High blood sugar is a main component of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. This is what occurs when your body’s cells resist insulin, which causes your pancreas to go into overdrive making more insulin. After a while, this causes your blood sugar levels to rise significantly.
To maintain healthy blood glucose levels, experts recommend exercise, not smoking, limiting your drinking, and adapting a diabetic-friendly diet.
While we highly recommend that you talk with your doctor first in order to have them create a meal plan for you, there are certain foods that people with diabetes can benefit from including in their diet.
For example, research studies suggest that consuming seeds, specifically chia seeds, can help you manage your diabetes or prediabetes.
Chia seeds are full of health benefits. These seeds, which are high in fiber and protein, are known to help with digestion, weight control, and heart health. And along with these common benefits, recent studies show that chia seeds can also help with diabetes management.
The British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming chia seeds can help you manage insulin resistance, which is a common problem associated with diabetes.
Another recent study from 2021 researched what happened when adults with diabetes consumed 40 grams of chia seeds every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, along with other factors such as healthy eating, exercise, and medications, if needed, the group who consumed chia seeds had significantly lower blood sugar levels than the group that did not.
These positive effects of chia seeds are due largely to their high-fiber content, specifically their soluble fiber. This type of fiber, which is also found in oats, apples, and beans, helps to slow the digestion process and therefore helps to keep blood sugar levels at bay.
So, if you’re sold on chia seeds and are looking for creative ways to eat them, you can try making a healthy chia seed jam, using them as oatmeal topping, creating an overnight pudding, or even mixing them in your water!
If you have Type 2 diabetes, your doctors have likely advised you to watch your sugar levels and carb intake. But there are other ways to keep your blood glucose, or sugar, levels in check as well.
Some 90-95 percent of all diabetes cases in the United States are Type II. In fact, statistics say that 1 in 8 Americans are diagnosed with it. It’s time to get this disease under control.
Reduce Your Portion Sizes
Ah, a simple pro-tip! It is crucial to reduce your portion sizes in order to keep your blood levels at a happy balance. Think about it this way: If you eat too much at once (particularly a dish high in carbs) your blood sugar may spike which will put you in a hyperglycemic state. Not ideal! Conversely, if you eat too little, your body may go into a hypoglycemic state, which means you don’t have enough blood sugar. So where’s the happy medium? Make sure to eat three solid meals per day with lunch and dinner looking something like this: ½ of the plate should include non-starchy vegetables and fruit, ¼ grains, and ¼ protein. For breakfast, kickstart the day with a bowl of oatmeal and a ¼ cup of berries for a boost in antioxidants.
Limit Your Protein Intake
When you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s very important to moderate your consumption of protein because you want to reduce the risk of developing a particular microvascular issue called nephropathy. Nephropathy is scientific lingo for kidney damage or kidney disease, and a diet that’s moderate to low in protein helps avoid the onset of these issues. A diet low in protein doesn’t stress the kidneys nearly as much as one that’s high in protein does. Stick to one 3-4 ounce serving of meat per day at most to promote the longevity of your kidneys!
Reduce Sugar Intake
This is pretty obvious, but it’s essential to at least mention. We’re not going to tell you to eat a certain number of grams of sugar per day because, honestly, that’s a bit unrealistic. However, something that is realistic is the fact that you can control how much added sugar you put into your body. Limit yourself to a maximum of one sugary treat a day—two or three squares of dark chocolate would absolutely suffice. This way you still get to quench that sweet tooth without over-indulging and causing your blood sugar levels to skyrocket!
Start Counting Carbs
Low carb this, low carb that. Are you sick of hearing it? Well, think about it this way, you can count carbs by calculating carb choices. One serving of carbs, or one carb choice, is equivalent to 15 grams carbs. Women should aim to have 3-4 carb choices for lunch and for dinner, which is somewhere between 45-60 grams of carbs per meal. Men, on the other hand, should have 4-5 carb choices per lunch and dinner, which yields 60-75 grams of carbs. For breakfast and snacks, stick to 1-2 choices per meal. You’re probably wondering how you even go about counting carbs, and lucky for you numbers 8 and 9 in this article will help you do just that! Keep reading for some helpful tools.
Monitor Your Blood Glucose
Acquiring a blood glucose meter, a lancet device with lancets, and test strips are key to making sure your blood glucose levels are at a stable range. For example, before meals your blood glucose levels should be 95 mg/dL or lower. One hour after eating, your levels should be at 130 mg/dL or lower and two hours after eating your levels should be at 120 mg/dL or lower. A good time to check your blood sugar would be when you have an a heightened feeling of thirst, headache, difficulty paying attention, or feel weak and fatigued. However, you’ll want to get an idea on where your body’s levels are at specific times throughout the day, so you know what to expect when you prick your finger. For five days, try taking your blood glucose levels three times a day at either one of the following times: before breakfast, before lunch/dinner, two hours after a meal, before intense exercise, when you are not feeling well, and before bed. Make sure to record in a journal so you can have these numbers for reference!
Learn About Glycemic Index
This is super important! Glycemic index is a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on the impact they have on blood sugar levels. Foods that are low in glycemic index are the ones you want to have comprising a majority of your diet! Fill up on non-starchy veggies like broccoli, kale, spinach, and just about any leafy green or fruit you can think of and limit your intake of things like potatoes, meat, and dairy products. Make sure to steer clear of high glycemic index foods like white breads, white rice, and soda.
Whether you prefer aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming and biking or anaerobic exercises like lifting and interval circuits, both will help you manage your Type 2 diabetes. Why? When your muscles require glucose (blood sugar), they contract and push that glucose out of your blood and into your cells. As a result, this helps balance your blood glucose levels. So slip on a pair of sneakers and hit the trail or gym!
Download This App
Of course there’s an app to help you monitor your blood glucose levels! Sugar Sense is an awesome app that you can download for free on your smartphone that will help you keep track of your blood glucose levels, carb count, monitor your weight, and more. Download ASAP for immediate relief!
Visit This Website
Cronometer is another excellent online tool that enables you to record meals, log exercise and biometrics, and more. Sign up for free!
Join a Support Group
No scientific study is needed to stress how vital it is to talk to other people who are also enduring similar struggles. Hop online and see what groups you can join in your area, you may even meet new friends, workout buddies and dinner pals who understand what you’re going through. You are strong and you deserve to have people to vent to and bounce ideas off!
Did you know that stress can actually elevate your blood glucose levels? Keep your mind quiet and free of stress by taking a break at work and going for a walk and engaging in some deep breathing. Your health is your number one priority, updating that excel sheet or balancing that checkbook can wait!
This goes hand-in-hand with reducing stress. Inhaling positive energy and exhaling negative energy including, worries, stress, and feelings of sadness and fueling that breath through movement is incredibly beneficial to the mind and body.
Do Not Eat Fast Food
Drop that McDonald’s breakfast McMuffin because you’re on the one-way road to better health! In a 15-year study consisting of 3,000 adults, it was found that those who ate fast food more than twice a week developed insulin resistance at twice the rate than those who didn’t consume fast food. And for those with diabetes, eating highly processed, refined food can increase the risk of developing those dangerous complications previously mentioned.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Contrary to popular belief, these fake sweeteners, called non-nutritive sweeteners or NNS, are not healthy for people with diabetes to consume. According to a study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health, consuming artificially sweetened drinks contributed to a 47 percent increase in BMI. The study finished in 2013 after monitoring 3,682 individuals for 7-8 years. So why would this happen if these sweeteners do not even contain regular table sugar (sucrose) which is thought to be the one of the leading causes of visceral fat, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes? The answer is quite simple, artificial sweeteners are anywhere from 180-20,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Frequent consumption can cause an alteration in your taste buds, which makes vegetables and even fruits taste more bitter than they actually are. This causes you to neglect those foods and go after foods that satisfy that desire for sweetness. Yikes!
Shed a Few Pounds!
With all of these factors, it’s no doubt that you will lose a couple of pounds. Shedding just 10-15 pounds can significantly help balance your blood glucose levels, so get off the couch and get cracking because there’s no time to waste.
For most of us, dialing back on sugar and simple carbs is an effective way to fast-track the weight loss process. However, for those living with diabetes, adhering to this diet strategy can be a matter of life and death.
Diabetics are two to four times more likely than people without diabetes to die of heart disease or experience a life-threatening stroke, according to the American Heart Association. And for those who don’t properly control their condition, the odds of health issues—which range from cardiovascular trouble to nerve damage and kidney disease—increases exponentially.
Though the consequences of veering off track from a diabetes-friendly diet can be downright terrifying, that doesn’t mean you have to adhere to a bland, boring diet. In fact, this common misconception is the reason Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, penned the forthcoming Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook, which devotes all of it’s 200+ pages to the art of eating your cake and having it, too.
“After working with thousands of diabetic individuals over the years, I noticed that many asked me the same question at their first appointment. ‘Can I still eat my favorite foods?’ And the answer from me was always ‘Yes!’ It’s the portion sizes and frequency that makes the most difference, in addition to how the food is prepared,” Zanini tells us, adding, “After years of working one on one with newly diagnosed diabetics, I knew there was a need for this book. It makes controlling your blood sugar simple.”
Zanini’s book will hit stands November 1st, but we couldn’t wait to share some of her amazing tips that will totally change living with diabetes as you know it!
Substitute Your Starches
If you love fried rice, spaghetti and meatballs, and other starchy dishes, swapping in veggies for grains should be your go-to move. “Cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, and spaghetti squash are all easy and delicious ways to lower the amount of carbohydrates in some of your favorite dishes,” says Zanini.
Focus on Adding Flavor
Despite what you may think, nixing sugar or salt doesn’t have to be synonymous with bland, cardboard-like dishes. “So often, we think about what we can’t eat when we start cutting out sugar. Instead, focus on ways to add more flavor to the foods you are eating,” suggests Zanini. “There are so many great ways to add flavor without adding sugar or salt. Try fresh herbs, freshly squeezed lemon or lime, ginger, garlic, or spice things up with jalapeño or cayenne pepper.”
Did You Know?!
When most people hear the word “diabetes,” they typically think about things like carbs and sugar. But salt plays a role in diabetes health, too. Dialing back on salt can help lower your blood pressure, and in turn, your risk for heart attack or stroke, two diseases commonly associated with diabetes.
Since eating protein helps stabilize blood sugar and keeps us full longer, Zanini stresses the importance of adding a lean protein to every meal. Some of the best sources include beans, hummus, nuts, wild salmon, Albacore tuna, chicken, turkey, flank steak, and pork tenderloin, according to the American Diabetes Association. Remember: While fish, meat, and poultry don’t contain carbs or raise blood glucose levels, that’s not the case with plant-based proteins like beans and hummus, so be sure to read labels carefully before digging in!
Fill Up on Non-Starchy Veggies
Think your new diet will leave your tummy rumbling? Think again. To keep hunger at bay, Zanini suggests building meals and snacks around non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and green beans. “These are nutrient dense foods that can be very filling without adding many calories,” Zanini explains.
Measure Your Plate
While there are many reasons for our nation’s ever-expanding collective waistline, our gigantic dinnerware is definitely playing a role. “Ensuring you have the standard 9-inch dinner plate will help make it easier for you to eat well at home,” Zanini tells us. “If our plates are too large, we tend to serve ourselves portions that are too large as well.” Losing as little as 5 pounds can help control diabetes, so shedding some excess pounds should be among your chief health goals—and this is a super easy way to get the ball rolling.
Keep Snacks On Hand
When you have diabetes, snacks are more than just tasty treats. They’re tools used to aid weight loss and ward off low blood sugar levels. “Always have something with you that can hold you over until your next meal. It will come in handy for those times when you’re stuck in traffic or when your meeting runs late,” says Zanini. “If it’s been more than four or five hours since your last meal, combine a protein with a carb, such as 1/4 cup almonds with a small apple or a tablespoon of almond butter on a slice of whole wheat bread.”
If you’re trying to slim down in an attempt to improve your condition, you may be tempted to skip meals. Don’t do that! “Be mindful to not skip meals and try to eat a balanced meal every four to five hours throughout the day,” suggests Zanini, explaining, “This will help keep your blood sugars steady throughout the day, give you more energy, and if you’re on medication or insulin, eating regularly will help these aids be more effective.”
Rethink Your Drink
We know that we promised you a plethora of tips that would allow you to eat whatever you want and still control your diabetes, but there’s one thing you shouldn’t ever keep in your diet whether you’re diabetic or not, and that’s soda and other sugary drinks. “It’s best to choose unsweetened drinks when you are managing your blood sugar. Watch out for your morning coffee drinks with added sweeteners, fruit juices, and even sports drinks,” cautions Zanini.
Know Sugar’s Aliases
When you’re trying to avoid the sweet stuff, it’s important to read labels and be familiar with all of sugar’s aliases. There are over 56 different names for added sugar including high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, molasses, agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and sucrose. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything ending in “ose” or “syrup.” “These all add additional carbohydrates to your meals,” notes Zanini.
Staying adequately hydrated can help keep blood sugar levels normal, which is why Zanini suggests always keeping water by your side. Staying hydrated can also help ward off excess munching and aid weight loss efforts by boosting feelings of satiety. If you hate the taste of plain water, consider whipping up a batch of fruit-filled detox water.
Be Portion Savvy
“Knowing how much you are eating may seem like common sense, but we often eat more than we realize,” says Zanini. “For a week, measure out your portions and see what it looks like on your plate at home. You might be surprised, and you will be better prepared to make the better decisions in the future.”
Cook Foods Strategically
“Roasting, baking, grilling, and steaming are all the preferred ways to cook your foods since this will not require much, if any, added fat. Plus, these cooking methods help enhance the natural flavors of food,” Zanini tells us. Why does the amount of fat in your food matter? Some fats like those found in poultry skin, lard, margarine, and shortening can raise blood cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke, two conditions that diabetics have an increased risk of developing. But just to be clear, not all fats are off limits. Monounsaturated fats, which are the kinds found in avocados, almonds, cashews, olive oil, peanut butter, and peanut oil, can actually help lower your cholesterol levels.
“Planning what you will eat in advance helps everyone adhere to a healthier diet. But when you have diabetes, it is especially important to map out your food—especially the carbohydrates you will be eating, so that your medicine and insulin will work optimally,” says Zanini. At the beginning of each week, sit down with a list of approved foods and whip up a few batches of carb-, protein-, and veggie-based dishes to ensure you have plenty of healthy options available the second hunger strikes.
Despite conventional wisdom, it’s not mandatory to slave over a stove for hours to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table. To save time in the kitchen, Zanini suggests buying frozen or pre-washed and sliced produce and investing in a slow cooker, a large electric pot that cooks everything from stews and oatmeals to entrees and sides super slowly—and safely—while you’re sleeping or away at work.
Stock Your Freezer
“I love to encourage my clients to stock healthy meals in the freezer. This way, if they come home and are too tired to cook or happen to be out of groceries, they always have a homemade meal ready to go,” says Zanini
Your blood sugar levels are affected by many things. Some of these things are out of your control — for example, some health conditions can cause high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or you might have a genetic disposition to develop high blood sugar.
But in certain cases, your daily health habits can also play a role in your blood sugar levels. “For some people, managing your nutrition, activity level and weight can make a difference,” says diabetes educator Megan Asterino-McGeean, BSN, RN, CDCES.
Asterino-McGeean explains which lifestyle changes can help lower blood sugar without medication — and when you’ll need to turn to your healthcare provider for help.
How to lower high blood sugar — naturally
People living with certain health conditions, such as the autoimmune disorder Type 1 diabetes, can’t lower their blood sugar naturally.
With Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make insulin, a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar levels. After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, you need insulin injections or insulin pump therapy for the rest of your life in order to stay alive.
But if you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes — meaning, you’re at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes — you can try to lower your blood sugar using natural methods.
Here are seven effective strategiesAsterino-McGeean recommends if you fall into the latter category:
Leave sugary beverages on the shelf
Sugar-sweetened beverages are a one-way ticket to high blood sugar. Eliminating or drinking fewer of them can lower blood sugar, as well as helps with weight loss and maintenance, says Asterino-McGeean. “Save soda pop and juice for when you need to treat low blood sugar.”
Drinks high in sugar include:
Fruit-flavored drinks or drinks made from powder mixes.
Soda and other carbonated soft drinks.
Certain coffee drinks.
Be carb smart
Although Asterino-McGeean says that carbs aren’t “bad,” they do affect blood sugar levels. “Our blood sugars mimic our carbohydrate intake. Eating too many carbs increases sugar levels. That’s why consistency is key.”
Asterino-McGeean recommends eating similarly portioned carbs at each meal. Depending on your meal plan, you may also have to reduce the overall amount of carbs you eat throughout the day. “Be choosy. Nutrient-dense, high-fiber, complex carbs are a better everyday choice than simple processed carbs,” she adds. “Processed carbs don’t occur naturally and tend to be located in the middle of the grocery store.”
Examples of better carb choices include:
Beans and lentils.
Berries and fruits.
Not sure where to start? Asterino-McGeean recommends enlisting a dietitian to guide you. “Everyone’s needs are different. You may have other nutrition concerns in addition to managing high blood sugar or diabetes. A dietitian can help you individualize an eating plan, make adjustments and set realistic goals.”
Eat balanced meals
“Your carbohydrates need a chaperone. Eat them with other foods like non-starchy vegetables and lean protein,” advises Asterino-McGeean. “These foods won’t raise your sugar as high as some carbohydrates will.”
The less you move, the higher your blood sugar tends to be, says Asterino-McGeean. Exercise is also one of the best things you can do for your overall health, mood and metabolic rate.
“It’s important to be active, but that can be tricky depending on your lifestyle or any health conditions you have,” she adds. “So aim to move more than yesterday. If that’s all you can do, it still counts.”
The American Diabetes Association suggests starting with about 30 minutes of cardio or aerobic exercise three times a week and working up to five times a week. “If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, focus on five- or 10-minute increments instead. Try that once a day. Move up to twice and then three times each day when you can tolerate more.”
Asterino-McGeean recommends beginning with cardio, such as walking briskly, with a dash of resistance training and strength exercises. “If you’re starting a new exercise routine, talk with your provider, physical therapist or trainer first to make sure you’re doing it safely.”
Bust your stress
Because stress impacts blood sugar, it’s important to find ways to cope, such as hobbies, exercise or talk therapy. And steer clear of coping mechanisms that negatively affect your blood sugar, like overeating or drinking alcohol.
Be a glucose detective
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, monitoring your sugar levels can help you problem-solve when you have a blood sugar spike. It can also shine a light on your overall blood sugar trends and their causes.
Use a glucometer (blood sugar monitor) to make sure you’re in the targeted range your healthcare provider recommends. Asterino-McGeean says to check with your insurance to see if these monitors are covered. “You can also buy inexpensive ones over the counter at most grocery stores and pharmacies,” she adds.
Nicotine raises blood sugar because it affects how your body responds to insulin. And smoking causes inflammation, which can also raise blood sugar, explains Asterino-McGeean. “It’s a double whammy. If you have high blood sugar and you smoke, you have double the risk for complications.”
Natural remedies to lower blood sugar that need more evidence
Asterino-McGeean says to be careful about natural remedies promising to lower blood sugar. “Unfortunately, when you read into a lot of them, there’s no research backing their effectiveness and safety,” she notes. “Plus, it can be dangerous to take supplements or herbals said to lower sugar when you’re on diabetes medications. Talk to your provider before starting any medications or natural remedies to be safe.”
What if home remedies to lower blood sugar don’t work?
When attempting to lower your blood sugar naturally, take the long view. “You are talking about a lifestyle change, not a quick fix,” says Asterino-McGeean. “It may take a few weeks or months to see results.”
What if you’ve been trying home remedies to lower blood sugar for a few months, and your blood sugar levels still won’t budge? Asterino-McGeean says you should also schedule an appointment with your doctor. “At this point, it’s time for a conversation with your healthcare provider to see what’s going on and discuss your options. Together, you and your doctor can determine the next steps in caring for your health.”
Sugars are a type of simple carbohydrate that occurs naturally in some foods and drinks. They are also an additive in certain foods and drinks. Consuming too much sugar can lead to health problems, such as increasing the risk of weight gain, diabetes, tooth cavities, and more.
Many healthful food products, such as dairy products, vegetables, and fruit, naturally contain sugars. The sugar in these foods gives them a sweeter taste.
It is important for people to include these foods in their diet, as they come with a range of other nutrients that provide valuable health benefits.
However, manufacturers tend to add sugar to foods such as cereals and cake and some drinks. It is these added sugars, or free sugars, that cause health problems.
Unlike foods and drinks that naturally contain sugar, those with added sugar provide no nutritional value. They are also a poor energy source, as the body digests added sugar very quickly. Consuming too much may cause health problems over time.
This article discusses five reasons why added sugars are bad for health.
1. Lack of nutritional value
Sugar is an empty calorie.
Adding it to foods and drinks significantly increases their calorie content without adding any nutritional benefit. The body usually digests these foods and drinks quickly. This means that they are not a good source of energy.
Products that naturally contain sugar are different. For example, fruits and dairy products contain natural sugars. The body digests these foods at a slower rate, making them a lasting source of energy.
Such products also tend to contain other nutrients. For example, they also contain fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals.
The average adult in the United States consumes around 308 calories from added sugars per day. This is a lot more than the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations of 100 calories from added sugars for females and 150 calories for males.
Consuming empty calories undermines the health benefits of consuming other foods and drinks that do have nutritional value. It can also cause imbalances, where nutrient deficits can lead to further health complications.
2. Weight gain
A significant risk of consuming excess dietary sugar is weight gain.
In most cases, sugary foods and drinks are high in calories. Consuming too many of these products will lead to weight gain, even with regular exercise. There is strong evidence showing that excess dietary sugar is a cause of weight gain.
As the body usually digests products containing added sugars more quickly, they do not offset hunger for very long. This can lead to eating more regularly throughout the day and a greater calorie intake overall.
There is also some evidence to suggest that sugar can affect the biological pathways that regulate hunger.
Leptin is a hormone that regulates hunger by determining how much energy the body needs. Disruption to leptin functioning can lead to weight gain and obesity.
A study in rats from 2011 revealed that a diet high in fat and sugar could lead to leptin resistance. Leptin resistance occurs when the body no longer responds to leptin correctly. The study authors found that removing sugar from the diet reversed leptin resistance.
Another study from 2014 found that sugary drinks could be a particular problem for leptin resistance.
It is important to note that sugar does not cause weight gain and obesity by itself. Sugar is one of several causes. Being overweight or obese is the result of a complex interaction between diet, physical activity, genetics, and social and environmental factors.
However, limiting the amount of sugar in a diet is one of the simplest ways to prevent weight gain.
There is a link between consuming sugary drinks and developing type 2 diabetes.
It is not true that sugar causes diabetes. A high-calorie diet of any kind can lead to type 2 diabetes.
However, in most cases, diets high in sugar are high in calories. This can increase the risk of diabetes.
Sugary drinks are particularly problematic.
A meta-analysis of data from 310,819 people found that those with a high consumption of sugary drinks had a 26 percent greater risk of type 2 diabetes than those with a low consumption. The study defined “high consumption” as between one and two sugary drinks per day.
The American Diabetes Association recommends avoiding sugary drinks to prevent type 2 diabetes.
For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.
4. Tooth cavities
Sugar consumption can cause tooth decay, which may lead to the development of cavities.
After eating sugar, bacteria in the mouth form a thin layer of plaque over the teeth. These bacteria react with the sugars present in foods and drinks. This reaction triggers the release of an acid that damages teeth.
It is possible for the body to repair some of this damage itself. Over time, however, a diet high in sugar will cause lasting damage. This can lead to tooth cavities. Cavities are permeant holes that form on teeth.
Limiting the intake of foods high in sugar is one effective way to prevent tooth cavities.
5. Heart disease
High-sugar diets may increase the risk of heart disease.
The results of a 15-year study suggest that people with a lot of added sugar in their diet are significantly more likely to die from heart disease than people with minimal amounts of added sugar in their diet.
Again, research suggests that sugary drinks may be particularly problematic for increasing the risk of heart disease. This association may be because sugary drinks are high in calories, do not affect hunger, and provide an insufficient amount of energy.
Although there is a clear link, more research will be necessary to better understand the relationship between sugar and heart disease.
Added sugars to look out for
Added sugars can appear in many surprising products. Checking the contents of food before buying it is one way to avoid added sugar.
However, some food labels make it difficult to tell whether they contain added sugar, as there are many different names for it.
Some examples of other names for added sugar include:
high-fructose corn syrup
evaporated cane juice
To maintain a healthful diet, it is best for males to consume no more than 36 grams (g) of added sugar per day, and for females to consume no more than 25 g per day.
This is the recommendation from the AHA. Currently, the average person in the U.S. consumes far more than these limits.
Sugar is not unhealthful in itself. However, consuming a natural source of sugar is better for health than consuming added sugars.
Having excess sugar in the diet can cause a range of conditions, including heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes.
To be aware of added sugars in food products, it is important to read labels carefully.
Nearly 1 out of 2 adults in the United States experience consistently high blood sugar levels, or hypertension, according to research conducted by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association. This condition puts one at risk of heart disease and stroke. And one of the most influential foods when it comes to unsteady blood sugar levels is carbohydrates.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. “When you hear simple carbohydrates, think of foods that have been processed to a point where they no longer contain any fiber or protein,” says Sydney Greene, MS, RD, a registered dietitian on our medical expert board. “When eaten on their own,” she goes on to say, “[simple carbs] will cause a higher spike in blood sugar than more complex carbohydrates because they are quickly digested.”
The CDC recommends that people with diabetes (or prediabetes) should commit only half of their daily calories to carbs, as well as eat the same amount of carbs at each meal to maintain blood sugar consistency.
A lot of the time you don’t have to completely cut out the carbs you love to save your blood sugar levels from experiencing chaos. Instead, adding other components to a carbohydrate food—such as healthy fats or protein—can help balance out a meal. There are also a few easy food swaps for refined, processed carbs that will offer up more whole grains and fiber to get you on your way to controlling your blood sugar.
According to dietitians, these are the seven worst carbs that may be spiking your blood sugar levels.
White bread is a common household staple. Many people use it to start the day off by throwing a few slices in the toaster or to get through lunchtime by building a sandwich. However, because of its high glycemic index (GI)—a measure of how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar—as soon as this carb is digested it can raise blood sugar very quickly. With a GI score of 71 (out of 100), one slice of white bread alone contributes a significant amount of glucose (or sugar) to the body’s bloodstream.
No need to toss out the loaf in your pantry quite yet. In fact, a simple addition of some healthy fats and fibers, like one’s found in avocados for example, “will slow down the rate at which blood sugar goes up,” says Greene.
Blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon, and so many more. Muffins are sugar-filled pastries that can cause problems if you have high blood sugar. The sweet treat contains many simple carbs, meaning there will be rapid digestion and lots of sugar absorption, explains Greene. “To help regulate the absorption of [the] carbohydrate,” Greene suggests topping your muffin with nut butter to reap the most benefits.
One great example is peanut butter, which not only has a low GI score, but that the spread has healthy oils, protein, and fiber that can support controlled blood sugar levels.
Not all forms of rice are bad, but eating too much white rice may be more harmful to some with high blood sugar. The milling process of white rice removes many beneficial nutrients the grain starts with, such as fiber. Research has shown that people who consume high amounts of white rice have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes as the grain has a GI of 66 or higher.
Therefore, if rice is a recurring food in your diet, Greene suggests pairing the carb with a protein—such as salmon or eggs. You can also try switching to brown rice or whole grains (quinoa) to fill in any nutritional gaps, as they are more well-rounded, complex carbohydrates.
You can usually find these crunchy bites on the snack table at a party, but you may want to think about how your blood sugar might fluctuate before you dive right in. On their own, pretzels are considered refined, processed carbs that lack fiber. Eating the salty snack solo will result in unwanted amounts of glucose, and so, “those with high blood sugar [may] have more trouble with keeping blood sugars under control,” explains Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, another registered dietitian on our medical expert board.
However, combining pretzels with a dip can up the nutritional value in one bite. Made from chickpeas, hummus is a fantastic plant-based protein that contains healthy fats and tons of fiber to help steady digestion and manage blood sugar. One study in the Nutrition Journal found that, in comparison with white bread, hummus raised blood sugar levels four times less and did not drastically change the body’s insulin levels.
Plain pasta is another white, refined flour-based food that can cause a quick influx in the body’s blood sugar levels. Like many others on the list, pasta is high in carbohydrates and low on digestion-slowing nutrients, such as protein and fats.
“Refined starches [that] contain little to no fiber may cause blood sugar spikes,” Hembree says. You can get a more nutritious bang for your buck, by adding vegetables or beans to have equal levels of fiber alongside your carbs, she recommends.
While it may seem simple enough, one of the worst things you can do for your blood sugar is eating food that is mainly sugar. Breakfast cereals—even the ones that say “healthy” on them—contain low amounts of protein, a macronutrient that can not only keep you satisfied but also help stabilize blood sugar levels.
For a better balance of carbohydrates and protein in your breakfast, swap out your sugary cereal for a bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit. This combination of whole grains and berries offers fiber, protein, and a more reasonable amount of carbohydrates that will digest slower and more safely in terms of blood sugar. Plus, with the addition of berries, you won’t have to give up a sweet, flavorful meal.
Technically, french fries do come from a vegetable—potatoes—but they are a high-carb food that can cause chaos to one’s blood sugar. French fries can be high on the glycemic index, with a GI as high as 82, forcing your body to absorb the food far too fast and see blood sugar levels sky-rocket, Hembree explains. According to Harvard Health, one cup of potatoes has similar effects on blood sugar as drinking a can of soda. Plus, once they’re boiled, deep-fried, and covered in salt, the damage can extend from your blood sugar to your waistline and even blood pressure.
If you’re a late riser or you regularly eat your first meal of the day in the late morning (or skip it altogether), you may want to reconsider your breakfast-eating habits. A new study suggests that eating breakfast on the early side may reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other disorders of metabolism. The practice could even help you avoid a related diabetes risk factor: being overweight.
Study results show that people who eat earlier breakfasts have lower blood sugar and less insulin resistance
The study presented recently at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting analyzed dietary data and fasting glucose and insulin from a nationally representative survey and tests of 10,575 adults.
The researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, Chicago, found that people who ate breakfast earlier than 8:30 a.m. had lower blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance than people who ate their first meal later in the day.
Elevated blood glucose and resistance to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, are two markers of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 34 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and 88 million have prediabetes. Of the latter, 84% don’t know they have the syndrome that puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Meal timing, not duration, is key
Other studies have suggested that a popular dieting strategy called time-restricted eating, which allows a person to eat as much as they want but during a shorter “eating window” or duration, improves metabolic health. This study, however, found that insulin resistance actually increased with shorter eating intervals while blood glucose numbers didn’t swing significantly no matter the length of the eating window.
In other words, you may be better off taking your time eating your meals rather than trying to cram them all into a short timeframe. And certainly, eat early! The study found that eating the first meal after 8:30 a.m. was associated with both high blood sugar and greater insulin resistance.
Extra Help: Exercise
Along with the right food and medicine, working out can help you control your diabetes. Physical activity will:
Lower your blood sugar
Lower your blood pressure
Improve your blood circulation
Your blood sugar tends to be highest about an hour after you have a meal or snack. After you eat, a little exercise will help your body handle that. Why? When your muscles go into action, blood sugar helps fuel them.
You can get the benefit without doing anything strenuous. All you need is 10 to 15 minutes of mild activity, such as:
A short walk
Walking the dog
Shooting a basketball
Cleaning up the kitchen
If you want to get into a more vigorous exercise routine, check with your doctor first. Strenuous activity can make your blood sugar fall. You don’t want that. Your medical team can help you build exercise into your daily plans for eating and medicine.
Protein is critical to repairing cells and tissues; it also helps stabilize blood sugar and quell hunger. But not all proteins are created equal. You need to be adding quality, lean protein to your plate to most effectively lose weight, get stronger, and improve overall health.
“For example, fatty cuts of meat like bacon contain protein, but they are also packed with artery-clogging saturated fat, sodium, and other unhealthy components that not only crowd out some of the protein that is found in leaner animal products, but that also negatively impact health,” say Lyssie Lakatos, RD, CDN who along with Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, CDN, make up the Nutrition Twins and are members of the Eat This, Not That! medical review board. “The highest quality animal proteins provide beneficial nutrients without these negative factors.”
Animal proteins contain the nine amino acids that are called “essential” because they are critical for building proteins, hormones, and neurotransmitters and our bodies cannot produce them; they must come from our food. But while all animal proteins contain the essential amino acids, there are also some plant proteins that do, as well. And while other sources of plant protein may not provide you with all nine, they can still be a part of a healthy, varied diet that includes many types of foods with different nutrients.
“Eggs are always referred to as the best protein,” says s Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, another registered dietitian on our medical expert board. “Eggs are the gold standard because they have the most bioavailable amino acids.” Eggs score 100 in biological value, a measure of how efficiently the body utilizes protein consumed in the diet. Beef, for comparison, scores 80. Only whey protein scores higher with a biological value of 104. “Low-fat dairy foods, seafood and lean poultry are other high-quality proteins,” says Upton.
Skinless Poultry Breast
Minus the skin, chicken and turkey breast “are ideal for building and repairing tissues and maintaining lean muscle, as they’re naturally low in saturated fat and sodium,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames. “[Lean poultry breast] is a good source of B vitamins, which are essential for DNA synthesis, energy production and for brain health and it contains the antioxidant selenium, which is important for immune and thyroid health.” Research suggests selenium may hold promise for cancer immunity.
Salmon and Sardines
These fatty fish are some of the highest quality sources of protein because they are packed with protein and are naturally low in sodium and saturated fat (one gram of saturated fat and 30 grams of protein in four ounces of salmon), while being excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that’s anti-inflammatory and especially good for the heart, say The Nutrition Twins. “Salmon may also provide weight loss benefits as research has shown it helps lower fasting insulin levels,” they say. “Higher insulin levels and inflammation are both linked to weight gain.”
High Quality Plant Proteins
Some plant proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, but most do not. “If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s really important to eat a varied diet so you cover your bases,” say The Nutrition Twins.
Made from soaking, grinding and crushing soybeans, tofu is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, packing in up to 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving of the firm variety. Tofu is an excellent source of iron and calcium and is rich in isoflavones, which appear to help protect against heart disease, osteoporosis, and some cancers.
Another complete protein, pistachios are one of the snack nuts highest in protein content. They’re also a good source of fiber and unsaturated fat. All three nutrients combine to make pistachios a powerful appetite suppressant that can keep you from overeating.
Lentils lack the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine, but don’t let that stop you from working them into your meals. They are a terrific source of plant protein. One cup provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber, nearly a third of your daily fiber needs. “They’re packed with procyanidin and flavanols, which are potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects,” say The Nutrition Twins. Just be sure to eat a variety of plant proteins so you supply your body with all the essential aminos it needs.
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to completely swear off desserts. All it takes is a few smart strategies to make sweet treats part of a healthy diabetes diet.
After all, who wants to cut baked goods out of their life entirely? That “all-or-nothing” mentality is not only a miserable way to go about your day — it’s also likely to backfire.
“When people go for the ‘nothing’ mentality, they end up feeling deprived, or like it’s not fair, like ‘Why me? Everyone else gets to eat what they want,’” says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) and author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week By Week, based in Newport News, Virginia.
Eventually, many people respond to deprivation by swinging in the opposite direction. “All of a sudden they can’t stand it anymore and say, ‘Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow, so I should just go ahead and eat everything now,’” Weisenberger says.
It’s much healthier to practice moderation, especially if you are trying to keep your blood sugar steady, as with diabetes.
With these tips, you can keep your baking diabetes-friendly, so you can still enjoy the occasional treat.
1. Trade Unhealthy Sources of Fat for Healthy Ones
Butter is a baking staple. Unfortunately, it’s high in saturated fat (1 tablespoon of Land O Lakes butter contains about 7 grams), which people with diabetes need to be especially careful to limit. High amounts of saturated fat have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). And people with diabetes are already more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than people without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Instead of turning to butter, try healthier fat sources like olive oil, canola oil, or avocado oil. These all offer low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are beneficial for lowering heart disease risk, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Use these oils in place of butter using a 1:1 substitution ratio. Just be forewarned: Liquid fats don’t always perform the same as solid fats in some baked goods, like pie crusts, “so you might not get the light and fluffy texture you would expect with butter,” says Brittany Poulson, RDN, CDCES, the Grantsville, Utah-based author of The Healthy Family Cookbook.
If you prefer not to use oil, try mashed avocado, pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt, or even nut butter. “The avocado is particularly well suited to chocolate baked goods because the chocolate helps hide the green of the avocado and pairs well with the chocolate flavor,” Poulson says.
2. Get Creative With Natural Sweeteners
It can be difficult to bake without sweeteners. Thankfully, there are better options than table sugar for people with diabetes.
Unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas, for example, can be used in place of baking sugar at a 1:1 ratio. In addition to containing no added sugars, they bring vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like fiber to baked goods. Fiber can help blunt a rise in blood sugar levels, Poulson says.
Honey and maple syrup are other potential swaps for table sugar, although not at a 1:1 ratio — and they’re not as beneficial for people with diabetes as unsweetened applesauce or bananas. For every 1 cup of table sugar, use one-half to two-thirds of a cup of honey. “Additionally, since honey is made up of more liquid, you’ll need to subtract a quarter of a cup of liquid for every 1 cup of honey used and add half a teaspoon of baking soda,” Poulson says.
Maple syrup tends to work best in recipes that call for brown sugar. Use two-thirds to three-quarters of a cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar, and subtract 3 to 4 tablespoons of liquid.
Honey and maple syrup still count as sugar and, therefore, can raise blood glucose levels. However, they don’t raise blood glucose as quickly, and, unlike white or brown sugar, which provide empty calories, they have the benefit of offering antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids, says Poulson.
3. Experiment With Sugar Substitutes
In addition to natural sweeteners, there are various kinds of artificial sweeteners that can fit into a diabetes baking plan. Common options include stevia, monk fruit, and sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol. You can find these in liquid, granule, or powder forms.
“Unlike substitutions of applesauce, bananas, or honey, artificial sweeteners will not add any sugar or carbohydrates to the baked goods,” Poulson says.
However, there are drawbacks to using artificial sweeteners. Mainly, they may change the taste slightly, and baked goods may not brown as much because there’s no sugar to caramelize. That can throw a wrench in treats like sugar cookies. For that reason, Weisenberger recommends combining sugar with a sugar alternative. Instead of using a full cup of sugar, try half a cup of sugar and half a cup of a sugar alternative. Or, do a third of a cup of sugar and two-thirds of a cup of the sugar alternative.
Keep in mind that some sugar alternatives may cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset if eaten in large quantities, “so you still want to watch portion sizes when consuming baked goods made with them,” Poulson says.
4. Try Alternative Baking Flours
If you’re used to baking with all-purpose flour, try white whole-wheat flour instead. “White whole wheat is nutritionally similar to traditional whole wheat, but it’s softer and lighter weight, so it has a texture that people are more accustomed to for baking,” Weisenberger says.
Swapping all-purpose flour for a whole-wheat variety will add fiber — 6 grams (g) per half a cup — to your baked goods. Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar, which can improve blood sugar levels in people managing diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are other types of flour you can try too, such as almond flour and coconut flour.
Of these options, almond flour has the lowest amount of carbohydrates, followed by coconut flour, says Lori Zanini, RD, CDCES, author of the Diabetes Cookbook and Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed, based in Manhattan Beach, California. But beware: While these flours are low in carbs, they’re high in fat.
A diet high in fat is associated with insulin sensitivity, Weisenberger says. Insulin resistance, or a lack of insulin sensitivity, is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes in particular, according to the ADA.
Half a cup of almond flour, for example, contains 16 g of fat, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Similarly, King Arthur coconut flour, one brand that offers the baking good, has 12 g fat per half a cup. What’s more, all of the fat comes from saturated fat.
Both types of flour are quite a leap from the 1 g of fat found in an equal serving of whole-wheat flour.
5. Use Dark Chocolate or Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
When a recipe calls for chocolate, opt for dark and unsweetened varieties instead of white or milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate, for one, offers helpful antioxidants, Zanini says. In particular, it has antioxidants known as flavonols, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, according to the AHA.
Findings from a previous small study suggest that dark chocolate may also offer specific benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered that study participants with type 2 diabetes who ate about 1 ounce of dark chocolate every day (about one square of a standard bar) for eight weeks saw improvements in fasting blood sugar and A1C levels — important health markers for people with type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, people with type 2 diabetes who ate an equal amount of white chocolate during that time saw no improvements.
For maximum health benefits, choose chocolate that contains 70 percent cacao or more, advises the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Another tip: Use mini chocolate chips in place of standard-sized ones. “What I do is use a little less of the minis, so maybe three-quarters of a cup instead of 1 cup,” Weisenberger says. This is a stealthy way to cut back on the chocolate (read: added sugar and calories) in a recipe, without feeling deprived. “It doesn’t seem like less because there are so many dots of chocolate in my dessert,” Weisenberger says.
6. Add Veggies for Extra Moisture and Nutrients
To instantly increase the nutrient profile of baked goods, mix in half a cup to 1 cup of shredded or chopped vegetables. “Shredded zucchini and riced cauliflower are my personal go-tos in muffins and quick breads, as they provide moisture and fiber, while retaining the taste quality,” Zanini says. One cup of chopped zucchini, for example, adds some fiber (1.2 g) and only 21 calories, according to the USDA. Shredded carrots and spinach are other great options to add to baked goods.
Depending on how much moisture there is in the veggies, you may want to cut back on oils and fats a bit. Check the consistency of the batter as you go.
But Weisenberger doesn’t typically adjust her recipes too drastically when incorporating produce. “I add veggies as a booster and don’t subtract much else,” she says.
7. Try an Open-Faced Fruit Pie
You can cut down on the amount of carbs, sugar, and butter in a pie simply by leaving the top crust off. “You could even forgo crust altogether and make a simple crumb topping with olive oil, whole-wheat flour, oats, chopped nuts, ground cinnamon, and a small amount of your sweetener of choice,” Poulson says.
For an even healthier pie, make it a fruit one. “Making a fruit pie, like apple or mixed berry, and using less sugar can incorporate more vitamins, minerals, and fiber into your dessert, while still giving you the sweetness you might be craving,” Poulson says.
Generally, riper fruits are sweeter, which means less sugar is needed, she adds.
8. Downsize Your Portions
Portion size matters — it’s not “just one cookie” if that cookie is the size of a salad plate.
Avoid the temptation to overeat by creating smaller portions from the get-go. Use mini cookie cutters, mini muffin and cupcake tins, or tiny ramekins (these work great for custard or flan). “You could even take little shot glasses and make mini trifles in them,” Weisenberger says. “Take a little piece of cake, a bit of whipped cream, some syrup and nuts, and make something tiny.” As you eat, focus on the feeling of your food and really relish it.
9. Think About Your Meal Plan That Day
If you know you’re going to indulge in something sweet for dessert, plan ahead by cutting back on the carbohydrates you consume at other meals and snacks, Poulson suggests.
Keeping track of daily carbs (known as carb counting) is a helpful habit in general for people with diabetes, the CDC notes. “I encourage my clients to know how many total carbohydrates are in their servings, so they can include them into their personal eating plan,” Zanini says. Since the ideal number of carbs varies from one person to the next, the ADA recommends working with a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes (opt for someone with the CDCES credential) to figure out the right number for you.
10. Pick Treats You Really Enjoy
If you’re baking tons of goods for a get-together, or you know you’ll be in a space where various desserts will be offered, think ahead about which treat really matters to you. Then, plan on having only that one.
“Let’s just say that apple pie is what you dream about having all the time — that’s what you should have,” Weisenberger says. “But maybe you skip the brownies and cookies because they don’t mean as much to you,” she adds.
Enjoy your slice, and remember that you can always have a brownie or cookie another day.
Often, when we talk about our health, we talk about losing weight. But sometimes, there’s a need to actually put on weight. This might seem counterintuitive, but there are several scenarios where your doctor might ask for you to gain weight, no matter your age or sex.
Besides the “why,” there is also the “how.” When you have to gain weight, you still want to use a healthy approach, not just add a bunch of high-sugar and high-fat items to your diet. While that will certainly add weight, that approach is not necessarily the best for your body.
We talked to pediatrician Ellen Rome, MD, and registered dietitian Devon Peart, MHSc, RD, about why your doctor might ask you to add weight and ways to do it safely — both for children and adults.
Why your doctor might ask you to gain weight
Whether you’re an adult or a child/adolescent, there are several reasons why your doctor might advise you to gain weight.
Below a healthy body weight
Peart says doctors will look for markers of healthy body weight and if, based on evidence, they decide you’re underweight, they may advise you to gain weight. “While body mass index (BMI) may have a lot of drawbacks, it can help a doctor see if someone is at a low weight that’s unhealthy,” she says. “The concern would be whether you are getting enough vitamins, minerals and energy (calories) for your body and your immune system to function well.”
Another reason, according to Dr. Rome, is that you’re fighting an acute or chronic illness. This could be for an adult or child. “It could be something like inflammatory bowel disease where the patient has lost a lot of weight,” she says. “Or it could be a cancer patient who needs to build some strength before beginning treatment.”
Such a need can also be necessary after major surgery, whether that’s a dental surgery that interferes with your ability to eat or another operation that resulted in weight loss. “After something like that, where a person hasn’t been able to maintain a normal diet, they’re not at their usual body weight and they’ll need to gain it back,” notes Peart.
It’s also possible that various treatments can affect appetite or even the taste of food, she adds. “Medication can cause food to taste metallic and so you don’t eat as much because it just doesn’t taste very good.”
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
While food restrictive disorders like anorexia nervosa are among the reasons someone might need to add weight, a newly recognized disorder known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a reason children may need to add weight, according to Dr. Rome.
“These children fall into a few different groups, and they can be in more than one group,” she continues.
These groups include:
Children who have limited intake because they’re picky eaters or are just not interested in food.
Children who perceive food as scary or dangerous. “For example,” Dr. Rome says, “if a child chokes or gets sick from a specific food, they might want to avoid that food.”
Children who have other conditions that cause them to avoid food, like chronic abdominal pain, losing their sense of smell and taste from COVID-19, or loss of appetite from other illnesses such as infectious mononucleosis.
“We’re learning more and more about how to help the children who are diagnosed with ARFID,” she adds.
How to gain weight safely
When gaining weight is your goal, it’s important to do so in a healthy, nutritious way that doesn’t cause any harm to your body or long-term health. And that’s not as difficult as you might think.
Healthy fats for kids
Proteins, fats and carbs are the fuel your body needs, especially in kids, and it’s important to get that balance right. The problem, says Dr. Rome, is the way fat is sometimes treated. “A parent may be told to cut back on fats for their diet but you can’t apply that to a kid’s diet,” she says. “From early adolescence through age 26, their fat intake should be about 50 to 90 grams of fat a day.”
Food like avocados and hummus are great sources of these fats that can help kids gain that weight safely. Using avocados to make guacamole is a great way to make it more appealing for kids. Dr. Rome says it’s also OK to occasionally indulge in some ice cream — in moderation.
Choose calorie-dense foods
It’s similar for adults. Peart says to focus on finding that balance in consuming more calorie-dense foods that still hold some nutritional value. “It’s not just about calories. You might think that eating a lot of candy would add calories but it wouldn’t be in a healthy way,” she says. “Nor do you want to fill up on lower-calorie foods like popcorn.”
Instead, she also recommends the avocado as one go-to snack. “It’s heart-healthy and has healthy fat,” she points out. Other suggestions include:
Nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter).
“These foods help bring more calories to your meals or snacks,” she notes. “Even if you’re having a salad, you can add in avocado and some dried fruit and layer in those extra calories in a more nutrient-rich, healthy way.”
Various supplemental shakes are also suggested by both Dr. Rome for children and Peart for adults. For kids, Dr. Rome recommends steering clear of powders in favor of the pre-mixed shakes you can buy off the shelves. “They pack a lot of calories into a container the size of a juice box and it’s perfect for a parent to prep the night before and give to a child in the morning for breakfast.”
Peart suggests protein shakes or even smoothies for some people who have smaller appetites. “For some, drinking may be more palatable (or easier to consume) than solid food, so that’s one way to get those calories,” she says. “And you can add ingredients like honey, fruit and even dry oats.”
Eating regularly throughout the day
Peart says one issue for some adults who want to add weight is that they have trouble eating large portions at every meal. “I’d recommend eating smaller, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day, about every two to three hours,” she says. “If you have a smaller appetite or something else that prevents you from eating as much from a traditional three-meal structure, this can help.”
Whether it’s adding in snacks to supplement meals or just eating more, smaller meals throughout the day, this can help you consume enough to gain the weight you need without forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry.
Avoid drinks right before dinner
Avoiding drinking large amounts of liquids before a meal can help keep your stomach a bit emptier if feeling full is an issue. “When you have something to drink before a meal, no matter what it is, it’s filling your stomach up so you may feel less hungry when you start eating,” Peart explains. Instead, drink between meals, not right before.
How quickly should weight be put on and still be safe?
Everyone is different, and our bodies react to food in different ways. So, it’s always essential that any plan to gain weight should be done under the supervision of a doctor or with the guidance of a registered dietitian. Anything to do with weight is a process that has to be done right, healthfully and safely.
“With most outpatient kids, you’re hoping for between a half-pound to two pounds a week,” says Dr. Rome. But, she adds, it could differ depending on your child and their conditions. “Partner with your pediatrician, a dietitian versed in weight gain — not just weight loss — and with an adolescent medicine doctor,” she suggests. “They can help make this journey more manageable.
Peart says by adding about 500 extra calories a day to your diet, most adults could see a gain of about a pound a week. The catch, though, is that some adults will add weight more easily than others for a variety of reasons. “A dietician can individualize a plan for you,” she emphasizes. “They can work with you and your likes, dislikes and appetite size, and come up with a way for you to add weight in a healthy way.”