A new diagnosis of diabetes can be scary. Individuals often leave their doctors office knowing little to nothing about the disease, feeling completely overwhelmed, and provided only a few words along the lines of “your blood sugar is abnormally high so now you need to check it on a regular basis”. You may be experiencing crazy symptoms like excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, and maybe even blurry vision. You might be told you need to improve your diet, exercise, and lose weight, but are not explained even the slightest how.
Who can relate to this? Over the years I have dealt with numerous patients who have stepped into my office knowing nothing about their disease or how to control it. Well today I am going to help solve that issue and discuss diabetes meal prep basics.
“What the heck can I eat?”
Whether you’re a new diabetic or have had diabetes for 30 years, it is important to understand how foods will affect your body and impact your blood sugar. Let me introduce you to the diabetes plate method. This is a way of helping you to control your portions of starchy, carbohydrate containing foods. It also will help you be more mindful of what you are putting on your plate.
The focus is on increasing non-starchy vegetables as these are high in nutrients and fiber, and will have minimal impact on your blood sugar. The goal is for these foods to compose 50% of each meal. Yep, I said it, vegetables should be half of your plate! This is also the recommendation for non-diabetics, but yet only ~9% of American’s eat enough. For some, this could seem totally foreign and even impossible. If you do not eat non-starchy vegetables daily, start by including 1 cup at lunch or dinner, and gradually increase from there. Sorry folks — corn and potatoes don’t count as vegetables (they are both high in starch). Some examples include: tomatoes, onions, green beans, zucchini, any type of leafy green, along with all the vegetables listed on the left side of the “Plan Your Portions” guide below.
The next food group to include is a good source of protein. Animal sources (i.e. fish, grass-fed beef, turkey, pastured chicken, etc) will not impact your blood sugar as long as your intake is not excessive (3-6 oz or a portion size equivalent to a deck of cards). Including a healthy source of protein at each meal will help keep you full and balance your blood sugar.
This is the group that likes to get people into trouble. It includes all breads, pasta, pizza, rice, corn, potatoes, and crackers, along with all the foods listed in the top right portion of the portions guide. Put simply, the more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar can go. Therefore, monitoring your carb intake is vital for improving your glycemic (blood sugar) control.
So how do you know how much to eat? Step one is to determine the carbohydrates in your diet. What are you eating on a regular basis that is impacting your blood sugar? Step two is to limit yourself 1 carb choice per per meal. For example, instead of eating both potatoes and corn, choose one and replace the other with a non-starchy vegetable. Whole food sources are always the best. They will be higher in fiber and less processed, so they will typically have less of an impact on your blood sugar. They also won’t have any of those nasty rat ingredients like preservatives and artificial flavors (check out my post on the 10 Ten Ingredients to Avoid). Some healthy choices include sweet potatoes, lentils, black beans, butternut or spaghetti squash, and black or brown rice.
Another way to determine how much to eat is through counting carbohydrates. This is a strategy used to determine exactly how many carbohydrates are consumed, with the goal of eating a specific and consistent amount of carbs at each meal. This will not only help keep your blood sugar consistent, but it will help you increase awareness on how many carbs you are eating (most people eat more than they realize!). If you would like to learn more about carb counting, comment below!
Although this group is not specifically outlined in the “Plan Your Portions” guide, fats serve an important role in stabilizing blood sugar and helping you feel full until your next meal. Aim to include a healthy source of fats at all meals. Some of my favorite sources include, avocado, nuts and seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil on pretty much anything.
lets end this with a Challenge!
So, now you have a general understanding, lets set some action points to get you started. I will list below some goals. Choose one or a few that you want to start with. Once you master that goal, choose another one!
- Eat at least 1 non-starchy vegetable per day. If you are already doing this, aim for 1 per meal or even half your plate, depending on where you’re at.
- Limit yourself to 1 starch per meal that is no more than 1/4 your plate.
- Replace your juice, pop, sweet tea, or milk intake with water, black coffee or unsweetened tea. Set a more specific goal based on your current habits. Example: If you currently drink 5 cans of pop per day, decrease to 2 or 3 cans.
- Include at least 1 tablespoon of healthy fat with each meal.
- Replace your snacks with vegetables (Example: baby carrots with hummus, peppers with guacamole).
Often I find it is easier to focus on including more healthy options rather than what you should be avoiding.
- For tips on how to increase your non-starchy vegetable and fiber intake, check out my post Time to Up Your Fiber Intake
- To learn more about optimizing your fat intake refer to 3 Things You Need to Know About Buying Oil or Fat: Friend or Foe?
- Meal Prepping Made Simple provides simple strategies on how to plan your meals ahead of time
Which goal do you plan to start with?! Describe a meal you can you make that will follow the “Plan Your Portions” guidelines.