If you have diabetes, in many ways your diet is your medicine. As diabetes educators, we help patients understand what food and beverage choices are best to avoid. When foods are high in carbohydrates, fat and sodium, they increase your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, heart disease and uncontrolled sugar.
Top 10 offenders
- Sweetened drinks. These include regular pop/soda, fruit punches, and iced teas. These are loaded with sugar and calories, and they usually have little or no nutritional value. Instead, try infusing plain water with different berries and fruits so you can enjoy the natural sweetness.
- “Designer” or specialty coffee drinks – including frappuccinos or cappuccinos. That “once a day special treat” can add up to lots of extra sugar, calories and saturated fat. Instead, go for straight java, either black, with artificial sweetener or a small splash of skim milk.
- Whole milk. It has too much fat, which can lead to weight gain. Switch to 2%, 1% – or even better: skim milk. Keep in mind that one cup of skim milk has 12 grams of carbohydrates. If you don’t like milk or are lactose intolerant, you can drink almond milk, rice milk or soy milk instead—but remember to get the low sugar varieties.
- Hot dogs. These grilled little favorites are still high in saturated fat and sodium—yes, that even includes turkey dogs! Try to avoid them or eat them only occasionally.
- Packaged lunch meats. These are also high in saturated fat and sodium. Check your deli for low sodium meats—or better yet use sliced meat that you’ve roasted at home to make your sandwiches. Also, remember that sandwich toppings can be very unhealthy too (think high-fat mayonnaise). Instead add flavor to your sandwiches with mustard, veggies, and/or a little bit of hummus.
- Sweetened cereals. These are high in carbohydrates because of the added sugar. Go for the plain cereals and add a little fruit or artificial sweetener.
- Regular pancake syrup. It’s very high in carbohydrates. Light or low-calorie syrup usually contains at least half the carbs of regular. And with these lighter syrups, remember that the serving size is still small. Take a look at the food label and use it sparingly.
- Sherbet. Many people believe sherbet is a good alternative to ice cream, but a half cup of sherbet has almost double the carbohydrates of a half cup of ice cream.
- Fast food baked potatoes with all the fixin’s. You take a relatively healthy item—the plain baked potato—and add cheddar cheese, butter, sour cream, ranch dressing, or bacon and it just turned into a high-sodium, fat-laden disaster. The same goes for nachos and other cheese-covered appetizers when eating out.
- Anything fried. We know fried foods are not good for anyone. The fat is absorbed into the food and leads to high cholesterol and weight gain which can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or worsen control if you already have diabetes. This goes for everything from French fries to fried chicken to that panko-crusted tilapia at your favorite restaurant. Try baking or broiling your food or even consider checking out the new air fryers that use hot air instead of oil. They are a healthier option than deep-fat fryers.
Now for the best foods…
All of the foods on our list have a low glycemic index (which represents the total rise in a person’s blood sugar level after eating the food) and provide important nutrients you need to stay healthy.
- Sweet potatoes. A great source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or allspice for extra flavor. ½ cup cooked sweet potato = 1 carb serving
- Cruciferous vegetables. These include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. These non-starchy vegetables are rich in potassium, folate and vitamin C. 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked = < 1 carb serving. They are just 5 grams of carbohydrate and 15 grams is one carb serving so you can load up on these!
- Legumes. These include a variety of beans such as black, garbanzo, kidney, lima, navy, pinto and white. They are loaded with fiber and protein, which will help you feel full with fewer calories. ½ cup cooked = 1 carb serving
- Nuts. Especially walnuts, almonds and pecans. They are a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants and they reduce LDL cholesterol and promote heart health. Consume in small amounts as they are high in calories. Add to salads, oatmeal and yogurt. If you are trying to watch your calorie intake, buy the 100 calorie packets in a box. They may cost a little more, but they help with portion control. 1 serving = 1 carb
- Berries. They are full of antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber. Add to salads, cereal, summer desserts and yogurt. 1 cup of strawberries, blueberries or raspberries = 1 carb serving