So what should you eat if you have diabetes? According to the latest position statement from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults with Diabetes,” there is no prescribed breakdown of how much of one’s daily diet should be comprised of carbohydrates, versus protein, versus fat. The ADA’s latest guidance, published in October 2013, emphasizes flexibility as much as glycemic control.  This is good news; however, all of this freedom of choice can be confusing. Fortunately, the ADA has compiled evidence-based guidelines to make the process easier.

Meal planning works

First, individuals with diabetes should plan their day-to-day meals. Working with a Registered Dietitian (RD), it is possible to learn how to customize a meal plan that works for you. Montclair, New Jersey-based Registered Dietitian, Dina Aronson, M.S., R.D., says, “I encourage people to stay true to a whole-foods approach to diabetes management. People vary in their meal-planning styles. Some like to plan days ahead and make complex recipes, while others like to have a meal on the table in five minutes; and for some people cooking a lot of food for one or two days and freezing pre-portioned meals works best.”

"Quality is largely about the level of refinement—how processed a food is. Foods found in their most original, whole forms are best."

How about carbohydrates?

According to the ADA, “Monitoring carbohydrate intake, whether by carb-counting or experience-based estimates remains a key strategy in glycemic control.” The guidance does not suggest avoiding carbs. Ms. Aronson says, “It is true that carbohydrates have the greatest impact on blood sugar, since carbs are basically sugars in various forms; however, even in people with diabetes, carbs from whole foods should comprise the bulk of the diet.”

Ms. Aronson advises, “Avoid processed foods and foods with added sugars. Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, and legumes, like beans and seeds, are extremely healthful sources of carbohydrates that stabilize blood sugar and promote optimal health, with their fiber and high-nutrient density.  Quality is largely about the level of refinement—how processed a food is. Foods found in their most original, whole forms are best. So, as examples, choose oats over oatmeal cookies, whole fruits over fruit juice, wheat berries over food with wheat flour and whole potatoes over potato chips.”

Tackling a weighty issue

Because 75 percent of people with diabetes are either overweight or obese, patients are often faced with the need to lose weight and achieve glycemic control. All of the evidence shows that even modest weight loss produces clinical improvements, including improved glycemia, blood pressure and lipid levels. Portion control helps. Also, according to the ADA, the Mediterranean-style eating pattern is associated with comprehensive weight loss and glycemic control. Ms. Aronson says, “When cutting calories, it’s still important to maximize healthful nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants—while minimizing sodium, trans fats and refined carbs.”

What’s the takeaway? Healthy food is a joy, not a punishment! With the right support system, making the change to a healthier diet is satisfying and rewarding—especially for patients with diabetes.