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Good Food List for Diabetes

By Patricia Culpepper ; Updated August 14, 2017

The American Diabetes Association published extensive dietary recommendations for adults with diabetes in the November 2013 issue of “Diabetes Care.” In this report, the association does not recommend any 1 specific diet that all people with diabetes should follow. Instead, the ADA provides a framework for healthy eating that can be tailored to personal preferences and individual needs. Generally, the ADA recommends a diet composed mostly of nutrient-dense whole foods. This means eating natural, unprocessed foods whenever possible and avoiding fast food. Aim to eat a variety of nutritious foods, including nonstarchy vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats and oils.

Nonstarchy Vegetables

The ADA recommends that you fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Such vegetables are nutrient powerhouses but low in calories and carbohydrates, so filling up on veggies can help with portion control. The list of nonstarchy vegetables includes leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, turnips, mustard and lettuce. Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are perfect for roasting or steaming. Celery, carrots, radishes and bell pepper strips make good snacks and salad toppers. Mushrooms, onions and garlic are easily added to soups, stews and omelets. So put vegetables on the shopping list and load up on your favorites.

Lean Meats and Fatty Fish

Protein is an important part of a healthy diet. In people with type 2 diabetes, protein may improve the body's ability to respond to insulin. Good sources of protein include chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef and pork, eggs, tofu and low-fat cheese.

The ADA recommends that you eat fish twice per week. Choose fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna. These are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may have a positive effect on blood cholesterol and also help reduce other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

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Fruit and Dairy

Like vegetables, fruits are packed with nutrition and are relatively low in calories and carbohydrates. For variety, think beyond the basic apple and try something from this list: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pears, mango, papaya, a juicy orange or figs. According to the ADA, eating fruit results in better blood sugar control than eating the same amount of calories and sugar from foods like cookies and cake. So when you really want something sweet, choose fruit instead.

The ADA also recommends 2 to 3 servings per day of low-fat dairy. Good choices include plain yogurt and cottage cheese.

Healthy Fats

According to the ADA, the ideal amount of fat intake for people with diabetes has not yet been determined, and the type of fat consumed appears to be far more important than the quantity. Monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, are recommended over saturated fat. According to the 2013 ADA recommendations report, some studies have shown that a MUFA-rich diet may help with blood sugar control and reduce the risks for cardiovascular disease. Foods high in MUFAs include olive oil, peanut butter, avocados and many nuts. Macadamia nuts are especially high in MUFAs. Keep in mind, however, that all nuts and nut butters are high in calories, so eat them in moderation.

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