Vegetables. There is so little carbohydrate or fat in nonstarchy vegetables, it would be hard to eat too much of them, and since they are generally good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (particularly vitamins A and C, iron, folic acid, and magnesium), it’s usually a good idea to eat more. If your current menus leave you feeling a little hungry, or your plate often looks colorless, try adding a serving or two of raw, lightly steamed, or sautéed vegetables. (A serving of vegetables is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.) When you start feeling bored with your old favorites, try something new, or experiment with different cooking methods and flavorings. Sometimes a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon or some sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes are all it takes to liven up an otherwise dull vegetable side dish.
When shopping for vegetables, look for produce that’s in season in your area; it will usually taste better and cost less than imported, out-of-season produce. Frozen vegetables are a good substitute for fresh since they are often frozen immediately after harvest, and low-sodium canned vegetables are an alternative as well. (For more shopping tips, click here.)
Meats and other protein foods. Unprocessed red meat, poultry, and fish contain virtually no carbohydrate. Some other protein sources, such as soybean-based meat substitutes, do, so read package labels to see whether these protein sources also need to be counted as carbohydrate choices. For a heart-healthy diet, select lean cuts of red meat and poultry and low-fat cheeses and meat substitutes, and practice portion control: Most people need no more than 3 ounces of cooked meat at a meal.
When it comes to fish, fatty fish may be as good a choice as leaner fish. Many national health organizations are now urging people to eat two to three servings of fish per week, particularly fish containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, such as albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Portion control is still important, however, and a portion of fish is generally 3 to 4 ounces.
Fats. A little fat can go a long way toward enhancing flavor in your meals. Fat can also help to slow down carbohydrate absorption in the gut, so don’t try to cut all the fat out of your diet. Instead, enjoy the textures and tastes of fats in moderation. Choosing oils high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, is recommended to maintain or improve heart health.
Free foods. A food is considered “free” if it provides no more than 20 calories or no more than 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Some free foods, such as diet soft drinks, contain no calories or carbohydrate, so even large amounts will not affect blood glucose level. Others, such as mayonnaise, contain a lot of fat, so only a small portion of the food is considered “free.” Free foods that are high in sodium, such as dill pickles, should be eaten in moderation regardless of whether they contain any carbohydrate or fat. Using foods on the free foods list in the table “Low Carbohydrate Foods” can help you work more flavor into your meals, make your meals and snacks a little more filling, and provide your taste buds with more variety.
When stuff happens
In an ideal world, each person would consume only as many calories as he needed each day and would always have a selection of fresh, low-fat foods available. In real life, things don’t always work out so nicely, but an occasional splurge or meal that doesn’t quite fit into your meal plan doesn’t have to be the end of the world. As long as you usually stick to your meal plan, you should be able to meet your diabetes and general health goals.