After a year of limited access to outside activities including doing your own food shopping and all your adventures to big box stores, things are finally changing for the better. Many of you have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Two full weeks after vaccination allows you more mobility if you continue the rules of social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing. Diabetes was and remains a risk factor for “worse outcomes with COVID-19”, so it is time for you to celebrate since we are closer to finding control of the virus.
The entire US population, with and without diabetes, seems to have added the “COVID-19 extra 15 pounds” from being stuck at home. Fortunately, it is time to get back out and search for the newest and best diabetes-friendly foods at a store near you. Remember to always read labels, even though it may seem healthful for you to eat. Look for unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are nutrient rich. Find ingredients that make mealtime and snacking a breeze. Look for tasty shortcuts and make sure meals are balanced. Think before you eat and know what you really need versus what you want. Talk to a dietitian that specializes in diabetes or consult a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist if you remain unsure or still have questions.
Lose the extra weight you recently put on by making better food choices and returning to exercise. When you can, it is always best to stick to whole and natural foods. Sometimes you want something special or different to wake up your taste buds. Always limit portion size and keep snacks to 150-200 calories per serving. Below is a list of easy and delicious choices for mealtime, or foods that can be found at many stores nationwide – including Publix, Kroger, Winn Dixie, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Walmart or Target. Even 7-Eleven mini-marts may have some of these interesting selections.
Canned Tuna in Water
Canned tuna in water is an easy option and cost friendly for use in meal planning, with or without diabetes. It can stay in your pantry until the expiration date, so it is a perfect food to store in case of storms and power failures. Tuna canned in olive oil is healthy but contains more calories. Watch out for tuna packed in soybean or other oils. Since it high in protein, low in calories and has no carbs, blood sugars will not be impacted. Remember to pair it with 2-3 whole grain crackers or 1-2 slices of bread (spelt, whole grain, sour dough, rye, pumpernickel, reduced carb) and some chopped vegetables for a complete meal.
Instead of heavy mayonnaise, use plain Greek yogurt and a touch of grainy mustard for flavor and low fat/low calories. Tuna packed in water is versatile and can be eaten plain, in salads, baked dishes or casseroles. Use black pepper, lemon, dill and capers for more flavor and zero added calories. You can buy Albacore or skip jack. There is also light tuna or solid white tuna. Eating tuna counts as a fish meal (2-3 times a week) to lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Tuna contains selenium and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for proper brain function and eye health. Read labels because tuna packed in water may have a higher sodium content, which may interfere with your blood pressure. Tuna should not be eaten daily since it has high levels of mercury, as most large fish do. Some popular, high quality and well-known brands include:
- Elite – Safe Catch
- Bumble Bee
- Wild Planet
Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milks
Unsweetened non-dairy milks are an excellent alternative compared to dairy milk since so many of you suffer with “lactose intolerance”, or bloating from regular milk (especially as you age since your body no longer can break down the lactose). They are much lower in added sugars and carbohydrates than the sweetened varieties. You can choose from nut varieties like cashew, almond, macadamia or soy, rice, hemp and coconut milk. Each has a slightly distinctive taste and texture and you can find the one you prefer with a simple taste test.
A wonderful choice from Trader Joe’s is their Non-Dairy Oat beverage. It contains only 2 ingredients, water and hydrolyzed oats, plus vitamin D and vitamin B12. Oat milk is a great choice if you are allergic to soy and nuts. Besides being low in saturated fats, these milks are lower in calories. Unsweetened nut milks are usually enriched with calcium and vitamin D-properties only found in dairy milk. Many unsweetened non-dairy milks have added fiber which is not found in dairy milk. Look for brands with the least ingredients. Some popular brands are:
- Oatly – Oat milk
- Califia Farms – coconut milk
- Milkadamia – Macadamia nut milk
- Blue Diamond Almond Breeze – Almond milk
- Rice Dream – Rice milk
- Silk Organic – Soy milk
Single Serving Bags of Popcorn (or make your own single serving)
Although popcorn is considered a carbohydrate snack food, it is still an excellent choice if you have diabetes. You get a good size portion of 3 cups as a serving which contains about 100 calories. Popcorn is full of fiber, a whole grain and fat free, when not drowned in butter. It has 4 grams of protein per ounce which keeps you feeling full longer. Popcorn has antioxidants called polyphenols which are excellent for your health and may reduce your risk of cancer. Make sure you pick up plain popcorn and not one dipped in caramel or chocolate (coated or glazed) which is much higher in calories, fat and sugar. Popcorn is gluten-free. Popcorn can be snacked on daily. Here are some easy suggestions to stop you from becoming bored with this crunchy snack:
- Everything but the bagel spice popcorn. You can find this “already made” at Trader Joe’s in the spice section or make your very own version. Put 1.5 cups of kernels in a brown folded bag and place in microwave for 1.5 minutes. Pop. Add one teaspoon of olive oil and spices like garlic powder, onion powder, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and pepper to the bag and shake. Yum!
- Lemon or lime parmesan cheese popcorn. Take 3 cups of air-popped plain popcorn and mix with lemon or lime zest, one teaspoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese.
- Spicy cayenne pepper popcorn. Take 3 cups of air-popped popcorn and mix with cayenne pepper and paprika. A beautiful red colored popcorn with a hot, spicy flavor.
- Nuts and dried fruit popcorn. Although the nuts and dried fruit will add calories and carbohydrates to the popcorn, it can be a sweet and salty treat that is healthful for you. Watch your portion size by dropping down to 2 cups of popcorn. Take 2 cups of air-popped popcorn and add 2 tablespoons of chopped almonds and one tablespoon of dried cherries or golden raisins. You can substitute 2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios and one tablespoon of dark raisins.
- Trail mix popcorn. Cut back down to 2 cups of air-popped popcorn. Take your pick and add 2 tablespoons (total) of a mix of crushed Brazils, walnuts, peanuts, or pine nuts and add one tablespoon (total) of chopped dried figs, dates, cherries, apricots or cranberries. Just vary the nuts and dried fruits for a different taste each snack time.
Pipcorn is a specific brand of popcorn that was first discovered on Shark Tank. It is family owned and uses smaller, heirloom popcorn which is “crunchier” compared to regular popcorn. It puts a “fun spin on a healthy snack”. There are several flavors including Truffle, Sea salt and Kettle. They also make corn dippers, cheese balls and snack crackers with no artificial ingredients. Watch for added ingredients and calories.
Crepini Egg Wraps
Crepini Egg Wraps are 10-inch crepes that are thin, are made from cauliflower and egg, and can be used instead of traditional flour wraps, pita, quesadillas or bread. They contain no flour, no grains, and no carbohydrates so they will not spike your blood sugars. You can eat Crepini egg wraps hot or cold and add any kind of filling such as hummus, roasted vegetables, turkey breast or guacamole. They can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There is an entire recipe page at their online site.
Crepini also makes Crepini Egg Thins which have only 8 calories, whereas the wraps have 30 calories. They have a Crepini egg thin with sweet potato and turmeric for added flavor. Online reviews give them a high rating because “they take on the taste of the filling: sweet or savory”. Walmart, Publix and Target (among other stores) carry them. Do remember since these do not contain any carbs, you need to add carbs to the meal when eating these.
Riced Broccoli and Riced Cauliflower
Riced broccoli and riced cauliflower can be found in the freezer section in most stores and is the “latest low carb” craze to replace regular rice. Besides lowering the amount of carbohydrates and calories you eat, it will boost your vegetable intake. Green Giant makes a variety of products with a favorite called Green Giant Riced Veggie Cauliflower Risotto Medley. It has no rice, no sauce and no seasoning so you can create the dish with spices and herbs. It is reasonably priced. You steam it in the microwave for about 6 minutes.
Both broccoli and cauliflower are cruciferous vegetables with tons of nutritional benefits. They contain vitamins C, E, and K, plus folate, calcium, potassium and Omega-3 fatty acids. The antioxidants remove toxins found in your body. You can use them in place of mashed potatoes or regular rice or add them to these dishes for lower calories, less starch and less carbohydrates. You can make them from fresh vegetables, but it is easier to buy them frozen and ready to go. Add them to stews, soups or just serve as a side dish. Some easy recipes to try:
- Tabbouleh salad. Take ½ package of riced cauliflower and ½ package of brown rice. Add lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt, fresh parsley, cut up scallions and ½ cup chopped cherry tomatoes. Finish with a teaspoon of olive oil and put in the refrigerator until cold.
- Riced broccoli with cheese. Steam the riced broccoli in the microwave, and while it is still warm, melt 2 tablespoons of grated cheddar cheese on top. A version of a broccoli/rice and cheese casserole without the carbohydrates and lower in calories.
Country Archer Turkey Stick in Rosemary
These pure protein turkey sticks contain less fat than beef jerky and have no MSG, no preservatives, no nitrites or nitrates. They are made from 100% natural and antibiotic-free turkeys. The products are still made in-house, slowly marinated, slowly roasted, and then sent to you. There is no need for refrigeration and are best when eaten by their “best by date”. One turkey stick is 70 calories with 9 grams of protein and zero grams of sugar. They are spicy and rich tasting with a blast of rosemary flavor. Add a small apple or 10 grapes for a carbohydrate/protein balanced snack. The beef stick and beef jerky are made from grass-fed beef and are not greasy or messy. Country Archer makes a variety of sticks and jerky’s including:
- Original beef jerky
- Teriyaki beef jerky
- Mango habanero jerky
- Crushed red pepper jerky
- Pork pineapple sticks
- Jalapeno jerky
Hippeas Nacho Vibes Organic Chickpea Puffs
Sometimes you just need the taste of Cheetos without all the fat, grease and calories. These puffs have lots of crunch and cheesiness just like the real deal. The serving size is small at one ounce (130 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein). The orange color comes from natural paprika and the cheesy taste is from citric acid. Other Chickpea puff products (all made from chickpea flour and other natural vegan ingredients) are:
- Vegan white cheddar
- Bohemian BBQ
- Himalayan happiness
They also make crunchy chips out of chickpeas:
- Rockin ranch
- Straight up sea salt
- Jalapeno vegan cheddar
Definitely to be eaten as a special treat in small amounts when you need a break from popcorn.
Bubly Sparkling Water
In 2018, sparkling water generated 49 million dollars in sales in the US. Understanding how much sugar, sodium, carbohydrates and chemicals are in regular soda has really led the way for sparkling waters. Instead of regular soda or fruit drinks, you get excellent flavor without the bad things. Bubly sparkling water contains zero carbs, zero sodium, zero sugars and zero calories (just carbonated water and natural flavor). It is a great thirst quencher anytime of the day. Some of the fun flavors include:
La Croix Sparkling Water
La Croix contains natural essence oils extracted from the fruit name on the can. It is carb-free, sodium free, calorie free and sugar free. Just a tiny amount of bubbles makes it quite refreshing. There are 20 flavors in all. Some are:
- Key Lime
- Pamplemousse (grapefruit)
Cali’flour Food Products
Cali’flour foods is a brand specializing in cauliflower food products. For example, they have Cauliflower and Yellow Lentil Pasta. It is veggie-rich, resembles traditional pasta, has less carbs and twice the protein found in regular pasta. It earned high marks in taste. Caulipower pizzas contain 30% less sugar compared to other frozen pizzas. They also sell plain pizza crusts made from cauliflower and you can add your own toppings. There are Caulipower tortillas waiting to be filled with fresh ingredients. Even chicken tenders are part of their line which are made from natural chicken coated only with cauliflower. These products are lower in carbs, lower in fats and have no artificial ingredients. Cali’flour foods are found in the freezer section.
Broccoli and Kale Pizza Crusts
Some of you are not cauliflower fans and may prefer the taste or texture of broccoli and kale for your pizza crust. This too is a low carb, low calorie alternative to a regular pizza dough crust. Besides broccoli and kale, it contains corn flour, olive oil and a touch of salt. Top it with some fresh tomato slices, onions, mushrooms, grilled shrimp and grated Parmesan cheese for a perfect pizza night with less calories, fat and carbs compared to the traditional dough crust, heavy cheese, pepperoni and sausage pizza.
Trader Joe’s Stacked Eggplant Parmesan
A ready-to-go meal that’s perfect for you, with lots of flavor (when you are trying to cut down on carbs when eating regular eggplant parmesan). Found in the frozen section, add a green salad and a small whole wheat roll for a complete meal. There is a hearty portion of soft eggplant and it also has fire roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, mozzarella, ricotta and breadcrumbs. The box offers 2 servings with each serving having about 230 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrate. It has a “melt in your mouth quality”.
Tahini is a spread made from organic sesame seeds that are ground and hulled. It contains healthful fats, plant protein, iron, fiber and calcium. Tahini and whole sesame seeds are also full of antioxidants, providing copper, manganese, zinc, selenium and thiamin. You can use it as a dip for vegetables, add it to stews and casseroles or drizzle it on salads or grilled vegetables. Hummus is another wonderful dip made from chick-peas and is more well-known, but try Tahini for a different taste.
The frozen food business is approaching over 6 billion dollars a year. They do provide portion control and are very handy. The freezing process retains most of the vitamins and minerals. Life should not consist solely of frozen foods, but in a pinch some brands are better than others, when you have diabetes. Stick to Healthy Choice, Eating Well, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Smart Made, Kashi’s and Amy’s. Look for meals that are lower in carbs – somewhere between 30-45 grams. Look for whole grains, beans and vegetables. The main component should be a protein such as fish, chicken or meat, unless you are a vegetarian. Avoid the pasta and rice-based meals. Choose complete meals with 300-500 calories and read all the labels.
Research presented at The Experimental Biology Conference reveals “Americans who ate frozen meals came closer to meeting the Dietary Guidelines than those who ate more often at restaurants”. The frozen dinner eaters consumed more whole grains, vegetables and proteins, overall. Look at sodium levels which can be especially high in frozen foods. Check to see that sodium content is 600mg or less per meal. Watch out for saturated fat content. Skip the ones that say: Extra Large, extra cheese, deep dish or frozen pot pies.
Fairlife Chocolate Milk
Another great find, this chocolate milk has 50% less sugar than regular chocolate milk. Rich and creamy in chocolate taste and packed with 50% more protein and calcium, you can drink an 8-ounce glass as a delicious treat. Some of you use milk to bring up blood sugars during hypoglycemic episodes, since the carbs bring up your blood sugar and the protein and fat can make blood sugars stabilize. Fairlife has other products which you may find interesting and want to try.
Coconut Curry Trail Mix
Nuts are high in protein, high in healthy fats and fiber (in moderation), and when mixed with a few ingredients, can be a wonderful treat and snack. There are many on the market in bagged mixes and bars, but simply make your own. You get to choose the ingredients and change them up. Mix a ¼ cup of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, unsalted peanuts, whole roasted almonds with unsweetened coconut flakes and a tablespoon of dried cut up cherries. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with curry powder. Mix and eat 2 tablespoons as a serving. You can change the spice as desired.
Kayak Frozen Greek Yogurt
When the need for a cold and creamy dessert strikes, you may crave high fat, high calorie, regular ice cream, but don’t give in. There are many wonderful frozen yogurts out there, but they are higher in sugar and carbs than regular ice cream. Kayak Frozen Greek is a much better option. The sugar-free version uses a bit of Stevia sweetener to get rid of the yogurt tartness. It really comes from Greece and is 40% Greek yogurt. Kayak uses live cultures, which is great for your digestive tract. A ½ cup serving has 5 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat. You can choose from multiple flavors including:
- Madagascar vanilla
- Mango and Jasmine
Halo Tops: World of Light Ice Creams
Halo Tops was one of the first low calorie, low fat, low sugar ice creams with a great taste. It is often recommended by dietitians when you are looking for an alternative to regular high fat, high calorie ice cream. One of the most popular flavors is Birthday Cake, which comes with rainbow sprinkles. A 2/3 cup serving has 19 carbs of carbs with 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of sugar. It contains sugar alcohol, Stevia and cane sugar for sweetness. It can satisfy a dessert craving without spiking your blood sugars. Other Halo Tops flavors include:
- Candy Bar
- Lemon Cake
- Oatmeal Cookie
- Blueberry Crumble
- Chocolate Caramel
Edy’s Slow Churned, Artic Zero and Enlightened also make tasty light ice cream which will not spike your blood sugars in small portion size. A really easy frozen treat to make for yourself is to freeze ½ a banana and then mash it up and add a sprinkle of mini-dark chocolate chips and a teaspoon of crushed almonds. No artificial or added ingredients.
It can be totally confusing to know what to eat when you have diabetes. When you can, stick to whole foods as much as possible such as whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, lean proteins, low fat dairy and whole grains. When the urge strikes and a true craving for something different occurs, you can still experiment with new products without spiking your blood sugars and gaining weight. Research what you like and stock your pantry and freezer with a few different but diabetes friendly foods and snacks. Meals and snack time should be something to look forward to, but also not mess with your diabetes.