Why does my diet matter?

It’s no secret that diet is essential to managing type 2 diabetes. Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for diabetes management, certain dietary choices should act as the foundation for your individual diet plan. Your diet plan should work with your body — not against it — so it’s important that the food you eat won’t spike your blood sugar levels to high.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the normal blood sugar range for people with diabetes is between 80­ to 130 mg/dL before meals. It should be less than 180 mg/dL about two hours after you begin eating. Your doctor will provide you with personalized target blood sugar values.

Keep reading to learn more about how what you eat can affect your blood sugar, as well as which foods you may want to pick up at the grocery store or toss out of your pantry.

Check out: Type 1 diabetes diet »

When someone with diabetes has low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), a spoonful of sugar or honey can help raise glucose levels. However, sugar is often considered the nemesis of diabetes because of how quickly it can spike blood glucose levels when eaten alone.

If you have diabetes, you should closely monitor your consumption of foods with a high glycemic index (GI). The GI measures how quickly a particular food raises blood sugar. Those foods with a high GI can cause unwanted spikes. This is especially true of refined sugar and other forms of simple carbohydrates like white rice, bread, and pasta.

Make sure that most of your carb choices are whole-grain, high-fiber options. For example, if you’d like to have a piece of chocolate cake with frosting, eat it immediately after eating a balanced meal with lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and high-fiber carb options such as beans.

Eating quick-digesting foods with other foods will help slow down their digestion and help you avoid spikes in blood sugar. If you’re counting carbs, be sure to include the cake when you total your meal.

Limiting quick-digesting carbs doesn’t mean avoiding all carbs. Whole, unprocessed grains are an excellent source of energy. They’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole-grain starches are the healthiest because they maximize nutrition and break down into the bloodstream slowly.

Whole-grain food options include:

  • sprouted and whole-grain bread
  • legumes and beans
  • whole wheat pasta
  • wild or brown rice
  • high-fiber whole-grain cereal
  • other grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet

Foods that are high in sodium, saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fats can elevate your risk for heart disease and stroke. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to avoid all fats.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, foods rich in “good fats” can help lower cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are both good fats.

Try replacing the red meat on your plate with omega-3 fatty acid-rich cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring.

Other foods to eat:

  • olive oil
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds

Foods to limit:

  • red meat
  • processed lunch meats
  • high-fat dairy products like cheese

Balancing carbohydrates is integral to a diabetes-friendly diet. Processed and refined carbs aren’t the best options, but including whole grains and dietary fiber can be beneficial in many ways. Whole grains are rich in fiber and beneficial vitamins and minerals. Dietary fiber helps with digestive health, and helps you feel more satisfied after eating.

Fruits are often packed with fiber, as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Be sure to choose whole fruits over juice to get the beneficial fiber. The more skin on the fruit, the more fiber it contains.

High-fiber fruit options include:

  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • blackberries
  • cranberries
  • pears
  • cantaloupes
  • grapefruit
  • cherries

Fruits to limit:

  • watermelon
  • pineapple
  • raisins
  • apricots
  • grapes
  • oranges

Vegetables are also a great addition to every meal. They are low in calories and high in water content so they can help you feel full with fewer calories. Go for color and increased variety. Some good options include:

  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • peppers
  • carrots
  • green beans
  • tomatoes
  • celery
  • cabbage

If you have diabetes, you should spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day to avoid unnecessary spikes in your blood sugar levels. And be sure to choose portions that help you meet or maintain your weight goals.

Be sure to monitor and record your blood sugar levels throughout the day, as well as before and after meals. If you have any concerns, talk with your doctor or dietitian. They can work with you to create a diet plan that best suits your needs.

Sticking to a routine and developing a proper meal plan are fundamental to managing your diabetes. Eating a balanced diet that manages your intake of carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats, and sodium can help you manage your overall health.

Tracking your blood sugar levels in relation to what you eat, when you are active, and when you take diabetes medications, is also important. In time, you’ll get to know how your body responds to different foods at different times of the day.

Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet can also help you better manage your diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight can help lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as improve your blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that’s safe for you and any other steps you can take to improve your health.

Keep reading: The best diabetic-friendly diets to help you lose weight »