The world’s knowledge of nutrition has dramatically changed over the past hundred years. As a culture, we started off with beliving in ultimate balance; eating a little bit of every food group in equal proportion, and not too much of one thing. Then came the standard food pyramid you have seen for the past 20 to 30 years; a tiered approach with grains (breads, pasta and rice) representing a higher proportion for consumption than any other food group.
In 2005, the USDA replaced the hierarchical levels of the food guide pyramid with colorful vertical wedges. The share of the pyramid allotted to grains now only narrowly edges out vegetables and milk, which are of equal proportions. The USDA added stairs up the left side of the pyramid with an image of a climber to represent a push for exercise. However, although it is highly recommended to exercise, many people throughout the world do not. Here are examples of these “old” eating guidelines:
As you can see things have changed, but unfortunately a pyramid doesn’t exist for those with diabetes. Whether you’re type 1, type 2 or pre-diabetic, these food guide pyramids do not sufficiently address your specific dietary needs. The unintended consequence of this is that the prior food pyramids combined with increased convenience and processed foods have led to the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Many diets have come on the market that were restrictive of a certain food group. Believing fat or carbohydrates are the enemy is generally why many people fall off the diet wagon. The truth is, you don’t need to avoid ALL fats and carbs. In fact, there’s only one group you should stay away from, and that’s processed/refined foods.
You want to find balance in your diet, but for a person with diabetes, “balance” looks a little different from those without diabetes.
Over the past ten years, scientists and nutritionists have developed a low carb/high (good) fat method as a way to keep blood sugar levels stable and within a normal range for people with diabetes. This new style of eating addresses the need for good fats and protein in your diet while limiting, but not eliminating, carbohydrates. To learn how many carbs you SHOULD eat on a daily basis to keep your sugar levels down, click here to read my post, How Many Carbs Should You Eat in a Day?
This is what we base our Meal Plans on for the 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge and the Complete Wellness Program. We developed a version of the low carb/high (good) fat diet that works to stabilize blood sugar levels in a normal range for those with all types of diabetes (Type 1, 2, and Pre). We are calling this the Smart Diabetes Food Guide. Check it out here:
Food Group Breakdowns
20% of Daily Intake—Good Fats
Unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are found primarily in plant-based sources and can decrease cholesterol levels and inflammation and regulate heart rhythms, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
- Nuts (Almonds, cashews and walnuts)
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna and sardines)
- Seeds (flax and chia)
- Oils (extra virgin olive, avocado, peanut and canola)
- Full-fat Greek yogurt
- Non-overly processed real cheese (cottage, swiss, mozzarella)
30% of Daily Intake—Lean Proteins
A lean protein needs the amount of fat per ounce to be 3 grams or less. There are many non-lean proteins out there like some ground beef, pork and some cuts of steak. (Note that some items, like almonds, fall into BOTH the good fats category AND the protein category.) If you’re looking to consume more protein without the fat, here are some options:
- Beans and lentils
- Skinless chicken and turkey
- 90% lean ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey
- Lean cuts of pork or beef
- Fish (cod, catfish, flounder, mahi mahi) – click here for an Awesome List of Fatty and Lean Fish
- Tofu and edamame beans
- Quinoa and buckwheat
20% of Daily Intake—Vegetables
Just about all vegetables are good for you, some more than others. The greener, the better is usually the rule of thumb, which indicates how nutrient dense they are. Some vegetables are higher in starches than nutrients. For instance, potatoes and carrots offset the amount of nutrients in them because they contain so many carbohydrates. Here is a quick breakdown of which ones to have in moderation and which ones to enjoy as much as you like.
Best Vegetable Options
- Green beans
- Bell peppers
- White mushrooms
Highest Carb Vegetables (use sparingly!)
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow and sweet corns
15% of Daily Intake—Complex Carbohydrates
The goal is to stay as far away from simple carbohydrates as possible when trying to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Transitioning to more whole grain options and adding more fiber into your diet is going help your blood sugars find and stay within a normal range. Check out the blog entry What Are Complex Carbs and Simple Carbs? to learn the difference in carbohydrates.
**Use this rule when choosing whole-grain foods: For every 10 grams of carbohydrate you should eat at least one gram of fiber.
Make Them Count
- Whole grain bread
- Oatmeal (Steel-cut or rolled)
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain Basmati rice
10% of Daily Intake—Fruit
Fruit is the all-natural treat. Sweet and delectable, it’s packed with nutrients similar to vegetables but contains high amounts of sugar in the form of fructose. The entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on your liver and is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar. This is not entirely a bad thing as some may believe. The fructose ingested via natural whole fruits is a better alternative to say High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sucrose (Table Sugar). This is because you are also ingesting fiber and vitamins along with it.
Least (Good) to Most (Bad) Dramatic Effect on Blood Sugars
- [GOOD] – Sweet Cherries
- Red Plum
- Honey Dew Melon
- [OKAY] Apples
- Kiwi, w/skin
- [BAD] – Watermelon
5% of Daily Intake—Sugars, Simple Carbs, and Saturated Fats
This group is well known to everyone and is the cause of high blood sugars, high levels of bad cholesterol and constant cravings. Anything processed and refined can be generally found in this group. Take all purpose white flour or enriched flour for instance. During the processing phase the wheat is turned into a fine powder, stripping it of any nutrients and fiber. When you see ‘enriched’, it just means that they took the overly processed flour and returned some nutrients (vitamins) into it. This is one of the main ingredients along with high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients you will find in many boxed processed foods. You can find bad saturated fats in much of your fast foods and it mainly comes from the use of processed canola and vegetable oils used in frying.
Most consumed processed foods worldwide (avoid list)
- Potato chips and French fries
- White rice
- Canned fruits with syrup
- Fast food hamburgers
- Sugary cereals
- Processed meats (bologna, ham)
- White bread
- Fruit juice from concentrate
- Candy bars
So how do I use this information?
Be aware of it and understand it. I don’t think anyone carried around the old food guide pyramid and made sure that they hit all the right servings and percentages of the groups throughout the day. But by being more focused on finding the correct balance with your diet, you will have better outcomes in terms of blood glucose and blood pressure.
Not interested in counting carbs every day? We don’t blame you! That’s why we’ve put together our 21 Days of Meal Planning kit for you.
The kit includes 3 weeks of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, PLUS recipe cards, and weekly shopping lists! It takes the thought and stress out of eating well. Click here to learn more!
Hi I’m Kyle Jensen the Wellness Coach at Smart Diabetes Solutions. Through poor eating habits and an inactive lifestyle I put myself in a bad state both physically and mentally. After years of retraining my mind and body I decided to take my newfound understanding of health and help others in their journey. I remember the struggle and how many times I almost gave up. Now I want to help others who are overweight or have Diabetes live a happier more healthy life.