Thankfully, the basic guidelines for healthy eating are the same regardless of diabetes or other health conditions. To achieve or maintain good health, follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. Emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, low fat milk and alternatives, and lean meat and alternatives in your meal plans. Healthy eating is for all. As someone with diabetes, you just have to plan your shopping more carefully.
Eating balanced nutritious meals at regular intervals and in smaller portions is key in managing diabetes. As you know, using Canada’s Food Guide is recommended for everybody, including those with this condition.
Choose a variety of foods from the basic four food groups. Use moderation when eating foods high in added sugar and fat. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, up to 10 per cent of total calories can be in the form of simple sugars.
Enjoy small amounts of added sugar now and then, as long as they are counted within the day’s allowance. For instance, you might choose a jam with low sugar and use one tablespoon of it, or pick a regular jam and only use one teaspoon of it. Either choice will provide the same amount of sugar.
In general, it is not necessary to pay higher prices, buy specialty brands or products, look for designer labels, or shop in unusual sections of the store.
Shopping for groceries along the perimeter (outside edges) of the store gives you access to foods from all four food groups. These practical tips for smart shopping can be used by anyone interested in good health.
Unfortunately, many tempting foods and gimmicks on the market may confuse and frustrate you. Products may claim to have ‘no sugar added,’ be ‘light,’ ‘fat free,’ or ‘unsweetened,’ yet still be poor choices for someone with diabetes. Though you might think ‘no added sugar’ products do not affect blood glucose levels, in fact they often do. Such products often use concentrated fruit juice as the sweetening agent. Some ‘no added sugar’ jams, cookies, chocolates and candies have as much sugar as the regular versions.
‘Light’ or ‘lite’ can mean less fat, calories, colour, weight, salt, flavour, or something else. Sometimes light means less sugar, but not often. ‘Fat free’ or ‘low fat’ products may be low in fat but have more sugar than the original product. Unsweetened fruit juices or fruit pies still have large amounts of natural sugar.
It can be confusing and misleading to see these products grouped with other diabetes supplies in stores.
Know how to read labels so you can decide for yourself whether the product is worth the carbohydrate content and the price. Do not be tricked. Check food labels and learn to be label smart.
Look for the Nutrition Information Panel on the label. Note the serving size, and carbohydrate and calorie contents. Do not be distracted by the sugar content - instead, look at the total carbohydrate content.
The carbohydrate content adds up all sugars, starch and dietary fibres in the product for a specified serving. You need this information to evaluate a product or when comparing two products. The carbohydrate content of the food directly affects your blood glucose readings. Carbohydrate is sugar. Sugar is glucose. The higher the carbohydrate content of the food, the more your blood glucose will rise.
Consider two examples of ‘no added sugar’ jams. Jam A has 13 grams of carbohydrate and Jam B has 2.4 grams. Even though most of the carbohydrates are from fruit, Jam A will raise your blood glucose more than Jam B. If you eat one tablespoon of Jam A, you may need to substitute it for the half banana you normally have. Typically, 15 grams of carbohydrate counts as a fruit or starch serving.
Failing to account for the additional carbohydrates will result in higher blood glucose readings.
1 tbsp (15 mL) serving
|Fat||0 g||0 g|
|13 g||2.4 g|
|Sugars *||12 g*||1.6 g*|
|Sucralose **||0 g||2.6 g*|
|* Naturally occurring sugar, sweetened with concentrated grape juice.||* Naturally occurring sugar
** Sweetened with Sucralose
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
Many products contribute very little or zero carbohydrate and can be included in a meal without affecting blood glucose. It is generally wise for those with type 2 diabetes to keep the meal size at 45 to 60 grams of total carbohydrates, and allow up to five grams of added sugar. In other words, most carbohydrates should come from a combination of vegetables, fruits, grains and milk products.
‘Sugar-free’ pop, gum, candies and jello are examples of extras. Sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners are used in these products to lower the carbohydrate count. An extra food can have up to five grams of carbohydrate and up to 20 calories per serving. Looking at the example in the sidebar, Jam B uses sucralose, has 2.4 grams of carbohydrate and 10 calories, so one tablespoon would be considered an extra. Jam A is more than an extra, unless the serving size is reduced to one teaspoon, which would have 4.3 grams carbohydrate and 17 calories.
Most no added sugar, light, fat-free and unsweetened products are mistaken for extras, when in fact they are not. Instead, they contain a significant amount of carbohydrate and calories, which need to be measured.
Grocery shopping with healthy eating in mind can be challenging. The grocery store offers many choices, some good and some not. Many foods fall into Canada’s Food Guide’s four food groups and are wise choices for your diabetes meal plan. As a result, there is no need for a special diabetes aisle!
Living with diabetes involves far too many choices to group in one section. Become label smart and use the tips in this article to stay on track with your health and your diabetes.