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Nutritionists’ 9 Tricks for Grocery Shopping with Diabetes

A diabetes diagnosis = need to eat healthy, stat. Here's how to start grocery shopping for healthy diabetic foods.

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Pre-game your shopping trip

Have a light snack, such as a string cheese and a small apple, before you leave for the grocery store. The fuel will help prevent excessive hunger pangs and keep your blood sugar steady, both of which can cut down on impulse buys. Don’t leave home without a shopping list (another tactic to avoid buying unhealthy fare you didn’t plan on purchasing). “This will ensure that you have healthful foods on hand at home all week long,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a certified diabetes educator and author of the Reader’s Digest book 2-Day Diabetes Diet.

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Choose whole and frozen fruit

“The only ingredient listed on the label should be the name of the fruit you are buying,” says Alana Fiorentino, RDN, a certified diabetes educator in New York City. If you prefer canned fruit, make lower-sugar choices by selecting fruits in 100 percent fruit juice or water—and avoiding fruit canned in syrup. “Light syrup” may sound healthy, but it usually has added sugar. A ½ cup portion of Mandarin oranges canned in water, for instance, has 45 calories and 7 grams of sugar, while the light-syrup version has 90 calories and 18 grams of sugar. Here, compelling reasons fruit is healthy for diabetics.

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Opt for low-sodium soup

If you have diabetes, you also have a higher risk of heart disease. So aim to cap your daily sodium intake at less than 2,300 milligrams and keep in mind that your doctor or dietitian may advise lowering this amount if you have other heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension. Canned soup tends to be high in sodium: A cup of chicken-noodle soup can contain 950 milligrams, a large proportion of your daily intake. A low-sodium version, on the other hand, has less than half that amount. Choose soup with less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, and remember that a can of soup typically contains two servings. If you’re up for making your own soup, consider a low-sodium bone broth, a higher-protein option with just 70 milligrams of sodium per cup. Here are the best and worst soups for weight loss.

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Go for no-sodium veggies

As with fruit, fresh and frozen vegetables are always your best choice. But don’t get tripped up in the freezer aisle: “Try to purchase frozen foods without any sodium listed on the label,” advises Fiorentino. “For example, plain mixed vegetables instead of vegetable medleys with flavorful sauces are a better choice.” Buying canned veggies or beans? Look for a no-added-salt version, or drain and rinse a low-sodium pick to cut the sodium content. Are you eating these 15 diabetes superfoods?

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Doctor up your yogurt

Many flavored yogurts are high in sugar, so you’re often better off buying a low-fat, plain yogurt and adding your own fruit. “If you do wish to purchase a flavored yogurt, check the label and look for varieties with 15 grams of sugar or less per serving,” says Palinski-Wade. “A great alternative for those with diabetes is to select low-fat cottage cheese. With 13 grams of protein and only 4 grams of carbohydrate and 90 calories per ½ cup, it contains few carbohydrates and more protein than most yogurts and is just as versatile.”

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Lean in for lean meat

Go lean whenever possible, selecting white meat over dark. If you opt for beef, toss a lean cut like a sirloin or flank steak into your cart. Seafood, such as salmon and mackerel, offers health-boosting omega-3 fatty acids. However, choose options that aren’t breaded, as these can increase the food’s carbohydrate content. And if you’re perusing pre-seasoned options, check the label to ensure a low sodium count and that no sugar has been added.

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Choose whole-grain bread

Many breads contain sugar—so the key is shopping for one that doesn’t contain it as one of the first three ingredients. And watch out for sugar equivalents, such as fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, or molasses. “Look for sliced bread that contains close to 15 grams of carbohydrate per slice, which is equal to one diabetic exchange, and at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber,” says Fiorentino. Fiber helps slow down how quickly blood sugar levels increase post-meal. The first ingredient of the loaf you choose should contain the word “whole,” as in “whole-wheat flour.” These are other healthy carbs for diabetes.

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Tread carefully in the snack aisle

“You can have snacks with diabetes, but you do want to watch out for options high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates,” says Palinski-Wade. Love crunchy and salty snacks? Choose air-popped popcorn over refined-flour pretzels. Can’t live without chips? Look for brands made from whole-grain flour or legume-based ones, such as lentil flour.

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Double check sugar-free foods

Because “sugar-free” doesn’t mean carbohydrate-free, certain desserts can still raise your blood sugar level. No matter what sweet treat you pick, snacks with no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates per serving (and only eat one serving!) are a good bet. “If you need your chocolate fix, choose dark chocolate at least 70 percent cacao or above,” says Palinski-Wade. “The darker the chocolate, the lower the amount of added sugar and the more rich it is in heart-healthy flavonoids.”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Amy Gorin is a freelance writer, registered dietitian, a nutrition partner with NOW Foods, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.