Roughly 1 in every 11 people in the United States currently has diabetes, but although the condition may be familiar, it is hardly harmless. It is the country's seventh leading cause of death, and people with diabetes have a 50 percent higher risk of death than those without the condition.
Fortunately, even though diabetes is a chronic disease, it can be managed. One way that complications can be prevented is by following dietary guidelines.
A salad involving tuna and hard-boiled eggs may be a healthful lunch for people with diabetes.
With planning and conscious eating, people with diabetes can safely enjoy a satisfying and varied diet.
The following common lunch items can also be part of a healthful lunch for people with diabetes:
- canned tuna or salmon
- low-salt deli meats, such as turkey and chicken
- hard-boiled eggs
- salads with dressing on the side
- low-salt soups and chili
- whole fruit, such as apples and berries
- cottage cheese
- plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- peanut or almond butter
People who need to control their blood sugar can still select from a wide variety of options when they are looking for a tasty lunch. The following lunch ideas provide about 3 servings of carbohydrates each, or about 45 grams (g), or less:
- soup and salad, such as tomato soup with a kale-apple salad
- whole-wheat wrap (tortilla = 30 g carbs or less), such as turkey with hummus, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, and olives
- spinach salad with canned tuna, ½ mayonnaise, ½ Greek yogurt, celery, and lemon juice, served over greens and diced apple
- hard-boiled egg served with five whole-wheat crackers, string cheese, a piece of fruit, and veggie sticks with peanut butter
- smoothie made with 1 cup frozen mixed berries, tofu or plain Greek yogurt, spinach, and unsweetened flax milk
- sandwich of whole-grain sprouted bread, grilled vegetables, and smashed avocado
- hummus with carrots, celery, cauliflower florets, and cherry tomatoes for dipping. Add five whole-wheat crackers or half of a whole-wheat pita shell
A healthful diabetes friendly lunch may include a portobello mushroom sandwich.
A diet that helps people to maintain healthy blood sugar levels can include recipes as complex as a baked chicken empanada, or as straightforward as a chicken salad with strawberries.
The following are some flavorful and healthful recipes that show the variety to be enjoyed in a diabetes-friendly lunch:
- three-cheese veggie sandwich
- beans and greens soup
- chicken breast, fajita vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and beans in lettuce cups with salsa
- grilled vegetable sandwich on high-fiber bread
- tomato, mozzarella, and chickpea salad
- Mediterranean turkey wrap
- pinto bean, brown rice, and spinach salad
- grilled portobello mushroom sandwiches
- grilled salmon and spinach salad, topped with roasted sweet potatoes
Sandwich strategies and other quick options
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 1 out of every 2 American adults eats at least one sandwich every day.
This very popular food item can also be part of a lunch that is healthful for people with diabetes. People with diabetes who are considering sandwiches should:
- increase the fiber content by using whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, or sprouted-grain bread for better nutrient absorption
- make an open-faced sandwich, use thin sandwich bread to lower carbohydrate counts, or turn it into a wrap
- select lean, low-salt deli meats, such as roasted turkey
- use low-fat mayonnaise or replace with other spreads, such as mustard, pesto, hummus, or avocado
- consider replacing cheese with veggies, such as tomatoes or peppers, pesto, or avocado
Time to prepare and eat lunch can often be limited during the workweek. It can be helpful to consider other quick, healthful choices for a diabetes-friendly lunch:
- hard-boiled eggs
- yogurt with berries and almonds
- low-salt bean soup cups
- cottage cheese with fruit or diced tomatoes
Americans have been eating more of their meals away from home ever since the 1970s, as Quartz Media reported. For the first time, in 2016, they spent less at supermarkets than they did on food eaten away from home.
Unfortunately, food served at commercial establishments tends to be the opposite of what is best for people with diabetes. Large portions that are high in calories, fat, and salt but low in fiber are all too common among the food served in restaurants.
This makes it very important for people with diabetes to take a strategic approach to ordering a healthful lunch when eating out.
Portion control is always important, and it's more important than ever when eating out. Lunch dishes may be much larger than appropriate. Diners with diabetes are encouraged to resist the urge to super-size anything. They should also consider saving some of their lunches for a later snack.
Fried food should be avoided whenever possible.
The following ideas can help people with diabetes make good choices for a lunch:
- choose whole-grains when possible
- order salad dressing on the side
- look for broth-based soups
- consider a vegetarian option
- opt for grilled, roasted, or baked meats, poultry, and fish
- ask for steamed vegetables, when possible
- switch mashed potatoes or french fries for non-starchy vegetables, such as a side salad
- replace refined low-fiber carbohydrates, such as white rice or pasta, for beans or sweet potatoes
People with diabetes should try to avoid the following lunch items:
- fried foods
- cream soups
- sugary drinks, such as soda, sweet tea, or juice
- alcoholic drinks
- white bread, rice, and refined pastas
Keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy range is vitally important for people with diabetes. It is equally important that people stick to a diet that can help them achieve this goal.
Experts at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend two complementary approaches to healthful eating for people with diabetes:
The plate method helps people select appropriate portions and proportions of different foods:
- Fill one half of a 9-inch plate, or about 2 cups, with non-starchy vegetables, such as greens or broccoli.
- One quarter of the plate is for roughly 3-4 ounces of proteins, such as chicken, fish, or plant-based alternatives.
- About ½-1 cup of starchy vegetables or grains that are high in fiber, such as beans or whole grains, can fill the remaining quarter of the plate.
Carbohydrate counting helps people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels to keep them in the healthy range. Although individual recommendations will vary, a typical goal is 30-60 g of carbohydrates with meals, and 15-20 g with snacks.
No matter how challenging it may seem at first, following a diet developed with a healthcare team gives real benefits. A review of the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions found proof that such actions could help to lower body weight and manage blood sugar levels.
The following tips can help people with diabetes maintain healthy blood sugar levels:
- Planning ahead: Using weekends to plan meals is a great way to guarantee a healthful diabetes-friendly lunch every day.
- Stocking up at home: Fill refrigerators and pantries to keep easy-to-use, healthful ingredients on hand.
- Cooking more: When grilling or roasting salmon or chicken, prepare extra to be used for lunches later in the week. Make big batches of soups or stews that can be used for lunch later. These stews can be frozen to be used at a later date.
- Stocking up at work: Stow a supply of healthful, non-perishable items, such as nuts, whole-wheat crackers, canned tuna, or dried chickpeas, in a desk. These can be used when a planned lunch is not possible, or when blood sugar levels demand it.
- Watching the time: Some people with diabetes need to eat specific amounts of carbohydrates at set times.
- Going low: Make a habit of selecting low-sugar, low-salt options.
- Going high: Look for foods that are high in fiber, such as high-fiber cereals and whole grains, apples, nuts, pears, oatmeal, beans, and legumes.