Diabetes: Shopping for and Preparing Meals

Man reading food label on can in grocery store.

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to shop in a special aisle or look for special foods. But you will need to make choices. By comparing items and reading food labels, you can find the healthiest foods for you and your family.

Comparing items

When you shop, compare items to find the best ones for your needs. Keep these facts in mind:

  • “No sugar added” does not mean a product is sugar-free.

  • "Sugar-free" means less than 1/2 gram (g) of sugar per serving.

  • “Fat free” means less than 1/2 g of fat per serving. This does not necessarily mean the product is low in calories.

  • “Low fat” means 3 g fat or less per serving. “Reduced fat” or “less fat” means 25% less fat than the regular version. Some of this fat may be saturated or trans fat. And calories per serving may be similar to the regular version.

Making small changes

Don’t try to change all of your eating habits at once. Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Try fat-free or low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt. Also try leaner cuts of meat. This will help you cut down on saturated fat.

  • Try whole-grain breads, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta.

  • Load up on fresh or frozen vegetables. If you buy canned, choose low-sodium vegetables.

  • Avoid processed foods as much as possible. They tend to be low in fiber and high in trans fats and sodium.

  • Try tofu, soymilk, or meat substitutes.?They can help you cut cholesterol and saturated fat out of your diet.

Learning to read food labels

To find healthy foods that help you control blood sugar, learn how to read food labels. Look for the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. It will tell you how much carbohydrate, sugar, fat, and fiber is in each serving. Then, you can decide whether or not the food fits into your meal plan.

Using the food label

So, once you have the food label, what do you do with it? The food label helps in many ways. Use it to:

  • Compare items and decide which is the best for your health needs.

  • Track the number of carbohydrates in your portions.

  • Figure out how many servings of a food you can have and still stay within the number of carbohydrates for that meal.

Planning meals

For good blood sugar control, plan what and when you’ll eat. Start by creating a meal plan that includes all the food groups. Then, time your meals to help keep your blood sugar level steady. You may need to adjust your plan for special situations.

Eat from all the food groups

The basis of a healthy meal plan is variety (eating many different types of foods). Look for lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Eating a wide variety of foods provides the nutrients your body needs. It can also keep you from getting bored with your meal plan.

Reduce liquid sugars

Extra calories from sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks make it hard to keep blood sugar in range. Cut as many liquid sugars from your meal plan as you can. This includes most fruit juices, which are often high in natural or added sugar. Instead, drink plenty of water and other sugar-free beverages.

Eat less fat

If you need to lose some weight, try to reduce the amount of fat in your diet. This can also help lower your cholesterol level to keep blood vessels healthier. Cut fat by using only small amounts of liquid oil for cooking. Read food labels carefully to avoid foods with unhealthy trans fats.

Timing your meals

When it comes to blood sugar control, when you eat is as important as what you eat. You may need to eat several small meals spaced evenly throughout the day to stay in your target range. So don’t skip breakfast or wait until late in the day to get most of your calories. Doing so can cause your blood sugar to rise too high or fall too low.

Cooking wisely

  • Broil, steam, bake, or grill meats and vegetables, instead of frying.

  • Instead of cream-based sauces or sugary glazes, flavor foods with vegetable purée, lemon or lime juice, or herb seasonings.

  • Remove skin from chicken and turkey before serving.

  • Look in cookbooks for easy, low-fat, low-sugar recipes. When making your usual recipes, cut sugar by 1/2 and fat by 1/3.