Now that you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes you are probably aware that carbohydrates are the macronutrient that impact blood sugars the most. If you were eating a carbohydrate rich diet—pizza, pasta, rice, bagels, and sweets—simply cutting back on these types of foods can help you reduce your blood sugars and lose weight.
But, the question still remains, “How do I prepare healthy meals?” There are things you need to consider when putting together a healthy meal—what to cook and how much to eat. When preparing a meal, a simple way to pack in all your nutrients without driving yourself crazy is to practice the plate method.
The plate method is a great way to portion control and divides your plate into three sections so you can get your fill of fiber-rich healthy carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. The idea is that half of your plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate is lean protein, and another quarter of your plate is a complex, fiber-filled carbohydrate. You should also try to get a little fat in there.
One of the most important food types when trying to lose weight and improve your blood sugars is non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables provide volume, fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals. Loading up on them will help make your meals rich in flavor, color, and, most importantly, help you feel full more quickly. Aim to make half of your plate non-starchy vegetables. You can buy them fresh or frozen; both are equally healthy.
When preparing these vegetables, you can use fresh or dried herbs to roast or saute them. Add some fat, such as olive oil, for flavor and nutrients that are carbohydrate-free. Fat is also satiating and can help you feel full. Studies have shown that increasing your intake of unsaturated fats can improve your lipids. You can also grill, bake, and season veggies with a pinch of salt, garlic, or pepper.
If chopping is a problem because of time, you can always buy pre-cut vegetables too, but they are more expensive. If you have a super busy schedule, there is nothing wrong with taking a frozen bag of string beans and putting them in a pan with a little water and some olive oil. If you are looking for some recipes or ideas, check out Meal Plans, Cookbooks, and Dining Out Tips.
Your protein source is also a very important part of your meal. Protein helps to keep you full, aids in boosting your immune system, and builds and repairs tissues. Along with fat and carbohydrate, protein is another macronutrient that the body needs. It contains zero carbohydrates so you don’t have to factor your protein into your carbohydrate allotment.
The most important part in choosing your protein source is to try to pick lean or lower fat protein sources. Higher fat protein foods like sausage and bacon are high in calories which can prevent weight loss. Some people with diabetes believe in eating a very low carbohydrate diet that is rich in protein. While some studies have shown that eating a higher fat, higher protein diet can help reduce blood sugars, you should discuss this with your doctor before starting this type of diet.
Diets that focus on eliminating one nutrient don’t typically work for the long term. Most people with diabetes do best when they choose lean protein sources such as white meat chicken, fish, turkey, white meat pork, lean beef, or tofu. If you are a vegetarian you can still follow a diabetes diet and be successful. Aim to keep your protein to about a quarter of your plate or about three to four ounces.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to eating healthy. Larger people may need larger portions. Discuss this with your dietitian or diabetes educator.
Another thing to consider about protein is how it is prepared. Healthy cooking methods include grilling, baking, broiling, steaming, and poaching. Try to avoid frying or pan-searing protein with large amounts of fat. This can contribute to excess calorie intake and prevent weight loss.
We need fat in our diet. Fat is the third macronutrient and gives the body energy and supports cell growth. Fats also help absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, and K. Essential fatty acids such as omega-6 and omega-3 are important structural components of cell membranes and provide a source of energy. Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may also exert anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies even suggest that increasing omega-3’s like EPA and DHA may benefit people with type 2 diabetes, especially those with elevated triglycerides.
It has recently been debated whether or not we need to watch our saturated fat intake as much as we once thought—butter and eggs may actually be okay to eat. Other studies, however, suggest that the quantity of fat isn’t as important as the quality of fat and that we should eat more fats that are unsaturated, like fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado. With such mixed messages, eating everything in moderation is usually your best bet.
Because fat contains double the calories than carbohydrates and protein, you should watch your portions, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Aim to add some source of healthy fat to all your meals—it will keep you full and add nutrients and flavor. Also, be sure to read labels when it comes to things like nut butter, butter, olives, oil, and other foods that have multiple servings—try to stick to one serving.
The most important nutrient for blood sugar control is carbohydrates. Contrary to what people say, we do need some carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy and come in simple forms, known as sugars (glucose), and complex forms, such as starches and fiber.
If carbohydrates are overeaten, the extra glucose is stored as fat. If people with diabetes overeat carbohydrates, blood sugars rise. Over time, elevated blood sugars can cause damage to the eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet. When setting a diabetes meal plan, it’s important to think about the type and quantity of carbohydrate. And when prepping a meal, carbohydrates should occupy about a quarter of your plate. Most people can have about 45g of carbohydrates per meal, but this depends on a variety of factors. Consult your dietitian or diabetes educator on top of considering the following:
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like juice, soda, sweets, cookies, cakes, candy, white bread, white pasta, and white rice. These types of carbohydrates provide little nutrition and can cause blood sugars to rise quickly.
- Choose fiber-rich carbohydrates like whole grains, 100% whole grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, barley, bulgar, brown rice, beans, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes. Keep your portion to about one fistful. Read labels and keep portions to about one serving.
- Other healthy carbohydrates include dairy products, such as Greek yogurt and low-fat milk. Read labels and keep your servings to one portion at one sitting. You can eat roughly two to three servings of dairy daily. If you don’t like dairy and decide to choose soy, almond, or other types of milk, read the labels. Some of these foods contain little carbohydrate.
- Choose whole fruit like apples, pears, and berries. The amount of fruit you eat should be limited daily. Keep your servings to about two to three per day. There are certain fruits you may want to avoid, like dried fruit, grapes, and cherries. These types can cause blood sugars to go up faster than others.
Did Someone Say Dessert?
While most people aren’t actually hungry after dinner, they still crave something sweet. If you must have dessert, try to keep to about 100 calories. Dessert doesn’t have to be apple pie and ice cream all the time, it can also be a small piece of fruit or a flavored yogurt.
If you find that your blood sugars are high in the morning, you may have to forgo your dessert or incorporate it into your dinner on top of eating less starch at dinner. Consider having a treat a few times a week instead of every night. If you are a late night eater, learn tips to break this habit. You’ll be happy with the results—you can lose weight, reduce blood sugars, sleep better, and improve energy.
A Word From Tips For Healthy Living
Meal planning may seem overwhelming if you are not accustomed to preparing your own food. But it’s not impossible. If you incorporate some protein, fat, and healthy carbohydrates into each meal, you can quickly get into a rhythm and start to plan your daily meals.
Consider investing in a book, app, or on-line resource for recipes or cooking tips. Keep it simple and think about your plate. Making meals at home means you have more control over ingredients, money, and calories.