Diabetes diet: New guidelines for healthy eating with diabetes

Your diabetes diet is an important part of your treatment plan. Consider the latest guidelines for diabetes nutrition.

When you have diabetes, diet plays a key role in controlling blood sugar. You probably already know the cornerstones of any diabetes diet — moderate portions of healthy foods and regular mealtimes. Now, new guidelines from the American Diabetes Association can help you make even better choices about what you eat.

Here's a quick look at the latest recommendations, including how to incorporate the basics into your own diabetes diet.

Eat healthy carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body's main energy source. During digestion, sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood sugar. About half of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Focus on the healthiest carbohydrates:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)
  • Low-fat dairy products

To help control your blood sugar level, eat about the same amount of carbohydrates every day, spaced throughout the day. If you eat more or less carbohydrates than usual at a given meal or from day to day, your blood sugar level may fluctuate.

Remember the importance of portion control, too. Although carbs are an essential part of your diet, they're easy to overdo. Read food labels to determine serving sizes — and stick to them. To discourage overeating, skip second helpings and share restaurant meals.

Choose fiber-rich foods

Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Fiber is often classified into two categories:

  • Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber increases the movement of material through your digestive system. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.
  • Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. You can find generous quantities of soluble fiber in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.

Aim for 25 to 50 grams of fiber a day.

Limit saturated and trans fats

If you have diabetes, you're at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. That's because diabetes can accelerate the development of clogged and hardened arteries. Here's where heart-healthy eating becomes part of your diabetes diet.

Get no more than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat, and try to avoid trans fat completely. The best way to reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats is to limit the amount of solid fat — butter, margarine and shortening — you add to food when cooking and serving. Use low-fat substitutions when possible. For example, top your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use sugar-free fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine.

When you do use fat, choose monounsaturated fats — such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, are a healthier choice as well. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. But moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.

Curb dietary cholesterol

Your increased risk of heart disease and stroke also makes cholesterol an issue. When there's too much cholesterol in your blood, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries.

To keep your cholesterol under control, consume no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. The most concentrated sources of cholesterol include organ meats, egg yolks and whole milk products. Use lean cuts of meat, egg substitutes and skim milk instead.

Eat fish at least twice a week

Fish can be a good alternative to high-fat meats. Many types of fish — including cod, tuna and halibut — have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than do meat and poultry. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids — such as salmon, mackerel and herring — promote heart health by lowering blood fats called triglycerides. Include heart-healthy fish in your meals at least twice a week.

The caveat? Avoid fried fish and fish with high levels of mercury, such as tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel.

The bottom line

If you're already making healthy food choices, good for you! If you're not sure whether you're eating the right foods, ask your doctor for guidance. He or she may recommend consulting a registered dietitian. Together you can develop a diabetes diet based on your health goals, tastes and lifestyle — as well as the latest guidelines for healthy eating.