January 14th, 2011
03:59 PM ET

What should I eat if I have diabetes?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Barbara Ray of Las Vegas, Nevada

I am type 2 diabetic trying to create a daily diet, and snacks, food program that I can use to prevent getting the terrible sick feeling that comes when my sugar goes too low. I would like to store these foods and snacks in my home so that I can reach them when necessary. Please name the foods, and snacks, as well as the proper times to consume them. Also when is the time to take Metformin even if your readings are regular and you feel OK? Thank you for your answer to these questions.

Expert answer

Hi, Barbara. To prevent hypoglycemia and to minimize the complications associated with diabetes including heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems and infection, it is important to keep blood sugar levels as steady as possible throughout the day. To accomplish this, I recommend trying to combine some type of lean protein (skinless chicken, fish, turkey, lean ground beef, beans, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt) or healthy fat (olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado) with a healthy carbohydrate with each meal or snack.

Make sure to choose healthy, low-sugar, antioxidant-rich carbohydrates like whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, cereal, crackers, quinoa, barley), whole fruit (not juice or dried fruit) and vegetables. These types of carbohydrates are generally low-glycemic, which means they increase blood sugar less rapidly than highly processed, refined, sugar-filled carbohydrates. Naturally high-fiber foods are always a good choice as they slow the emptying of food from your stomach, which helps improve blood sugar control. By preventing spikes in blood sugar, you can also prevent the crashes that follow.

It is also important to try to eat regularly throughout the day. Try not to let more than four hours go by without having either a meal or snack, to prevent blood sugar from getting too low. And do your best to eat within 30 minutes or so of waking up.

How well are you managing your diabetes? Take this test

Since you talk about storing foods in your home, I'm going to give you some of the best canned and frozen choices, although fresh is always a great choice if you have the option. Here are some staples to keep on hand:

1. Nuts: Nuts (both peanuts, which are actually legumes, and nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc.) contain healthy fats, fiber and heart-healthy plant-based protein. They make great snacks alone or with a piece of fruit or can be thrown on a salad or into yogurt for added crunch and nutrition.

2. Beans: These are also excellent sources of fiber and plant-based protein. Drain and rinse canned beans to decrease salt content. Beans work great in soups and chili, on salads or as a healthy side dish. I'm a big fan of bean-based soups like minestrone, vegetable or lentil as a healthy lunch or pre-dinner appetizer.

3. Frozen vegetables: I always have lots of frozen vegetables on hand for healthy side dishes. Try seasoning with a little olive oil (healthy fat) and spices instead of salt for extra flavor.

4. Canned tuna and chicken (water-packed and low-sodium when available): These provide a quick and healthy lunch or dinner option. Mix with mustard or a little olive oil-based spread and serve on whole-grain bread or in a whole-wheat pita pocket (both of which you could freeze to have extra on hand)

5. Frozen fruit: I'm a big fan of frozen berries, which are loaded with antioxidants (important to decrease the complications of diabetes) and fiber. I use them to make smoothies for breakfast (with plain non-fat yogurt or protein powder and one or two tablespoons of ground flax seed for healthy fat), and sometimes I defrost them and top with a little light whipped topping or low-fat vanilla yogurt for a healthy and tasty dessert.

Regarding your Metformin, you should talk to your doctor regarding the best time to take it, as it depends on the type of pill you are taking. In general, however, Metformin should not cause low blood sugar episodes and should be taken with meals.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.