Diabetes affects millions of Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association. And to those who have just been diagnosed, the whole thing can be a bit overwhelming. Diabetes is one of those technical-sounding words that we all know, but few of us completely understand. 

Fresh fruit, blood sugar level glucometer, dumbbell.

In short, diabetes involves a dysfunction of the way the body produces and regulates the hormone insulin. Typically, your pancreas creates enough insulin to help your body properly process and store fat and sugar that you consume. For people with diabetes, the body stops naturally producing this hormone. This can wreak havoc on your body.  

The truth is, a diabetes diagnosis does make having a correct diet more important than ever. Achieving a balanced diet and eating the right healthy foods is critical to managing blood glucose levels. 

What foods and drinks should I limit if I have diabetes?

The truth is, diabetes doesn’t mean death to your favorite foods. There are a lot of foods people with diabetes CAN eat. As professional chefs, we love finding creative ways to make dietary restrictions feel less… well… restrictive. Our prepared meal delivery clients often have a vast range of nutritional needs from weight loss to low sodium and beyond. We work hard to make sure that they never feel limited by their health situations. Food should be a freeing and delicious experience, not an arduous exercise in what you can and cannot eat or some kind of nutritional chore. 

The key is knowing the top offenders that can cause unintended fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. While this list isn’t all-inclusive, it is a good start for making a shortlist of foods to eliminate from any diabetes diet. Of course, you should consult with your physician about your specific situation (after all, we are chefs, not doctors). 

White rice

Processed carbs such as white bread, pasta, and white rice are all high in simple carbs. They can raise blood pressure, but more than that, they don’t provide fiber. This can slow the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream. This can be particularly problematic for people with diabetes.  

Consider adding whole grains to your diabetes diet. Think whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, though we have a caveat here as well: some grains have been shown to contain high levels of arsenic. So if you opt for the healthier choice of brown rice, be sure to cook it in ways that help reduce the naturally occurring levels of arsenic naturally found in brown rice

Brown rice like this is a healthier alternative to white rice for many people with diabetes.

Sugary beverages

Here’s a sobering statistic for those who don’t have diabetes. According to this Harvard study, enjoying regular servings of a sugar-sweetened beverage (1 to 2 servings per day) increases your risk for diabetes by 26%. Yes, we’re talking to you, fruit juice. 

And for people with diabetes, sugary drinks cause sharp rises in blood sugar levels

Fruit juices like these are often best left off diabetic diets.

Some yogurts

Yogurt is healthy, right? Well, the truth is more complicated. Take a closer look at those food labels. A lot of yogurts would be more accurately labeled “sugar bomb” than “probiotic.” They may not be as bad as ice cream, but it is not uncommon for a serving of fruit-flavored yogurt to contain almost 31 grams of sugar. To put this in context, the American Heart Association recommends daily sugar intake for someone (not necessarily dealing with diabetes) ranges between 24 grams of sugar for women and 36 grams of sugar per day for men. 

Stick to healthier greek yogurt and other dairy products that don’t add in a bunch of extra calories and sugar. 

Fried foods

Deep-fried foods are delicious and almost as traditional a food in Texas as steak or apple pie. We already know they are terrible foods for those trying to achieve weight loss. Unfortunately, they also produce high amounts of toxic compounds, such as aldehydes. These kinds of chemicals increase inflammation, which can be a no-go for people with diabetes. But let’s be honest, they probably aren’t that great for anyone, not just those living with diabetes. Studies connect fried foods such as french fries to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. 

The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat, and that most certainly includes most fried foods. While the occasional fried chicken thigh probably isn’t going to kill you, we think it’s safe to say that fried foods are best avoided. And besides, with all the goodness seasonal, fresh foods offer, you can find ways to eat delicious dinners that you will hardly even miss all of that yucky grease. 

French fries like these and other fried foods aren’t the best choice for diabetics.

Red meat

People with diabetes are better off avoiding red meat. Yes, that includes delicious steaks. Yes, we said it, even though it is practically a betrayal to Texas at large. The truth is, red meat is just better left off the diabetes diet list. Why? Because it is better swapped out with lean proteins. Consider replacing red or processed red meat with more lean protein choices such as poultry, fish, or even nuts. 

Refined sugar and many other sweeteners

You already know you should be reducing your sugar intake. Why not replace that table sugar with a healthier alternative such as agave or honey, you think? Honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup aren’t heavily processed like white sugar, but when it comes to diabetes, they aren’t a great alternative. They have similar effects on blood sugar, insulin, and inflammatory markers. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s list of sweetener alternatives instead. 

This dish of honey might look delicious, but it is best left out of diabetic diets.

What fruits should diabetes diets avoid?

There are no fruits that people with diabetes should avoid altogether (unless your doctor or your specific situation dictates otherwise). Generally speaking, this is a common misunderstanding. The key is to have a more moderate approach to fruits that are higher in sugar, such as strawberries or blueberries. Lower sugar fruits such as bananas can be consumed in higher quantities. Citrus fruits give the added benefit of adding fiber to your diet. It all goes back to that saying about moderation, it’s just that moderation looks a bit different for those with diabetes. 

Ask your doctor for guidance on fresh fruit, including an overall strategy on how many carbohydrates and sugars should be included (or discluded) from your diet. It also helps to have a general knowledge of what the glycemic index is for your favorite go-to fruits. 

Balanced diets for diabetes — the easy way

Sticking to a diabetes diet can be challenging. Not only do you have to keep a running list of what you can and cannot eat, but you have to sometimes even learn new cooking techniques to make all of that food taste good. 

The key to not feeling bored by the new array of menu items available to you is to have deliciously and mindfully cooked food. One way to do this is to not worry about the cooking at all. Let a professional chef do the cooking for you.

At The Austin Artisan, we prepare fresh-cooked meals that can accommodate a vast array of dietary needs and restrictions, from gluten-free to low FODMAP diets to diabetes diets and more. We can review your dietitian or physician’s recommendations of what you should be eating more or less of and cater a menu that is perfectly suited to your needs and to help you enjoy a more balanced diet.

Healthy foods like these are great for diabetic diets.

And that menu will be far from boring. We are talking lean proteins, heart-healthy fish, leafy vegetables, seasonal foods, and delectable sauces so good you might even forget they were cooked up to help keep your blood sugar levels stable. 

“Restricted” food diet? How about a “delicious” food diet?  

If you live in the Austin or surrounding area, we would love to help you. Contact us for ideas on how we can deliver weekly prepared meals at a frequency and taste profile level that suits your specific needs. We look forward to making your dinners not only healthier but tastier!