If you have diabetes, you may think you have a lot of “don’ts” when it comes to what you can eat. Your diet can certainly impact your blood sugar levels, but there are plenty of good, healthy foods that are well suited for diabetics that won’t leave you feeling deprived.
In fact, Atlanta nutrition experts say that no foods are off limits for diabetics.
"You can eat any kind of food. It's the amount or the portion size that makes a difference," explained Lisa Mason, a diabetes educator with WellStar. For example, she said, have two cookies instead of half a package.
Instead of focusing on deprivation, the emphasis should be on foods that provide a lot of nutritional value and on meals that aren't too high in carbohydrates, which can cause your blood sugar to rise quickly.
The following five foods are often recommended as healthy choices for diabetics:
"I think an important food group to focus on are the non-starchy vegetables. These are considered free foods," Meagan Barry, registered dietitian with Emory Johns Creek Hospital, said in an e-mail.
Mason also touted the importance of non-starchy vegetables, explaining that diabetic patients are often advised to fill half of their plates with these vegetables, which can include choices such as broccoli, peppers, carrots, spinach, collards and kale. These foods are nutritional powerhouses, she explained, since they're filling and have plenty of vitamins and minerals, but they're low in carbs.
Beans are considered a starchy vegetable, but they’re good sources of protein, fiber, magnesium and potassium - all without any saturated fat, according to the American Diabetes Association.
They're also filling and have an important added benefit for diabetics.
"Beans are good for heart health, which is a major complication for diabetics," Mason pointed out.
Whole grains like brown rice or oats have nutrients such as fiber, magnesium and folate. In addition, they're digested slower than many foods, so they don't make your blood sugar rise quickly.
Choosing brown rice instead of white rice is a good example of making a better choice, Barry said via e-mail, and it's not any less satisfying.
In fact, research cited by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health indicates that eating whole grains instead of white rice could help lower the risk of developing diabetes.
Blueberries contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help fill you up.
In addition, a USDA study found that people who drank two-and-a-half cups of wild blueberry juice every day for 12 weeks had several health benefits, including improved blood glucose levels. Researchers think it may be because a chemical in the berries stimulates the release of a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose.
Fish and seafood have a lot of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help diabetics avoid heart disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. It has no carbs, so it shouldn't cause your blood sugar levels to rise, and the fat that it contains is mostly healthy, as opposed to saturated or trans fats.