Not all of your meals and snacks, however, fit neatly onto a sectioned plate. A snack of cheese and crackers…a bowl of chili… a square of lasagna…these and other meals require extra thought. If you have weight to lose or typically overeat, I advise trimming your usual portions by 10 to 30 percent. Try adding non-starchy vegetables to fill up that empty space: they are low in calories and blood glucose-raising carbohydrates, so there is rarely reason to cut back on these.
Choose healthier foods to begin with
I find that it’s easier for my clients to eat more healthfully at the table when they make better choices at the supermarket and in the kitchen. That means picking whole grains over processed grains, low-fat dairy over full-fat dairy, lean meats and skinless poultry over fattier choices. It also means preparing (or choosing) baked foods instead of fried foods; and cooking in oil, not butter or bacon grease. Finally, read the label and select packaged foods that are lower in sodium and added sugars.
Cut empty calories
Sugary drinks, candies, cookies and the like can jack up blood glucose without giving you much nutrition. While I do believe it’s important to include your favorite foods in your meal plan, it’s also important to make sure junky, high-calorie foods – even if they are your favorites! – are only a small part of your diet.
Record your food intake
An accurate, detailed food record may guide you to better food choices. Write down what, how much, when and why you eat. Review your food record at the end of the day: What do you see? Too much meat, starch or dessert? Not enough vegetables or fruit? Did you eat because you were bored or when you watched TV simply because that’s your habit? At the top of tomorrow’s food record, write down a goal for eating healthfully, such adding non-starchy vegetables to lunch or skipping that bowl of ice cream at bedtime. Write down your food intake for several days and watch to see where you might be going off track. Bring that food record to your next health appointment.
Measure your blood glucose
If you have a blood glucose meter and have been taught to use it, measure your blood glucose at various times including both before and about two hours after a meal. Bring both your meter and the results of your blood glucose monitoring to your next appointment.
These tips are meant to help sort out the confusion you might experience when living with type 2 diabetes. Talk to your healthcare team about how to stay on track and continue learning.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, and the upcoming The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, as well as contributing editor at Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience