Meal Planning 101 for Diabetics

A new diagnosis of diabetes can be scary. Individuals often leave their doctors office knowing little to nothing about the disease, feeling completely overwhelmed, and provided only a few words along the lines of “your blood sugar is abnormally high so now you need to check it on a regular basis”. You may be experiencing crazy symptoms like excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, and maybe even blurry vision. You might be told you need to improve your diet, exercise, and lose weight, but are not explained even the slightest how.

Who can relate to this? Over the years I have dealt with numerous patients who have stepped into my office knowing nothing about their disease or how to control it. Well today I am going to help solve that issue and discuss diabetes meal prep basics.

“What the heck can I eat?”

Whether you’re a new diabetic or have had diabetes for 30 years, it is important to understand how foods will affect your body and impact your blood sugar. Let me introduce you to the diabetes plate method. This is a way of helping you to control your portions of starchy, carbohydrate containing foods. It also will help you be more mindful of what you are putting on your plate.

Non-Starchy vegetables

The focus is on increasing non-starchy vegetables as these are high in nutrients and fiber, and will have minimal impact on your blood sugar. The goal is for these foods to compose 50% of each meal. Yep, I said it, vegetables should be half of your plate! This is also the recommendation for non-diabetics, but yet only ~9% of American’s eat enough. For some, this could seem totally foreign and even impossible. If you do not eat non-starchy vegetables daily, start by including 1 cup at lunch or dinner, and gradually increase from there. Sorry folks — corn and potatoes don’t count as vegetables (they are both high in starch). Some examples include: tomatoes, onions, green beans, zucchini, any type of leafy green, along with all the vegetables listed on the left side of the “Plan Your Portions” guide below.

protein

The next food group to include is a good source of protein. Animal sources (i.e. fish, grass-fed beef, turkey, pastured chicken, etc) will not impact your blood sugar as long as your intake is not excessive (3-6 oz or a portion size equivalent to a deck of cards). Including a healthy source of protein at each meal will help keep you full and balance your blood sugar.

Starchy carbohydrates

This is the group that likes to get people into trouble. It includes all breads, pasta, pizza, rice, corn, potatoes, and crackers, along with all the foods listed in the top right portion of the portions guide. Put simply, the more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar can go. Therefore, monitoring your carb intake is vital for improving your glycemic (blood sugar) control.

So how do you know how much to eat? Step one is to determine the carbohydrates in your diet. What are you eating on a regular basis that is impacting your blood sugar? Step two is to limit yourself 1 carb choice per per meal. For example, instead of eating both potatoes and corn, choose one and replace the other with a non-starchy vegetable. Whole food sources are always the best. They will be higher in fiber and less processed, so they will typically have less of an impact on your blood sugar. They also won’t have any of those nasty rat ingredients like preservatives and artificial flavors (check out my post on the 10 Ten Ingredients to Avoid). Some healthy choices include sweet potatoes, lentils, black beans, butternut or spaghetti squash, and black or brown rice.

Another way to determine how much to eat is through counting carbohydrates. This is a strategy used to determine exactly how many carbohydrates are consumed, with the goal of eating a specific and consistent amount of carbs at each meal. This will not only help keep your blood sugar consistent, but it will help you increase awareness on how many carbs you are eating (most people eat more than they realize!). If you would like to learn more about carb counting, comment below!

fats

Although this group is not specifically outlined in the “Plan Your Portions” guide, fats serve an important role in stabilizing blood sugar and helping you feel full until your next meal. Aim to include a healthy source of fats at all meals. Some of my favorite sources include, avocado, nuts and seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil on pretty much anything.

lets end this with a Challenge!

So, now you have a general understanding, lets set some action points to get you started. I will list below some goals. Choose one or a few that you want to start with. Once you master that goal, choose another one!

  1. Eat at least 1 non-starchy vegetable per day. If you are already doing this, aim for 1 per meal or even half your plate, depending on where you’re at.
  2. Limit yourself to 1 starch per meal that is no more than 1/4 your plate.
  3. Replace your juice, pop, sweet tea, or milk intake with water, black coffee or unsweetened tea. Set a more specific goal based on your current habits. Example: If you currently drink 5 cans of pop per day, decrease to 2 or 3 cans.
  4. Include at least 1 tablespoon of healthy fat with each meal.
  5. Replace your snacks with vegetables (Example: baby carrots with hummus, peppers with guacamole).

Often I find it is easier to focus on including more healthy options rather than what you should be avoiding.

Which goal do you plan to start with?! Describe a meal you can you make that will follow the “Plan Your Portions” guidelines.

Got a Sweet Tooth?

If your holiday and end of year celebrations were anything like mine, they were probably overloaded with candies, cakes, your aunt’s delicious cookies, endless vino, and so forth. By the time New Year comes around I am exhausted, bloated, and feeling something like this:

This inspired me to complete 30 days of no sugar, no booze, no excuses. Since I started this past Monday, January 6, I have already lost count of the number of times I have been asked “….why?” Sugar has become so mainstream in our diet it has actually changed, for many, the ability to appreciate unsweetened foods. A perfect example of this is peanut butter. Many brands are loaded with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, and when individuals try clean, raw peanut butter with no additional ingredients, it tastes off. Sugar lights up the reward centers in our brain, similar as to cocaine for an addict. After going a period of time without it, as the body stars to rebalance, you start to crave them all over again.

Sugar is also a tremendous contributor to blood sugar dysregulation (another cause of sugar cravings). According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015, an estimated 33.9% of US adults 18 years or older had prediabetes along with 48.3% of adults age 65 or older. An additional 9.4% (30.3 million) of the population has actual diabetes. My family has not been an exception, so preventative measures early on have been a priority of mine!

Chronically elevated blood sugar (BS) levels result in inflammation as high BS is damaging to our nerves and small blood vessels. High intake of refined sugar also results in the formation of AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, which are destructive molecules that trigger inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.

If I have not yet convinced you that sugar is evil, this study demonstrated that ingestion of sugar can alter the function of phagocytes (cells that ingest harmful bacteria, particles and dead cells) for at least 5 hours. In other words, after eating a piece of chocolate cake, your immune system will become suppressed, leaving you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. Not ideal this time of the year.

There are several steps I took to prepare for this little endeavor:

  1. Recruit a support system. Maintaining any type of lifestyle change is not only easier but can even be fun when you have a team that supports you, or even better, will do it with you! Two of my sisters and my fiancé have agreed to participate. This has been a gamechanger in maintaining my motivation.
  2. Prepare. Don’t start immediately. I took a couple days to get rid of any leftover holiday goodies and meal prep for the week ahead. My sisters also took time to read food labels and clear out any foods that would not be acceptable to avoid temptation. We also discussed healthy, sugar-free alternatives.
  3. Make specific goals. I wrote out a list of guidelines and ingredients that were to be avoided for the next 30 days including: all added sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave nectar, cane juice, caramel, barley malt, and glucose to name a few.
  4. DO NOT say “I will try”. This is one phrase I always make a point to avoid saying, otherwise I might as well not waste my time. It indirectly gives me permission to fail, which I do not want as an option.

What healthy habits have you committed to this year? If you are interested in trying 30 days No Sugar. No Booze. No Excuses. the guidelines are as follows:

30 DAys no sugar. no booze. no excuses. guidelines

  1. No sugar or hidden sources of sugar (refer to chart below)
    • Beware of foods such a bread, peanut butter, ketchup, dried fruit, chips, milk alternatives, and pasta sauce that could unexpectedly have some form of added sugar (TIP: if it has a barcode, check the ingredients)
  2. No honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or any other “healthy” form of sugar
  3. No alcohol (wine, liquor, beer, etc).
  4. Approved:
    • Fruit (beware of sugar added to store-bought smoothies or açaí bowls). Ideally no more that 2-3 servings per day. Berries are best as they are lower in sugar.
    • Stevia or monk fruit (0 calorie natural sweeteners) in small amounts