A Comprehensive Guide to Diabetes Meal Planning and Diet
Last updated on November 3rd, 2016
Diabetes is a disease that is no laughing matter. Rates of type 2 diabetes are skyrocketing and that ties in, largely, with the diet of people in this day and age. Educating yourself and preparing yourself, just the smallest bit, on the diabetic nutritional precautions and guidelines can make or break your success when managing your diabetes.
Planning Your Diet
When suffering from diabetes, preparedness makes all the difference, especially when it comes to your diet. Rushed or unprepared meals can result in high glucose levels, while just a little preparedness will help keep your blood glucose stable and your mind at ease.
It all starts with focusing your food consumption on those foods which are nutrient dense. You may think this only a concern of carbohydrates, however, you should also being thinking of your fat and protein intake, as well as the sources. Especially good foods for those suffering from diabetes include dark leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, nuts, beans, and fatty fish. Try and stock your home with these things, so when you are in need of a quick meal, you have everything at your finger-tips, to prepare a delicious, diabetes friendly, meal.
Many diabetics fear carbohydrates, but it doesn’t have to be that way, just strategically plan the consumption of better sources of carbohydrates. Aim for lower GI (gastrointestinal index) sources instead of higher GI. When you are consuming starchy carbohydrates, put an equal quantity of lower GI, high fiber, veggies alongside them. If you are consuming something that is at risk of spiking your blood sugar, try to pair them with some healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil) or fiber, to slow digestion. If you have to sweeten foods, try low calorie sweeteners. There has been a lot of misinformation regarding low calorie sweeteners. There is extensive science dispelling the myths brought on by a few flawed studies, and they showed that consumption of these is perfectly safe. (Garner C, et al. Nonnutritive sweeteners: Current use and health perspectives. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Circulation. 2012;126:509.)If you still fear the sweeteners, try stevia, an all-natural, zero calorie sweetener. Fruits are an excellent and nutritious carbohydrate source, however, try to avoid pineapple and melons, which have a significantly higher GI than other fruits. Last, but not least, if it has grains in it, try to find a whole grain version. This includes breads, pastas, rice, cereal, and many more things. Whole grains are digested significantly slower than their processed counterparts. They maintain all the fibers and nutrients lost when processed into refined flours. This is not only beneficial for your health, but also prevents spikes in your blood glucose, very important for managing your diabetes.
Next, you must consider your fat intake. Low/no fat food options can be a good way to cut bad fat intake, but this can have a negative result. Often foods with fat removed, the calories are no lower, replaced with filler carbohydrates and sugars. Milk and dairy is not included in this group of bad low-fat foods. The process of skimming the fat from milk does not remove any vitamins or minerals from the milk and is not replaced with any carbohydrates or sugars. It can be an excellent way to remove some saturated fat and calories from your diet. Some of the best fats you can get come from nuts and beans. Cashews, almonds, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and many other legumes are all great ways to source some healthy fats into your diet. Avocados are an amazing source of not only good fats, but also fiber and countless vitamins and minerals. The best animal fat sources are, typically, fatty fish, particularly salmon. These are very high in omega 3 fatty acids, crucial for managing your triglyceride levels. If eating fatty red meats, try to source grass fed and free range meat. Grass fed meat is much higher in omega 3s than grain fed. (Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ. Effect of Feeding Systems on Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, and Trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. Asia Pac J ClinNutr. 2006) Finally, don’t be afraid to supplement fats. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are all excellent fat sources. A fish oil supplement is an invaluable tool for improving your health, doing everything from lowering your triglyceride levels, to improving cholesterol. When you have all these options for good fats, you have no excuse for not getting enough good fats in your diet.
Getting enough of the right protein sources in your diet isn’t always easy. The simple answer is meat, but not all meat sources are equal when it comes to high quality protein sources and fat content. Avoiding bad sources of fat starts at the way you cook your meat. Baking or grilling your meat lets you cut the fat without cutting the flavor. If you decide to fry your meat, try frying it in coconut oil. Coconut oil is 50% composed of MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides), which prevent your body from storing fat while it is being processed, forcing your body to use consumed fat for energy. As far as excellent poultry sources, skinless chicken or turkey breast is a great choice. Quail is also increasingly popular for its lower fat content and full flavor. You may fear red meat, but aim for grass-fed sources. Grass-fed meat has a higher ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, which help drop your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. There is even some pork and beef cuts that are as lean as chicken breast, pork tenderloin is extremely low in fat, as is a sirloin tip side steak. You can flavor these leaner cuts up with a marinade of some citrus mixed in with pepper and olive oil. One of the best fish sources is salmon, but other fatty, red fish are almost equal. Trout is another excellent source, but make sure it is wild caught, not farm raised. Farm raised fish have the same issues as non-grass-fed meat, having lower omega 3 content. Thinking outside the box with any meat, you will find a way to consume meat you love, without it negatively affecting your diabetes.
Nuts, beans, and other legumes are, additionally, good sources of protein, however beware. Many do not have a complete amino-acid profile or come along with a larger quantity of fat and carbohydrates than proteins. It is better to supplement your lean meat intake with these, if you are not a vegetarian. Eggs are also an outstanding source of protein. Do not fear the cholesterol, studies have found no connection between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels, plus eggs have a complete amino acid profile without breaking a vegetarian’s dietary protocol. Non-fat dairy is, also, a good option for vegetarians, with a complete amino acid profile. You do not, necessarily, have to fear full fat dairy, but eliminating the fat allows you to easily reduce dietary caloric intake, along with saturated fat. With a little planning, vegetarian or not, it is easy to get high quality protein intake in your diet.
Type 1 Dietary Specifics
As a type 1 diabetic, you have no control over the existence of your disease. Unlike type 2, type 1 is brought on by genetic predisposition (and progressed by some environmental factors), and lifestyle has no part in bringing on your disease. However, this doesn’t mean a healthy lifestyle cannot drastically improve your state of health and management of your disease.
Unlike type 2 diabetics, (unless taking certain medication) you will have to avoid hypoglycemic episodes, along with potential bouts of exceedingly high blood glucose. Your doctor will likely advise you to carrying dextrose pills, at all times, and this is a good start. Avoiding the hypoglycemic episodes is the best way to avoid even having to use the dextrose pills. Having a low GI, high carbohydrate snack available is an excellent way to do this. The thought process has to be sugar that is being processed and released by your body for as long as possible. I really like fruits for this use, but it cannot be a fruit that is too high in sugar or processed by your body too quickly, like pineapples or melons. The best fruits for this are cherries and grapefruit, both are low GI and high in soluble fiber. Carrying around fresh fruit is not always convenient, a good convenient snack to carry around is dried apricots and some raisins, mixing in some nuts to make a trail mix is also a good idea as the fats will slow digestion. If you ever feel a little drained, or as if you’re edging on hypoglycemia, just consume some of your snack. Avoiding hypoglycemic episodes is easy once you learn the signs you are approaching an episode and learn how to get your body out of that range for an extended period of time.
As a type 1 diabetic, you have to be even more careful that you don’t let your blood sugar spike too drastically after a meal. Avoidance of sugars unaccompanied by fiber and/or healthy fat is the best way to do this, as is avoiding starchy and high GI carbohydrates. It is not always easy, but more important as your body produces no insulin, resulting in a higher spike.
You also have to avoid being underweight, which is very common among type 1 sufferers, consuming enough fat and protein is crucial. Calorie counting is an excellent start, and will also allow you to watch your macronutrient intake. If you are underweight, aim to increase your calories 250 a day above your normal intake, ideally from omega 3 heavy fats. Managing a proper weight is a rewarding way to manage your type one diabetes and keep your body healthy.
Type 2 Dietary Specifics
Type 2 diabetics, typically, have different needs from type 1 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics can achieve remission and halt use of their medications, with proper diet and exercise. They are also far less likely to be at risk for hypoglycemic episodes (if you are at risk of these episodes, due to the medications you take, or other reasons, please see the type 1 specifics, above).
A great way to, potentially, manage your diabetes is something called intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is a method where you fast 18 hours a day, and eat your normal food consumption in a 6 hour window. During the 18 hour fast your insulin sensitivity skyrockets and your body re-sensitizes itself to the absorption of certain amino acids.(Michael Anson. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2003) Humans evolved in states of fast and feast, having large quantities of food available at one point, then not having any food available for an extended period. It wasn’t until 12000 years ago that humans evolved farming, and had the availability of food whenever they wanted. There has been a connection between the groups at highest risk of diabetes, like pacific islanders and natives, and evolving farming later on. The groups that evolved farming later are far more at risk of insulin insensitivity because their bodies have had a few thousand years less time to accommodate to the constant presence of insulin in the bloodstream, with today’s diet. Intermittent fasting is, additionally, a great way to manage your weight.
As a type 2 diabetic you are far more likely, than the average individual, to be overweight or obese. Intermittent fasting and a healthier diet, as already mentioned, are a great place to start, but additional measures are necessary. Calorie counting and exercise are very important and can improve your health greatly. Reducing caloric intake 300-400 calories below your daily consumption is a good place to start. Accompany this caloric reduction with a full body weight lifting program, 2 times a week. Lifting heavier weights, vs cardio, increases insulin sensitivity drastically and improves your body’s intramuscular storage of glycogen, instead of glucose being converted and stored as fat. Cardio can be a good tool for weight loss, as well, but you shouldn’t just spend hours on the treadmill. Shorter cardio workouts yielding higher intensity bouts of exercise are the key. Two great cardio programs are called HIIT and PACE cardio. These both do not require more than 15 minutes of your time and can improve results greatly. With so little time out of your week needing to be dedicated to exercise, to see results, there is no excuse. Start your exercise planning now and you may find your type 2 diabetes far easier to manage.
Prediabetes & Borderline Diabetes Diet
If you are pre-diabetic or borderline diabetic, you are lucky you caught it before absolute onset. Many individuals have completely transformed themselves with only a few changes in lifestyle and diet, reversing their blood glucose levels to normal. To start, read through the type 2 diabetes areas above, as many of the methods for improving diabetes and, specifically, type 2 diabetes can help you reverse your insulin insensitivity.
After you have fixed your diet, added exercise to your lifestyle, and tried fasting you have an excellent option that could help you re-sensitize yourself to insulin, that option is supplementation. Many individuals who are pre-diabetic have a variety of nutritional deficiencies working against them. Working against those deficiencies is fairly easy. The best start is supplementing 25-30mg, daily, of elemental zinc.(Nisa M. Maruthur and Braxton D.Mitchell Zinc and the Arrival of Diabetes Pharmacogenetics: “The Zinc Mystique” Diabetes May 2014)High HbA1c levels are correlated with the development of diabetes and many seen with high levels develop diabetes. Zinc deficiency is the most common reason for excess Hb1Ac and an easy thing to add to your diet. Next, adding a common supplement involved in insulin signalling can help greatly, the proven option being myo-inositol.(Clements RS Jr, Reynertson R Myoinositol metabolism in diabetes mellitus. Effect of insulin treatment . Diabetes. 1977)This supplement helps insulin signalling and glucose uptake, improving the effectiveness of your body’s present insulin. The last proven effective supplement is called berberine. Berberine activates a protein called AMPK which helps draw glucose into the cell. (Turner N, et alBerberine and its more biologically available derivative, dihydroberberine, inhibit mitochondrial respiratory complex I: a mechanism for the action of berberine to activate AMP-activated protein kinase and improve insulin action . Diabetes. 2008)The supplement can lower blood glucose levels for those with minor risk for diabetes or for those with full on type 2 diabetes. With all the science backed options available today, you should definitely try supplementation to prevent the onset of diabetes and help you reverse your existing insensitivity to glucose.
Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy Specifics
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after, however it can wreak havoc on you and your unborn baby’s health. Gestational diabetes occurs because your body needs to product extra insulin when pregnant, especially during later trimesters, and can’t produce enough for your baby’s needs. Improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin as well as total insulin release is crucial for improving this condition.
The best way to manage gestational diabetes is a healthier diet and exercise. You DO NOT want to go on a restrictive diet during pregnancy, however. Most often, simply reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing activity will drastically improve your condition, and yields medicating unnecessary. Try to aim for 3 hours of activity a week; this could be as simple as walking for a period every day or doing some minor weight training. Excellent results have been seen from prenatal yoga, it is certainly worth a try. Of all the types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is the condition that can yield the most benefit from omega 3, fish oil. Even those who eat large quantities of wild salmon will still see benefits in their blood levels and the health of their baby. Gestational diabetes is, luckily, one of the easiest forms to manage. Just a small amount of awareness and some efforts in diet and lifestyle can mean massive benefits in the short and long-run.
Delicious Diabetic Meal Ideas
To show you how easy it is to apply this newfound knowledge, I have listed below 3 meal ideas that would help you manage your diabetes, whether you are type 1, type 2, gestational, or pre diabetic, one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Breakfast: Fruity Bran Flakes
In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of bran flakes, ½ tbsp. coconut oil, ½ cup of skim milk, and a handful of mixed berries. This, literally, takes 2 minutes; you could be a morning zombie and still put together this easy meal, which is low GI, high in fiber, contains quality protein and excellent fat sources. It is also astoundingly delicious; you will find that the coconut oil makes the skim milk taste like full fat milk.
Lunch: Avocado & Smoked Salmon Open-Face Sandwich
In a bowl, mash up 1 small avocado with a fork. Puree half a lime, remove all seeds, and add to the mixture. Dice a small plum tomato and a clove of garlic, add to the bowl, and mix everything thoroughly. Take the mixture and spoon it onto 2 toasted pieces of whole-grain German rye. Finally, take a few strips of smoked salmon and place overtop the open face sandwiches. This meal is full of nutritious fats, fiber, and low GI carbohydrates, with some high quality protein from the salmon, a perfect meal to keep you satiated and your blood sugar stable.
Dinner: Cashew Nut Chicken
In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Throw in a clove of diced garlic and 1 cubed, skinless chicken breast. When half cooked, throw in 2 chili peppers, half a diced onion, 1 chopped green onion, 1 cup of cashews, and 1 tbsp. of soy sauce. When cooked, throw atop a bed of arugula. This recipe is filled with nutrition while being low in carbohydrates. Sourcing lean protein from the chicken breast, and healthy fats from cashews, thrown a top a bed of nutritious green veggies, this Thai inspired recipe will satisfy your cravings and help you manage your diabetes.
Having diabetes is a struggle, but with a healthy diet you can make drastic changes to your health. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor and satiation to achieve these goals, just a few minor changes can help you achieve dietary success and make leaps and bounds in your progress managing your diabetes.