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Our FB status with sugar: It’s complicated. In a similar boat? No worries.
Whether you’re looking to manage diabetes or just want to cut back on the sweet stuff, we’ve got a go-to shopping list full of delicious foods — even desserts — to keep you flirty and thriving throughout the week!
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes (type 1 or type 2), the amount and type of carbohydrate-containing foods you eat is important for keeping blood glucose levels where they need to be.
But with sugar and other refined carbs lurking seemingly everywhere, including in foods we don’t even think of as sweet, navigating the grocery store can be tricky.
To help you shop with confidence — without spending hours wandering the store aisles reading labels — here’s an expert-approved list of foods to make shopping easy peasy.
Remember, you won’t necessarily need all of the items on this list in one grocery run — the idea is to get a sense of the many options of whole, nutritious foods available to you.
Aim for 2 to 3 servings a day.
- Lean meats: Go for skinless chicken and turkey breasts and lean cuts of beef and pork. Keep portions to 3 ounces cooked, which is roughly the size of your palm.
- Fish and shellfish: Choose low-mercury varieties that are also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats — including salmon, tuna, and oysters. A serving is 3 ounces. Try to get several servings a week.
- Low-fat dairy: Like yogurt. Particularly Greek yogurt, because it’s higher in protein than the regular kind. Also cheese and cottage cheese.
The probiotics in yogurt have been shown to help lower blood glucose, but since some varieties can be high in added sugars, eyeball labels and choose one with 10 grams or less of total sugar and a total carbohydrate content of 15 grams or less per serving.
- Beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds: Foods like black beans, lentils, edamame, and split peas are quality vegetarian sources of protein — as are foods made from them, such as tofu, hummus, and nut butters.
They’re also rich in fiber, which can slow the absorption of glucose and improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Serving sizes vary — for example, a serving size of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons whereas a serving of chick peas is ½ cup — so check labels.
- Eggs: They’re very low in carbs — one large egg has about half a gram — and boast 7 grams of protein per serving. Eggs also contain biotin, a type of B vitamin involved in insulin production.
Even though the health concerns tied to the cholesterol in these guys has largely been dismissed, it’s still a good idea to eat them in moderation.
Aim for 3 to 5 servings a day, or more.
- Non-starchy veggies: These include — but are not limited to — dark leafy greens, onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, okra, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and zucchini.
A serving is 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked. Variety is important! Different colored veggies offer different beneficial phytonutrients (those compounds are actually what give each type of produce its hue).
Watch portions for starchy ones like potatoes and peas. During digestion, your body breaks down and converts the complex carbohydrates into blood glucose.
If you’re not sure whether a veggie is non-starchy, check out this list.
Aim for 2 to 3 servings a day, or more.
- Fresh and frozen fruit: Berries, melons, peaches, and avocados (yes, technically a fruit) tend to be the lowest in carbs. But other varieties like grapes, apples, oranges, and mango are good picks, too.
While they’re all high in naturally-occurring sugars, the fiber that whole fruits contain helps blunt their effect on blood glucose — and makes most of them low glycemic index foods.
And don’t forget the freezer case. Frozen fruit is just as nutritious — if not more than — the fresh stuff, since it gets the deep freeze when it’s at peak ripeness.
Frozen fruit without added sugar is great for smoothies and baked goods, and you don’t have to worry as much about spoilage. A serving is 1 cup or the equivalent, such as 1 medium grapefruit or 1 large peach.
Cereals and Grains:
Aim for around 6 servings a day.
- 100 percent whole wheat bread and bread products: Don’t be fooled by phrases like “made with whole wheat.” Flip the package over and double check before you buy.
If the first ingredient on the list says “100 percent whole wheat flour,” then you know you’ve got a winner. If not, move on.
Also look for products that offer at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Remember that whole wheat breads are similar in carbohydrate content to any other bread so keep track of portions.
- Crackers: A lot of products claim to be made with whole grains but actually have just a very small amount and are packed with refined flours instead. This is another case where you want to read the ingredient list and compare the total carbohydrate.
- Whole Grains: Such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, and farro. Because these are whole grains there’s no need to worry about labels. A typical portion will provide about 15 grams of carbs per serving.
- Whole oats or steel cut oatmeal: These types have a lower glycemic index — and more fiber — than the quick-cooking kind. A typical serving is ½ cup cooked.
- Breakfast cereal: This aisle can be sugar bomb central, but if you know what to look for, it’s not hard to make it out with a low glycemic-index pick.
Look for ingredients like whole wheat flour, wheat bran, barley, brown rice and buckwheat — and cereals that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Check the grams of sugar, too; it should have under 6 grams per serving.
Oils and Fats:
Aim for around 6 teaspoons per day.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: These include olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil.
You can also get these types of good-for-you fats in foods like nuts, fish, and avocados. Minimize intake of foods with saturated fats — avoid trans fats — if possible. Although the latter has largely been phased out of the food supply.
- Low-fat milk or plant-based milk: Some types of “alt milks” contain far fewer carbs than cow’s milk. A cup of plain, unsweetened almond milk, for example, has just 1 gram of carbs compared to 12 grams in regular milk.
If you go the non-dairy route, scope the label before you buy and make sure you choose one without added sugars.
Also compare the other important nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Some flavored varieties contain added sugar.
- Coffee: There is mixed evidence as to whether drinking coffee can improve insulin levels or have the opposite effect, but most experts say that it’s fine in moderation.
There’s research to suggest it could lower your risk of developing diabetes if you’re currently borderline or don’t have the disease.
- Tea: Opt for unsweetened and watch the caffeine.
- 100 percent fruit juice: Go easy. Even 100 percent no-added-sugar juices can pack a lot of calories and carbs. Generally, 4 oz. delivers 15 grams of natural sugars.
Spices and Sweeteners:
- Herbs and spices: While we often think of these as nothing more than flavor-boosters, there’s evidence that some have notable benefits for people with diabetes.
Cinnamon has been shown in some studies to lower blood sugar and help control the disease, although the research is mixed.
There’s evidence that turmeric may improve insulin sensitivity and tamp down blood sugar levels, as well.
And clove, rosemary, ginger, garlic, sage, oregano, and spicy spices, like red pepper flakes were also found to reduce inflammation linked to diabetes, according to a recent review of studies.
- Sweeteners: Some of the low-calorie sugar substitutes recommended by the American Diabetes Association are NutraSweet, Equal, Splenda, Stevia, Truvia, and Pure Via. These have been deemed safe and potentially helpful for weight control.
- Vinegars and products that tend to be low in sugar, like hot sauce, salsa, reduced-calorie mayo, and mustard are all good picks.
When choosing items like salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and ketchup, compare food labels. Some can be sneakily high in sugar.
- Who says you can’t have the occasional treat when you’re managing diabetes?
Some good options include 100 percent fruit popsicles or sugar-free versions, dark chocolate, sugar-free hot chocolate, angel food cake, sugar-free pudding, and fruit with sugar-free whipped cream.
There are tons of foods you can eat if you’re trying to stick to a low-sugar diet. Reach for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins.
Don’t forget to plan meals ahead of time, be mindful of portion sizes, and to consult your doctor and registered dietitian/nutritionist before making any major changes to your diet.