Following a diabetic meal plan isn't about being deprived, assures the American Diabetes Association. Instead, you make informed choices about what foods can enhance your health while helping you control weight and blood sugar. All healthy diets should include grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and calcium-rich foods daily. A diabetic menu -- including one for lunchtime -- emphasizes certain foods from each of these categories. Ask your doctor or a nutritionist if you need help developing a diabetic-friendly meal plan that fits your lifestyle.
Bring on the Nonstarchy Vegetables
The ADA recommends that about half of a healthy diabetic meal should consist of nonstarchy vegetables. These have fewer total carbohydrates and more fiber than starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes, meaning they won't cause dramatic spikes in your blood sugar level. Nonstarchy vegetable choices include asparagus, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes, all types of lettuce, cabbage and carrots. A typical lunch for a diabetic might start with a large salad of mixed greens and chopped, raw vegetables, topped with a sugar-free vinaigrette.
Choose Grains Carefully
About 25 percent of the ideal lunch for a diabetic should be grains or high-starch vegetables, beans or legumes. Skip products made with refined grains like white-flour bread or white rice in favor of whole grain items such as whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, barley or quinoa, all of which have a low glycemic index and can help keep your blood sugar level steady. Along with your lunch salad, try seasoned black beans wrapped into a whole-wheat tortilla along with your choice of vegetables.
Lean on Lean Protein
A rich source of protein should take up the remaining 25 percent of a healthy diabetic lunch. Choose skinless poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds, soy products like tofu, eggs, lowfat cheese or lean cuts of pork or beef. Use lowfat cooking methods like grilling, steaming or roasting; when you do use added fat, pick poly- or monounsaturated vegetable oils such as olive or canola oil instead of butter. If you're a vegetarian, the beans in your lunchtime burrito can serve as both a carbohydrate and protein. A healthy diabetic lunch could also include some shredded, roasted chicken in the burrito for an extra protein boost.
Don't Forget Dairy
Dairy products have a low glycemic index and are a good way for a diabetic to ensure she's getting adequate calcium and vitamin D. Avoid full-fat milk, yogurt or cheese, all of which are high in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Have a glass of lowfat or nonfat milk with your lunch, or include shredded lowfat cheese on your bean and chicken burrito. People who don't consume dairy can substitute fortified plant-based products such as almond milk or soy yogurt.
Enjoy Fruit for Dessert
Fruit is high in simple sugars but not off-limits for diabetics, especially when it's consumed in small portions and used as a way to fend off cravings for less nutritious treats made with refined sugar. After lunch, have a piece of whole fruit, such as an apple, orange, pear, banana or sliced berries for dessert. You can have canned fruit, but make sure it's not packed in sugar-dense syrup. Limit your intake of dried fruit, pineapple, melons and fruit juice, all of which have a higher glycemic index than other types of fruit.
- American Diabetes Association: What Can I Eat?
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Choose a Food Group
- American Diabetes Association: Create Your Plate
- American Diabetes Association: Non-Starchy Vegetables
- Eating Well: 7-Day Diabetes Meal Plan
- American Diabetes Association: Grains and Starchy Vegetables
- American Diabetes Association: Protein Foods
- American Diabetes Association: Dairy
- American Diabetes Association: Fruits