Sticking to your eating plan is crucial to keeping your blood sugar under control. Here are some ways to form healthy habits that you'll be able to sustain for many years.
Carbohydrates raise blood sugar faster than proteins or other foods. This makes counting carbs particularly important for maintaining proper blood sugar levels. In fact, counting carbs can be even more important than counting calories, because some low-calorie foods can affect glucose more than others. For example, fat-free rice cakes can be high in carbohydrates. Experts also say many people think wraps are healthier than bread, but they often have added oils and fats. Be sure to check the label on all foods.
Some sources of carbohydrates are better for your body than others. Watch out for high-carbohydrate processed foods that contain added fats, sugar or salt (sodium). These contain mostly simple carbohydrates, which break down quickly during digestion. Instead, most of the carbohydrates you eat should come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and dairy products. These foods contain complex carbohydrates and more fiber, so they take longer to digest. This means they're less likely to cause a rapid spike in blood glucose. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you fill only 25% of your plate with grains and starchy foods.
Learn to count carbs to calculate how much insulin you need. Talk to your health care professional about how many carbohydrates you should eat per meal to maintain the right balance. Your health care team may recommend a lower amount of carbohydrates, especially if you have other conditions such as high blood pressure.
Carbohydrates—starches, sugars and fiber—affect your blood sugar much more than any other foods. While many people know to watch out for foods with lots of refined sugar (think candy, cakes and ice cream), carbs hide in a surprising number of foods.
For example, condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard are often overlooked sources of carbohydrates. Other sources include alcoholic drinks, milk and popcorn. Learn about carbs and limit how much of them you eat to keep your blood sugar in control.
The number of calories you consume is important, especially if you need to lose weight. Check labels when eating prepared foods, and learn what a serving size is for different types of food.
Be choosy when eating out at restaurants, which often serve up portions that are far larger than what your body needs in one meal. You might also ask the server to hold the bread before the meal and opt for a salad or low-carb appetizer. At home, one simple way to keep portions in check is to use a salad plate instead of a larger dinner plate.
People with diabetes are at high risk of developing heart disease. Foods with a lot of fat can increase this risk by clogging the arteries in your heart.
Unhealthy fats include those found in meat and dairy products, fried foods, and baked goods. On nutritional labels, these are often listed as saturated fats or trans fats. Limit these unhealthy fats in your diet. Healthy fats, or unsaturated fats, are those in nuts, avocados and olive or canola oil. While these fats are part of a healthy diet, be careful not to go overboard because these foods tend to contain more calories.
Don't forget to eat lots of healthy protein. Protein-rich foods help you feel full—and that means you'll be less tempted by unhealthy foods throughout the day. But not all types of proteins are equally healthy. Fish and lean poultry are typically preferred over red meat. The amount of protein recommended may be different for each person, so check with your health care team to learn how much is right for you.
Drinking lots of water can help you keep calories in check. Many other beverages are packed with added sugars. Drinks with sugar substitutes can carry health risks. Limiting your alcohol intake is especially important to cutting carbs and calories.
The best way to get the right nutrition consistently is to plan out your meals. Each week , write down what you'll have for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, and then use that list to guide your trip to the grocery store. Life gets hectic, and if you don't plan ahead, you're more likely to grab take-out or prepared foods, which tend to be high in fat, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
Planning ahead also gives you a chance to anticipate challenges. For example, eat a half a cup of nuts before going to a party so you'll feel less hungry. That way you will be less likely to overindulge in unhealthy snacks. You can also use meal planning as a time to read food labels and become more savvy about what's in your fridge.
Skipping meals isn't a healthy option. In fact, it can cause dangerous fluctuations in your blood sugar. Eating on a consistent schedule helps your body use insulin properly and keeps you feeling good. Aim to have a meal every 4-6 hours during the day.
You also shouldn't rely on vitamins or supplements alone to get the right nutrients. Research shows it's best to get most of the nutrients you need from the foods you eat. If you think you may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency, talk to your health care team.
Variety is your friend. Learn to prepare a wide array of foods that you enjoy and that fit with your eating plan. Fill half your plate with vegetables, and rotate your recipes to keep your taste buds happy. Keeping your meals interesting will help you stick to your plan, feel full after each meal and avoid temptation.
Be aware of your feelings. It can be difficult to turn down unhealthy food, especially at a social gathering, without feeling deprived or left out. Just remember, you can eat so-called forbidden foods in moderation. When you choose to avoid or limit these foods, you're making a choice to stay healthy and live longer. A good rule of thumb: Eat protein and vegetables first and then your carbohydrates and you may eat less of them.
Only about half of U.S. adults with diabetes meet recommended goals for diabetes care. Enlisting the help of the people around you can help you beat the odds and stay on track.
If you have someone who loves to cook for you, share your eating plan and work together to learn healthful cooking techniques (such as grilling instead of frying). Plan out meals to make sure you're getting the right balance of nutrients each day.