The incidents of Type II diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, with the majority of them stricken with Type II. Type I — previously called Juvenile Diabetes — and Type II diabetes differ in both the way they occur and their treatment. Type I diabetes is genetically linked and often appears early in life, hence “juvenile” distinction used in the past. However, recent studies have shown that Type I can also occur later in life. Type I diabetes is controlled by insulin via injection or a pump, whereas Type II diabetes is typically linked to one’s lifestyle and habits, and can develop over time. Unlike Type I, Type II can be controlled (or even reversed) with medication and diet, depending on the severity of the disease.
Despite their differences, both Type I and Type II diabetes can be better controlled through thoughtful food choices. Making changes to one’s diet is especially crucial for Type II diabetics and can make the difference between a disease running amok and one in remission.
Dr. Ahmet Ergin, the doctor behind SugarMD and the popular YouTube channel of the same name, helps people with diabetes control their conditions and regularly stresses the importance of diet for all people with diabetes. “Your habits can be difficult to change, but if you do, it can help make it far easier to manage your diabetes,” he says. “This doesn’t mean you have to go all out and stop eating everything. Just start with some simple changes.”
Small changes can start at the grocery store, where what we buy can make all the difference between well-controlled or uncontrolled diabetes.
When we hit the grocery store aisles, how much thought do we put into what’s in our food? Suppose one isn’t a diabetic or a health nut. In that case, there’s probably little thought about carbohydrate content, fiber content, or the different types of sugars in foods we regularly enjoy.
However, when one is pre-diabetic or diabetic, failing to shop with content in mind can be a recipe for disaster. If diabetes is not managed effectively, people can experience kidney, nerve, or vessel disease, which can lead to the need for limb amputation, and eye disease, which can lead to blindness.
“Carbs are the main source of energy for our bodies,” explains Dr. Ergin. “Your diet benefits most when you concentrate on a specific subset of carbohydrates. There are good carbs and bad carbs, so as a person with diabetes, you should be aware of the difference to make the right dietary choices and keep your diabetes under control.”
Planning one’s meals ahead of time — with attention paid to good carb content, proteins, and fiber — can help make the difference in one’s disease progression.
Preparing for Your Shopping Trip
Prepared shoppers are smart shoppers. Pre-planning your meals and shopping trip can help you make better choices as you wander the aisles of your local grocery store. Though it may take a bit more time to pre-plan meals, it can help save valuable time at the store and improve health in the long run. When one is aware of the not-so-healthy choices they may have been making in the past, they can rectify those choices. Knowing the problem, after all, is half the battle.
To start with meal planning, make a daily planner for each meal you intend to have. Then, coordinate your shopping list with items for those meals. To save time, try cooking in bulk. Many people make bulk, freezable meals on Sundays to last them throughout the week.
Hitting the Grocery Store
What foods should people with diabetes gravitate towards once they are at the grocery store? Some choices that sound healthy on the surface may surprise you with their high glycemic load. Keeping differing carb content or glycemic load in mind as you shop can help you make better choices.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should be a part of any well-balanced diet, diabetic or not, but can be especially advantageous for those seeking to manage their diabetes. People with diabetes should try to choose fruits and vegetables that are lower in starches and sugars. “Fruits are okay,” says Dr. Ergin, “but the problem comes when we don’t consider portion size.”
For example, grapes may seem like a healthy snack option, but they are high on the glycemic index. Limiting your intake to half a cup can be smart to reduce the amount of carbohydrates you consume. Some healthy, non-starchy fruits and vegetables that those with diabetes can add to their shopping lists include broccoli, cherries, greens, and pears.
There can be different schools of thought when it comes to meat consumption, as meat can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and processed meats can be higher in nitrates. However, when it comes to the meat we buy, making wise choices can be a benefit for diabetics.
“Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fats and contains more Omega-3 fatty acids,” explains Dr. Ergin. “It can also be a good source of protein.”
Grass-fed beef is low in carbohydrates, so it can be a good meal choice for people with diabetes looking to get the most “bang” for their carb intake buck, so to speak. Still, people with diabetes may want to limit or eliminate red meats altogether. These meats have been linked to increased colon cancer risks, which diabetics are already more susceptible to.
Getting enough fiber is essential for anyone, and people with diabetes can also benefit from fiber intake. The American Diabetes Association has suggested that people with Type II diabetes aim to get at least 14 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, so it doesn’t raise blood sugar on its own and can help ease carbs’ negative impact on blood sugar. Because the intestines take more time to process fiber, the release of glucose into the diabetic’s bloodstream is slowed.
Just like carbs themselves, there can be good fibers and not-so-great fibers. Whole grains, such as those found in brown rice and quinoa, can be an excellent source of good fibers. Dried beans, legumes, and raspberries are also a wonderful place to find good fibers. However, people with diabetes should avoid fibers such as spaghetti noodles or breads, which can be high in carbohydrates.
“I have a lot of milk addicts in my practice, and I tell them the same thing: drink responsibly,” remarks Dr. Ergin. Dairy can come in different forms, including whole and skim milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheeses. When choosing dairy products to add to your grocery list, diabetics should focus on low-fat choices. Greek yogurt can be an excellent option for those with diabetes, as it is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Cottage cheese can be a good option, as well. People with diabetes should always check the nutrition labels of dairy products, particularly its fat and carb content, to select the best options for their diet.
For people who have diabetes, diet can work as medicine to control blood sugars and increase the chances of reversing pre-diabetes or the ill effects of a diabetes diagnosis. Not every diet is one-size-fits-all, which is why people with diabetes should coordinate with their doctors to find the right combination of foods for them. With careful planning, those with diabetes can better manage their disease with thoughtful shopping.