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Think about when you or someone you know was diagnosed with diabetes.  It can feel overwhelming and emotional.  It’s hard to know where to start sometimes.  I had a patient who was newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes ask me what advice I normally give to people like her.  I thought it was a great question and one worth sharing.

1. Start with the Diabetes Plate Method

A great starting place when thinking about food and planning meals, is using ADA’s Diabetes Plate Method.  This is a picture of a plate where 50% of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates.  This means that 75% of your plate is low to no carbohydrates.  You don’t have to weigh and measure food, just use your plate to plan portions.  Think about variety when you use the plate method.  Change up the protein, vegetables, and carbs to increase nutrients and keep your plate interesting.

2. Choose Healthy Drinks

Another important first step is making sure what you drink is healthy and not causing your glucose to spike.  While you may have stopped drinking soda, remember that 100% juice, sweetened coffee, and sports or energy drinks can still add unwanted sugar.  Diet drinks, meaning those containing artificial sweeteners, can be used but it is best to limit those as well.  Diet drinks may not directly raise blood glucose, but the more your taste buds are exposed to sweet the more you crave sweets.  Artificial sweeteners aren’t neutral and have also been linked to glucose changes and decreasing the good bacteria in your gut.

Start by drinking more water.  Other healthy drink options include sparking water, fruit-infused water, coconut water, unsweetened coffee or tea, vegetable juice, kefir, milk, or unsweetened plant-based milks such as almond, coconut, oat, or soy milk.

People with diabetes need to stay hydrated.  Dehydration can lead to high glucose and high glucose levels can cause dehydration.  A bonus is that being hydrated can also keep you feeling satisfied.  Carry water with you during the day as a reminder to drink often.

3. Be Carb Aware

Eating healthy with diabetes is about more than carbohydrates, but a good starting place is carb awareness.  The first step of carb awareness is knowing which foods raise glucose and which ones don’t.  The food groups that contain carbohydrates include starch (pasta, rice, bread, cereal, legumes), fruits, vegetables (starchy and non-starchy), milk and yogurt.  Protein (poultry, fish, meat, eggs, cheese) and fats (oils, avocado, nuts, seeds) contain very few to no carbs.

The second step to carb awareness is starting to look at portions, or the amount of carbs you eat.  This can be done using the Diabetes Plate Method or using measuring cups.  Recommendations for portions should be individualized to your needs.

Remember that being carb aware doesn’t mean eating very low carb.  Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is most known for keeping us regular, but it helps slow down the rise in glucose, creates happy gut bacteria, and takes waste out of our body including things like hormones and toxins.  Choose carbs high in fibers such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes.

4. Add Flavor

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you need to eat foods that taste bland, but it does mean you might need to get creative with flavor.  You should enjoy the food you eat.  For many people with diabetes this means learning to enjoy more vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

To add flavor, start by using more herbs and spices when cooking.  These not only provide flavor but also boost your intake of antioxidants.  Cinnamon has been linked to lowering glucose, garlic to heart health, and turmeric to decreasing inflammation.

Other ideas for added flavor without sugar include citrus juice or zest, hot pepper sauce, chipotle peppers, chili sauce, mustard, vinegar, salsa, soy sauce, tapenade, wasabi, cocoa powder, or sauerkraut.  If you are in a meal planning rut, try some new recipes with flavor at the Diabetes Food Hub.

5. Be Mindful

We can be mindful in many areas of life.  We make hundreds of decisions about food each day-what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, how quickly to eat, where to eat.  Most of these decisions are automatic, meaning that we don’t stop to think and make choices.  Mindful eating can have a big impact on your eating habits which will affect your blood glucose.

Start by tuning into your feelings of hunger and fullness.  Be aware and honor those feelings.  Don’t be ashamed about eating of out boredom or emotional eating-just start to identify those times and feelings.  Try eating slowly (around 20 minutes to eat a meal), eating without TV, phone, or other distractions so your body can process those feelings of satisfaction.  Be present and appreciate the food you have and how it nourishes your body.

If you are newly diagnosed with diabetes, seek support for your health care team, family, and friends.  While you manage diabetes every day, you don’t have to do it alone.

by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE

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