What Is a Diabetes-Friendly Diet?
Whether you have Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, the main goal is the same: managing your blood sugar levels. And what affects your blood glucose levels? Everything you eat. To ensure you maintain healthy blood sugar levels, look for the following types of food:
As the American Diabetes Association points out, carbs come in many forms and are known by many names. Carbohydrate counting, or "carb counting," is one of the most common methods to plan meals and keep track of your blood glucose levels. Since carbs increase blood sugar levels and therefore demand for insulin, measuring the grams of carbohydrates you consume and following a low-carb diet can help you better manage your diabetes.
Glycemic Index, or GI, is closely linked to carbs, since foods with carbs are the only types that have a GI — oils, fats, and meat do not have a GI. As a diabetic, you want to look for low GI foods such as quinoa, high-fiber bran cereal, non-starchy vegetables, oatmeal, and most nuts and beans.
Although eating these low GI foods will still cause your blood sugar to rise, it'll do so at a slow and steady rate, making it easier to maintain a healthy glucose level.
No Added Sugar
Sugar, often called high-fructose corn syrup and a whole host of other names, is also a carbohydrate. (There’s that word again.) Because sugar is a fast-acting carb (think high GI), eating anything that is high in sugar will create problems for your blood glucose levels.
Artificial sweeteners or low-calorie sweeteners are considered better alternatives by some, but do you really want all those chemicals passing through your body? Be aware that not all sugar-free, reduced sugar, or "no sugar added" foods are safe to consume indiscriminately. It's always best to check the nutrition facts panel.
The American Heart Association advises that men have no more than 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day, while women should not exceed 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day.
Lest you think everything about a diabetic diet has to be low in something, we're here to tell you otherwise. Studies have linked a high-fiber diet not only with improving blood sugar levels for those with Type 2 diabetes, but it also plays a role in encouraging weight loss. The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.
Diabetic Cereal Breakfast Options
With everything you need to look out for when following a diabetic diet, you may be struggling to come up with healthy breakfast ideas, especially when you read news reports about how nutrient-deficient American breakfast cereals are, laden with both sugar and salt.
The good news is that there are plenty of diabetic cereal options that are not only good for you, but are scrumptious too!
Whole Grain Cereals
As cold cereal options go, it's much better to choose whole grain cereals as they are higher in fiber and generally have a lower glycemic index than refined grains. Whole grains are not only better for diabetics, but they can also help lower the risk of heart disease.
When shopping for cereal (or any product for that matter), be sure to check out the first ingredient on the nutrition facts label. If it lists whole grains instead of sugar, you'll mostly likely be on safe territory.
Some common whole grains you'll find in cereal are:
- Whole wheat flour
- Brown rice
- Whole grain granola
Unprocessed Whole Grains
Unprocessed whole grains are carbs. However, because they haven’t been refined or processed, they are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
They’ll also do your blood sugar level a world of good because they have a lower GI than refined or processed grains. Your body will take its time digesting unprocessed whole grains, which means you don’t get a sudden blood glucose spike. If you enjoy hot cereal, cook up a bowl of unprocessed whole grains on a cold winter's morning.
Examples of unprocessed whole grains include:
- Steel-cut oats
- Rolled oats
For added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, top your cereal with nuts such as chopped walnuts or slivered almonds (which are loaded with healthy fats) and low-sugar fruit like raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries. Just remember to avoid adding dried fruit as it has a much higher concentration of sugar.
Other Breakfast Considerations for Diabetics
Making your breakfast diabetic-friendly goes beyond carb-counting. Your overall food choices and how much you consume can make a big difference. Below are a few tips to help you maintain a steady blood sugar level.
If you're carb counting, you'll know that portion sizes matter. If you look at most commercial cereals these days, about 30 grams (¾–1 cup serving) is considered to be one serving. But how often have you eaten way more than that? As a nation, we're prone to overeating and cereals are no exception. Take the time to determine the exact portion of your breakfast cereal so you can exert more control of what you’re consuming. An easy way to do that is to choose a cereal that has already been perfectly portioned for you.
Most breakfast cereals aren't high in protein, a macronutrient that helps you feel full longer. If you're following a diet that's low in carbs, you’ll want to increase your protein intake as it's an important source of energy. Nuts are a great way to add more protein into your diet, and will give your breakfast a nice crunchy texture as well. Just keep in mind that nuts are fairly high in calories, so don't go overboard.
Type of Milk
High in protein and low in carbs, unsweetened almond milk is a perfect accompaniment for diabetic cereal. If possible, avoid cow's milk as it has a higher carb content.
As a dry cereal alternative, consider topping your breakfast with low-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt. This particular type of yogurt is low in sugar, low in carbs, and high in protein, which ticks all the right boxes for a diabetic-friendly food.
Gluten is usually found in high-carb foods, so it’s often been labeled as a no-no for diabetics. That said, unless you already have diabetes or have an allergy to gluten, there's no need to specifically seek out gluten-free food. A 30-year study found that those who ate more gluten were actually less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who ate less of the protein. Researchers think this may be because those who ate gluten also consumed more fiber. Still, many gluten-free products may also be higher in added sugars, so the bottom line is to read labels so you know exactly what you’re eating.
Your Healthiest Breakfast Yet
Having diabetes will most certainly affect your food choices, but it doesn't mean you can’t enjoy some of the fun foods that remind you of childhood.
As it turns out, there is such a thing as diabetic cereal — as long as you know which ingredients to watch out for and how to prepare and serve these breakfast foods.
Whole grain cereals and unprocessed whole grains are all great options, as is the sweet and crunchy cereal from The Cereal School. With absolutely no sugar, just one gram of total carbs, and 16 grams of protein, these gluten-free, grain-free cereals are a grown-up version of the ones you had as a kid. Only now, you don’t have to worry that it’s bad for your health.