From breakfast to dinner — and with each snack in between — sticking to a healthy meal plan is an essential part of managing type 2 diabetes and keeping your blood sugar on target.
“You can create diabetes-friendly dinners by counting carbs and eating a well-balanced meal of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats,” says Laura Cipullo, RD, a certified diabetes educator in New York and author of The Diabetes Comfort Food Diet Cookbook. The first step in creating a diabetes-friendly meal is eating appropriate portions of carbs to help prevent blood sugar spikes. Next, balancing your meal with lean proteins and healthy fats can help you stay fuller longer, Cipullo explains. Proteins and fats take longer to break down so these types of mixed meals are digested slowly, which helps to slow the rise in blood sugar after eating, she adds.
Use this week of diabetes-friendly dinners as a guide to healthy meal planning.
Sunday: Seafood Night
Tilapia topped with olive oil, diced tomatoes, garlic, and onion garnish over wild rice with green beans is a meal that checks all the right boxes. Plus, you can prep some of it ahead of time, making it a good option for busy nights, says Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and creator of the website The Simple Ingredient. “Take some time to prepare for the week," she suggests. "Cook whole grains ahead of time, and wash and cut produce.” On Sunday, you might even have time to grill, bake, or boil a few protein sources for the rest of the week.
Monday: Meat and Potatoes Night
For full-on comfort food, try slices of London broil with baked sweet potato fries and roasted Brussels sprouts. “London broil is a lean protein and a great source of iron," Cipullo says. "Sweet potato fries contain carbohydrate just like a baked potato or regular french fries, but they have more fiber and fewer total carbs and can be brushed with olive oil for a heart-healthy-fat choice. Brussels sprouts are highly fibrous and very filling. They will not negatively affect your blood sugar and can help slow the absorption of the sugar from the potatoes."
Tuesday: Taco Night
Have a Mexican fiesta with blue corn tacos filled with turkey and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and no-fat Greek yogurt (a smart replacement for high-fat sour cream). “Whole wheat or corn taco shells can be great when moderating carbs,” Cipullo says. “Ground turkey, 90-percent lean, and Greek yogurt provide sources of protein," she adds, "while the olives are a fun source of monounsaturated fats.”
Wednesday: Superfoods Night
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines recommend eating seafood twice a week. Adding shrimp or salmon to a Caesar salad that has nutrient-dense kale turns this staple into a superfood-fueled meal. Make kale tastier by massaging it before making your salad, Cipullo recommends. Simply rub it between your hands for several minutes until it softens. Or try softening the kale by tossing it with olive oil and letting it sit overnight. Because this salad has no starchy carbs, you can add whole wheat croutons if you’d like.
Thursday: Thai Food Night
Get your Thai food or peanut butter fix with peanut chicken satay served over buckwheat soba noodles with broccoli florets. “Peanut butter is diabetes-friendly, being naturally low in saturated fats, cholesterol-free, and high in monounsaturated fats,” Cipullo says. “Chicken is a lean protein, and soba noodles are the carb for this mixed meal. Buckwheat soba noodles are delicious and naturally contain 3 grams of fiber for a 2-ounce portion. So you can go ahead and serve this tasty meal without worrying that it will spike your blood sugar.”
Friday: Soup and Salad Night
For those evenings when you need something quick and easy, Massey recommends lentil soup and a side salad. Lentils get high marks from the USDA for being nutrient-dense, and they’re an excellent source of protein and fiber. In addition, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in November 2012 found that having legumes such as lentils as part of a low- glycemic index diet can improve glycemic control and reduce the risk for heart disease. Enjoy a serving of pineapple for a sweet finish.
Saturday: Vegetarian Meal Night
A Greek salad with oat bran pita is the heart of this tasty Mediterranean-inspired choice. Fill your plate with greens and add toppings such as cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and feta cheese. Top with an olive-oil-based dressing. “The cheese serves as the protein, and the dressing serves as the source of fat,” Cipullo says. Oat bran pitas are naturally higher in fiber — typically 4 grams of fiber with 29 grams of carbohydrate for one pita. If you’re simply not a fan of oat bran, you can go ahead and have the white-bread pita instead, Cipullo says: “It has 31 grams of carbs with 2 grams of fiber.”