Diabetes Network News | Published October 12, 2012 | Written by Heather Harpster, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

Grocery shopping guidelines for people with diabetes

When people have diabetes, their diet is an essential part of their self-management plan. Good nutrition starts with smart choices in the grocery store. However, grocery shopping can be a daunting task simply because there are so many food choices.

"Supermarkets perform a great public service, but keep in mind they are designed to get you to buy more food, not less," says Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating.

But with a little guidance, healthy choices are a cinch to find in any grocery store.

Before you head to the supermarket, plan your meals for the week, and create a list to shop from. With a grocery list in hand, you will be able to double-check your pantry before you go so you will know exactly what you need. One of the worst ways many shoppers waste money at the grocery store is by buying things they do not need. Creating a grocery list can help ensure that you are only picking up those healthy items, and not giving yourself a reason to wander into the cookie aisle.

Start out by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and fish are usually located. Limit your time in the center aisles where junk foods lurk. The following are some tips to help people with diabetes make healthier food choices in every department of the supermarket:

  1. Produce. Spend the majority of your time in the produce section. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that help protect from chronic diseases. The color reflects the different vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content of each fruit or vegetable so be sure to choose a variety of colors from the rainbow. Choose fruits and vegetables in season to save money. Look for farmers' markets in your area for the freshest produce possible. Frozen fruits (without added sugars) and vegetables (without sauce) are a convenient way to help fill in the produce gap, especially in the winter.
  2. Breads, cereals and pasta. Choose the least processed varieties that are made from 100% whole grains. The bran and fiber found in whole grains make it more difficult for the body to break the starches down into glucose (sugar), which results in a lower, slower rise in blood glucose following a meal or snack. Aim for products with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Be careful not to fall for deceitful terms such as "wheat flour," "multigrain," "enriched," or "stone-ground wheat flour," as these are just sneaky ways of saying refined white flour. Good choices include 100% whole-grain bread and pasta, 100% whole-grain cereals, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur and barley.
  3. Meat, fish and poultry. Meat is a terrific source of protein, vitamins and minerals - but beware, as some meats are heavy in unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol. Research shows that replacing higher fat meats and processed meats (bacon, hot dogs and deli meats) with lean cuts and servings (meats with little marbling, skinless poultry, fish and beans) could help prevent heart disease and diabetes. The American Heart Association also recommends two servings of fish a week. Seafood is a good source of protein and is low in saturated fat. Choose fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including mackerel, salmon, albacore tuna and sardines.
  4. Dairy. Dairy foods are an excellent source of bone-building calcium and vitamin D. There are plenty of low-fat and nonfat options available to help you get three servings a day. If you are lactose intolerant, there are many lactose-free alternatives made from soy, rice, almonds or oats to choose from as well.
  5. Fats. With so many different sources of dietary fat - some good and some bad - the choices can get confusing. But the bottom line is simple: Don't go no fat; go good fat. Rather than avoiding fat in your diet, try replacing saturated fats and trans fats with heart-healthy fats. This might mean replacing some of the meat you eat with beans and legumes, or using olive oil rather than butter. Look for fats highest in monounsaturated fat, including olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds, olives and avocado, while limiting intake of fatty meats, high-fat dairy foods, lard and high-fat snack foods.
  6. Canned and dried foods. Keep a variety of canned vegetables, fruits and beans on hand to toss into soups, salads, pasta or rice dishes. Whenever possible, choose canned foods without added salt or sugars. Tuna packed in water, low-salt soups and assorted vinegars should be in every healthy pantry.

When purchasing foods that you are unfamiliar with, make sure you read the food label. Food makers are required to list all the ingredients in a product in descending order by weight. Try to avoid highly processed foods with unhealthy ingredients like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavorings or colors, high fructose corn syrup, and "enriched" or other ingredients you cannot pronounce.

To learn more about nutrition and diabetes-management services, along with available diabetes classes and monthly support groups, please visit our website at mountnittany.org, or call Mount Nittany Medical Center's diabetes team at 814.231.7095.