Type 2 diabetes is never a great diagnosis to hear, but the good news is that it can be treated (or even prevented or reversed) with the right lifestyle choices. It might seem intimidating to overhaul your diet, but think of it this way: You can manage and improve your diabetes symptoms simply by eating more of certain healthy (and delicious!) foods, taking soothing evening walks, and other healthy habits.
When adopting a diabetic diet, think of what you’ll add to your diet, not what you’ll take away. It might feel like you are restricting your diet once you have diabetes, but you might soon find that you are trying a ton of new foods and enjoying more variety than ever before. Experiment with different fruits, vegetables, grains, and recipes, and soon this diabetes diet will feel anything but restrictive.
Here’s the thing: The best diet for diabetes involves many of the same healthy eating principles anyone would do well to follow. You’ll want fresh produce, lots of leafy grains, whole grains, minimal amounts of sugar or saturated fat—sound familiar? It’s pretty much exactly what kids have been learning in school for decades.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, your best bet is the non-starchy varieties. Instead of corn or potatoes, try veggies like broccoli, spinach, arugula, asparagus, or brussels sprouts. Even if you don’t think you like these vegetables now, try different preparation styles. Roasted or sauteed vegetables are much tastier than boiled, for example. (Here’s how one chef grills vegetables in his restaurant.)
You don’t have to give up grains—just pick whole grains and stick to small portions. These grains aren’t refined or processed as much, so they have more fiber, which helps support healthy glucose levels. Look for brown rice or whole wheat pasta, or branch out and try quinoa or barley. (Here’s how to find the right bread.)
When it comes to the protein, don’t forget about adding non-meat sources like beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, or tempeh, to your diabetes diet. These options have no cholesterol or saturated fat, and some even offer fiber, which makes them a great protein for a diabetic diet—or anyone. When it comes to animal protein, pick lean options like fish or poultry. Have red meat in moderation, and look for cuts that end in the word “loin” (like sirloin), which is lower in saturated fat.
And you know this, but steer clear of sugary drinks. Obviously this includes sodas, but drinks like sweet tea, fruit punch, juice, and sweetened lattes often have just as much sugar as a Coke. These sweeteners can be very problematic to blood glucose levels for someone with diabetes. Good old water is your best option.