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By American Diabetes Association

Making healthy food choices is an essential part of successful diabetes management. Cooking diabetes-friendly meals at home is a great way to ensure that you’re eating nutritious food; avoiding preservatives and excess fat, sugar, and sodium; and controlling your portion sizes. If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be wondering where to start when it comes to eating well. Understanding the best food choices for people with diabetes is an important first step. Before you begin cooking healthy recipes at home, learn how to shop for the best ingredients and prepare your kitchen.

Making Healthy Food Choices When You Have Diabetes

People with diabetes need to be conscious of what they eat to keep their blood glucose levels in check and reduce their risk of diabetes complications. Consult a registered dietitian/registered dietitian nutritionist or another diabetes care expert soon after being diagnosed to set up a personalized meal plan and learn which foods are best for you.

The following foods are good options for people with diabetes:

  • Nonstarchy vegetables: Fill up on fresh, canned, or frozen nonstarchy vegetables (such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, asparagus, onions, peppers, salad greens, and many more). Eat these foods often.
  • Fruits: Enjoy fresh, canned, or frozen fruits, but watch your portion sizes. Look for canned fruit in juice or light syrup, not heavy syrup.
  • Starchy vegetables: Enjoy starchy vegetables (such as white and sweet potatoes, corn, green peas, pumpkin, and acorn squash) but keep an eye on portion size. These foods are nutritious, but higher in carbohydrate.
  • Whole grains: Choose whole grains (such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, sorghum, farro, barley, and more) and whole-grain products instead of refined, processed grains, pastas, and breads.
  • Lean proteins: Choose lean sources of protein like poultry (without the skin), fish, and plant-based proteins (such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and nut products, tofu and tempeh, and meat replacement products).
  • Unsaturated fats: Choose plant-based fats (such as olive oil, canola oil, other vegetable oils, avocados, and nuts) instead of butter, margarine, lard, solid fats, cream, or high-fat meats.
  • Low-fat or nonfat dairy: Low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese may be good options.
  • Zero-calorie beverages: When you’re thirsty, your best drink options are water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, and diet soda.

Avoid these foods or enjoy them occasionally:

  • Red meat: Eat red meats (such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, and bison) in moderation and choose the leanest cuts of high-quality meat available. Red meats can be high in saturated fat.
  • High-fat, highly processed meats: Fatty meats (such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and ground beef) should be limited in your diet.
  • Saturated and trans fats: Replace the sources of saturated and trans fat (such as butter, cream, full-fat dairy products, high-fat meats, lard, gravies, chocolate, and poultry skins) with unsaturated fats.
  • Processed starches: Limit white grains, breads, pastas, and crackers as well as chips, cookies, cakes, and other highly processed starches.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: People with diabetes should avoid regular sodas, fruit drinks and juices, energy drinks, and sweet teas.

Shopping Smart When You Have Diabetes

After you have a grasp on the best food choices for people with diabetes, it’s time to head to the grocery store. Here are a few quick tips to help you navigate the aisles and select healthy ingredients to prepare at home:

  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Shopping when you’re hungry can lower your resolve to choose healthy ingredients and may cause you to buy more food than you need.
  • Bring a shopping list. Bring a complete shopping list with you and try to stick to it. Don’t forget to check your refrigerator and pantry before you go shopping for anything you might be out of.
  • Avoid the center aisles of the grocery store. The outer perimeter of the store is where you’ll find fresh produce and other fresh ingredients. The center aisles hold mostly processed foods.
  • Skip “sugar-free” or “diabetic” foods. You don’t need to purchase “sugar-free” or “diabetic” foods just because you have diabetes. Fresh, whole ingredients are a better option.
  • Read food labels. When buying packaged or canned products, take a look at Nutrition Facts panels and compare nutrients for similar foods to find the one that will work best with your meal plan.

Before You Begin Cooking Diabetes-Friendly Recipes

Cooking diabetes-friendly recipes at home is easier than you think, especially if you take a little time to prepare beforehand. Here are a few things you can do to make healthy home cooking even simpler:

  • Take inventory of your kitchen. Go through your refrigerator, pantry, and spice cabinet and take stock of any staple ingredients (such as milk, eggs, flour, sugar, herbs and spices, oil, and frequently used fresh ingredients). Replace any staples that you’re out of or that have been sitting in your cabinet for years.
  • Clean out unwanted food. As you’re taking inventory of your kitchen, throw out those leftovers in the back of the fridge and any foods that have expired. This may also be a good opportunity to get rid of any unhealthy foods that you no longer want to keep in the house.
  • Examine your cooking tools. Make sure you have the basic cooking tools you’ll need to cook at home. Pots, pans, cutting boards, knives, cooking utensils, mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons are all essential. Replace any commonly used tools that are broken.
  • Read the recipe. Read through each recipe thoroughly before you begin cooking to make sure you have all the ingredients and kitchen tools you need. If you don’t understand one of the directions in the recipe, search for an explanation or video demonstration online. If a recipe requires time for marinating or chilling, make sure you take that into account.
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