If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, there’s lots to learn about nutrition and meal planning. But advice can often be confusing, and even conflicting. Should you eat carbohydrates? Is refined sugar a no-no? Do you need to eat more protein? Elizabeth Iozzino RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Atlantic Health System, offers her top five meal planning tips to start people on the road to better health.
1. Choose Quality Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a major source of energy, so choose high-fiber carbs over simple carbs and aim for 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber each day. High-fiber carbs digest slowly, keeping your blood sugar from spiking and making you feel full longer.
“High-fiber carbs like whole grains, quinoa, and beans slow down the pace of the carbs turning into sugar,” says Elizabeth. “Simple carbs like white rice, white bread, cold cereals, and sugary beverages turn to sugar quickly. The best way to remove simple carbs from your diet is to eliminate sugary drinks. Replace juice, soda, sweet tea, and lemonade with water, seltzer, and unsweetened tea. If you need a sweetener, use a non-calorie sugar substitute, like sucralose, stevia, or monk fruit.”
2. Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
Whether you’re eating at home or out, portion sizes can vary greatly. To serve up healthy food combinations that align with your personal health goals and meal planning, try this simple trick.
“The easiest way to build a meal that’s balanced and nutritious, is to fill your plate with carbs the size of your fist to fill a quarter of your plate, add lean protein the size of your palm, and fill the remaining half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables,” says Elizabeth.
3. Think About the Timing
To keep your blood sugar stable, eat small, frequent meals or snacks every two to four hours throughout the day. Meals and snacks should always combine a lean protein, a healthy fat, and a high-quality carbohydrate.
“Don’t eat carbs alone, they need protein and fat to keep them from turning into sugar too quickly,” says Elizabeth. “Lean proteins aren’t limited to meat, try using Greek yogurt or even protein powders. Or, if you want rice, instead of three cups of white rice, try one cup of brown rice and add grilled chicken and broccoli. If you want an apple, eat it with peanut butter or cheese.”
4. Eat Foods You Enjoy
To enjoy the comfort foods that are part of your culture and lifestyle, keep quality, portions, and timing top of mind. If you’re mindful about healthy eating about 60 to 80% of the time, you can — and should — enjoy an occasional treat. Restricting yourself can lead to binging or cravings later.
5. Get Your Information from a Reputable Source
“Many people turn to social media for nutrition information so, as dietitians, we are always myth busting — especially when it comes to carbs, calories, and fad diets,” Elizabeth advises. “A registered dietitian can be a trusted source to help you develop a personalized plan to manage your blood sugar effectively, because everyone is different.”
“Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to diabetes nutrition. My goal for every patient is to give them the skills they need to live a healthful life, and eventually not need me anymore.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.