Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in America, making it more deadly than flu, pneumonia, and kidney disease combined. We’ve all heard the frightening statistics — eight percent of the American population has diabetes with some 6 million people still undiagnosed. We also know that there is some link between diabetes and ethnicity, as about six percent of Caucasians have diabetes compared to twelve percent among Hispanics. There’s no end to the string of bad news and warnings about diabetes. What can be done to prevent diabetes? What can people living with diabetes do to increase their quality of life and maintain good health?
Diabetic menu ideas are everywhere. Because the disease is so common, there are entire sections of bookstores dedicated to diabetic living, diabetes recipes, and meal suggestions for diabetics. As medical experts do more research into the nature of this disease, new ideas for diabetic menus appear. The average American thinks diabetes control is a simple matter of limiting sugar intake but the truth is far more complex than that. Recipes for people suffering from diabetes should include all sorts of nutrients and vitamins — simply putting down the sugary soda and snacks isn’t enough.
Advancements in Diabetes Care
Because diabetes affects so many people, there’s tons of money and time spent on research into the disease. This means we learn new things about diabetes every day. Advancements in care for diabetes and diabetes prevention pop up all the time. Today, for instance, researchers at MIT announced that a new method of testing insulin is underway that could be the end of painful and time consuming “finger prick” tests. This radical new idea would involve placing a “tattoo” just underneath the skin that would read the body’s blood sugar levels, communicating that vital information to the diabetic without the need for a blood test. Revolutionary ideas like this happen so regularly that diabetics and their loved ones have to stay on top of the latest news.
Another example of how staying up to date on diabetes news can benefit sufferers — the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported recently that coffee may actually be good for diabetics. Diabetes recipe and meal suggestions rarely include a cup of java, but researchers in Japan have found that low amounts of caffeine (like the amount found in a small cup of regular coffee) works against diabetes in two ways — by preventing the build-up of high blood sugar and by improving insulin sensitivity. It is rare that we hear good news about coffee and caffeine, but this new research suggests that moderate amounts of coffee could be very beneficial to people at risk for diabetes and people already suffering from it.
Diabetes Diets – Dairy
We know that dairy is a big part of the American diet. According to the American Society for Nutrition, the dairy food group (which includes everything from milk and cheese to yogurt) is by far the number one source of calcium and vitamin D. What many people don’t know is that dairy is the main provider of important (but less famous) nutrients like phosphorous and potassium. Other nutrients in diary, like Vitamin D, provide Americans with as much as 75% of their good nutrition. Children in particular require dairy for nutrition partially due to the fact that they are picky eaters and partially because their bodies are growing at such a high rate.
What role does dairy play in preventing and controlling diabetes? It has been proven that high dairy consumption (as part of an otherwise healthy diet) leads to much lower rates of diabetes and other medical conditions including heart disease and hypertension. Diabetic menu ideas that incorporate healthy dairy foods will help control blood pressure and other diabetic symptoms, while diets rich in good dairy foods may prevent the acquisition of diabetes altogether.
You may think of dairy as a source of calcium, and while milk is an important calcium source it is the other nutrients in dairy that make it a perfect addition to any diabetes recipe and meal suggestion. Here are some ways to incorporate dairy into your diabetic menu ideas.
- Snacks are important — diabetics need small amounts of food between meals even more than non diabetics. A good (and quick) snack for diabetics can be prepared using a banana, a little bit of yogurt, and a fiber-rich nut or cereal product.
- If you prepare ready-to-eat foods like instant oatmeal or soup consider using milk or yogurt in place of water. While instant foods like canned soup and packaged oatmeal are not the most nutritious food choice, there are times when their convenience makes them the only choice. If you must make canned soup, use a nutrient-rich milk as a mixer instead of plain water.
- Cheese is a dairy product that makes adding dairy nutrients to your diet super easy. My favorite diabetic friendly breakfast is a scrambled egg, a slice or two of real cheese (not processed) and a sliced pepper or two all wrapped up in a whole grain or corn tortilla.
- If you want to prepare a snack ahead of time, try chopping veggies and serving them with yogurt. You could flavor the yogurt with spices or honey for added flavor. Other quick snack ideas: skewer cheese and fruit like a kebab, or slice strawberries and top them with yogurt.
- The easiest way to add dairy to a diabetic friendly diet is to serve milk with dinner instead of water or soda.
Diabetes Recipes and Meal Suggestions
Though dairy products like those mentioned above are an important part of any diabetic meal plan, they are by no means the only source of nutrients important to diabetics. Some common foods that people assume are healthy are now considered bad for diabetics. The most surprising “bad food” discovery for many diabetics is white rice (meaning you should avoid diabetes recipes that include rice). Scientists at Harvard have published a couple of studies linking consumption of large amounts of white rice to high rates of diabetes. The reason?
Eating white rice leads to an extreme spike in blood sugar, which puts a strain on the pancreas, requiring more insulin production and eventually causing diabetes. Discoveries like this are a good reason why diabetics and their loved ones need to stay on top of the latest news in diabetic meal suggestions — many people think of rice as a healthy food, and while it does provide good nutrients it is not a good choice for those suffering from diabetes. Brown rice is a far safer choice because it causes a much slower release of glucose. Those same Harvard researchers have even shown that brown rice can prevent diabetes — so eating brown rice is not just good for people who have diabetes now, but for all of us.
Other “thumbs down” food for diabetics:
- Any food high in sugar. This includes honey (in moderation, honey is okay) and so called “artificial sweeteners”. If you must use a sweetener, stevia (available at the grocery store) is a safe choice.
- Any food high in starch. Unfortunately for lovers of bean dip, beans are the number one source of “bad starch” for diabetics. Turnips, carrots, and even peas should also be avoided.
- Most types of grains like rice, barley, pasta, corn, or wheat contain heavy carbohydrate ingredients.
As with any food rule, there are exceptions. Small amounts of the above foods won’t cause diabetes or immediately sicken a diabetic, but as with all things, moderation is key.
Here is a sample daily menu for persons suffering from diabetes. All of these foods are on the “safe list” for diabetics, and can keep those people who are at risk for diabetes from developing the disease.
A breakfast of around 400 calories is ideal for diabetics. Remember to eat foods high in fiber at all times of the day, including breakfast.
- Toasted whole wheat bread, one piece with minimal margarine
- 1/4 cup of cottage cheese or egg substitute (real eggs are too caloric and high in cholesterol)
- 1/2 cup oatmeal made with skim milk
- One plain banana
Diabetics should eat a few more calories at lunch than at breakfast — aim for no more than 700 total calories.
- 1 cup of low-sodium soup with whole wheat crackers or bread
- A small sandwich made with tuna, turkey or other low-fat meat, an ounce of cheese, whole wheat bread, and a tiny amount of mayo
- One apple or other piece of fruit
Like lunch, dinner for diabetics should amount to no more than 700 calories.
- No more than 4 ounces of low fat meat, such as broiled chicken breast
- less than one cup of brown rice
- carrots or other high fiber veggie
- whole grain bread (like a dinner roll) with margarine instead of butter
- Green salad (the more dense the green the better — try kale and chard instead of iceberg lettuce) with a
- small amount of low-fat dressing if any
- sliced fruit or low-fat yogurt for dessert
Diabetics should prepare two snacks per day with as few calories and as much fiber as possible. Here are some examples:
- sugar-free chocolate pudding
- tortilla chips and salsa
- “string” style cheese and sliced apples
- 2 – 3 cups of “lite” popcorn, without butter
Creative Diabetic Menu Ideas
Just because a person has diabetes doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy interesting and even exotic food. Yes, there are certain foods that diabetics must avoid, especially sugary desserts and heavy starches, but if you think creatively, diabetic menus look less like punishment and more like everyday food.
Consider a traditional meal like spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta is extremely starchy and therefore a diabetic “no-no”. Besides the pasta, many canned tomato sauces are high in sugar and offer little in the way of nutrition. Even if people make meatballs at home, they tend to use inexpensive and fatty meats. The trio of starch, sugar, and fat is a deadly mix for a diabetic — but spaghetti and meatballs can still be a part of a diabetic diet if you put the meal together with some creativity.
Replace starchy pasta with whole wheat versions — they take less time to cook and are actually far more flavorful than plain semolina noodles you’re accustomed to. Instead of buying canned tomato sauce, simply crush whole tomatoes and combine them with herbs. That way you control what goes into your spaghetti sauce. Finally, consider replacing your meatballs with “veggie” meatballs that can be found in the frozen section of big grocery stores. Made from soy products instead of meat, they are far more healthy than ground meat and many people consider their flavor superior. Less grease means less mess, and the diabetic in your life can still enjoy a traditional spaghetti dinner.
This is just one example of how to replace and rethink your recipes to match a diabetic lifestyle. Because of restrictions placed on the kinds of grains that diabetics can eat, diabetic meals tend to look plain or taste bland. If you think outside the box and learn to use less traditional grains, your menus will have the kind of variety they had before you dealt with diabetes. What kind of grains are we talking about here?
Though Americans aren’t very familiar with it, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is a grain-like food with all the benefits of grains and cereals and none of the dangers for diabetics. Quinoa is not technically a grain — it is the seed of a flowering plant called a goosefoot. Quinoa cooks up like rice (fluffy, soft, and easy to combine with any other food) but doesn’t have the high levels of starch that can make diabetes worse. Quinoa takes less time to cook than rice (especially the diabetic-friendly brown rices) and comes in a number of varieties, allowing the diabetic to keep trying different quinoa grains until they find one they like. Quinoa is packed with protein (about the same amount as a small serving of turkey), fiber, iron, and B vitamins.
Diabetes is a very serious condition, and more research is needed to develop methods of preventing and treating this pervasive disease. Until there is a cure for diabetes, proper diabetic menu ideas and food intake is crucial to enjoying a normal life, even with a diabetes diagnosis. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life eating brown rice and yogurt, but there are many changes that need to be made to keep yourself healthy.