Being selective about what you eat takes on more importance when you’re diabetic. The difference between a right and wrong choice can have major consequences. But what does a healthy eating plan for a diabetic even look like?
You might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t look very different from general dietary guidelines. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy are recommended across the board for health whether you’re diabetic or not.
Of course, if you have diabetes, you need to pay close attention to your carbohydrate (sugar) intake.
But that doesn’t mean you have to necessarily go low-carb. Instead, you’ll have to be selective about the types of carbs you eat. You will be best served by selecting carbohydrate sources that are rich in fiber and high in nutrition.
For most diabetics, daily carbohydrate recommendations don’t typically move from those suggested for the general population: roughly 45–55% of total calories.
Choosing carbohydrates that are high in fiber can help manage blood sugar levels by slowing absorption to keep them from spiking and improving insulin sensitivity. Great choices are a variety or whole fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates and sugar can send blood sugar through the roof and lead to insulin resistance.
There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is the type mainly found in whole grains. Soluble fiber is common in beans, oats, dried peas, and fruit. Soluble fiber is also the type of fiber that appears to have the greatest benefits for blood sugar management.
Research suggests that soluble fiber does a good job of improving insulin sensitivity, which is a major benefit for sugar absorption. Insulin carries sugar to your cells, and the more sensitive they are the better the sugar is absorbed. Better insulin sensitivity might ultimately lead to less reliance on diabetes medication.
The benefits of fiber-both soluble and insoluble-go even further. Fiber intake is associated with lower cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease. These are major health concerns for diabetics, who hold a high risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure.
Managing diabetes does not mean avoiding carbohydrates altogether. It just means you have to be selective. Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars like those found in white bread and pasta, candy, sugary soft drinks, and sweets. Increasing high-nutrient and fiber-rich carbs, however, can help you manage blood sugar and fight back against your condition.