Diabetes is a progressive disease that can have many complications. However, people with type 2 diabetes can manage the condition by following a nutritious diet and carefully monitoring and managing their blood sugar.
While people with type 1 diabetes will also require insulin, diet remains extremely important for everyone with diabetes. Being sure to eat the right foods is essential for preventing uncontrolled disease progression.
Roughly 9.4 percent of people in the United States have diabetes, and it is the country’s seventh leading cause of death.
In this article, we look at lunch options for people who have diabetes.
People who need to control their blood sugar can still choose from a wide variety of options when they are looking for a tasty lunch.
A person can consider the following as part of a carbohydrate-controlled diet:
- Serve a bowl of soup and a salad, for example, tomato soup with a kale and apple salad.
- Eat a high-fiber, whole wheat wrap, such as turkey with hummus, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, and olives.
- Choose a burrito bowl but skip the rice, keep the beans, add fajita vegetables, chicken or tofu, lettuce, pico de gallo, avocado, and salsa.
- Choose a spinach salad with canned tuna, mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, celery, and lemon juice, served over greens and diced apple.
- Combine a hard-boiled egg with a serving of flourless seed crackers, string cheese, a piece of fruit, and vegetable sticks with peanut butter.
- Make a smoothie from tofu or plain Greek yogurt, spinach, frozen raw cauliflower, unsweetened flax milk, juice from one-half of a lemon, and 1 cup of frozen, mixed berries.
- Put together an open-faced sandwich using 1 slice of whole-grain sprouted bread, grilled vegetables, hummus, and smashed avocado with lettuce as the topper to make it easier to eat.
- Dip carrots, celery sticks, cauliflower florets, and cherry tomatoes in hummus. Add a side of one-half of a can of sardines and a piece of fruit.
With mindful eating and enough planning, people with diabetes can safely enjoy a satisfying and varied diet.
The following common ingredients can also be part of a healthful lunch for people with diabetes.
With portion size in mind, a person with diabetes can include:
- canned tuna, salmon or sardines
- low-salt deli meats, such as turkey and chicken
- hard-boiled eggs
- salads with a side dressing
- low-salt soups and chili
- whole fruit, such as apples and berries
- cottage cheese
- plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- peanut or almond butter
- nuts and seeds
- raw vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and snap peas
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 people can enjoy in a diabetes-friendly lunch:
- three-cheese vegetable 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 and vegetable stir-fry with quinoa
- grilled salmon and spinach salad with roasted sweet potatoes on top
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, every day around 47 percent of people in the U.S. eat at least one sandwich.
This very popular meal choice can also be part of a healthful lunch for people with diabetes.
People with diabetes who want to include sandwiches in their meal plan should take the following steps:
- Increase the fiber content by using whole wheat, whole-grain bread, or sprouted-grain bread for better nutrition, slower carbohydrate absorption, and a lower post-meal blood sugar level.
- Make an open-faced sandwich, using thin sandwich bread to lower carbohydrate counts, or turn it into a wrap with low-carb tortillas or lettuce.
- Select lean, low-salt deli meats, such as roast turkey.
- Use low-fat mayonnaise, or replace it with other spreads, such as mustard, pesto, hummus, yogurt, or avocado.
- Consider replacing cheese with vegetables or fruits, such as tomatoes or peppers, pesto, or avocado.
Quick lunch options for diabetes
Finding time to prepare and eat lunch can often be limited during the workweek. It can be helpful for people to consider other quick, healthful choices for a diabetes-friendly lunch. Examples include:
- hard-boiled eggs with fruit
- yogurt with berries, chia seeds, and almonds
- low-salt bean soup cups
- cottage cheese with fruit or diced tomatoes
Food that commercial establishments serve tends to involve large portions that are high in calories, fat, carbohydrates, sugar, and salt, but low in fiber and vegetables. This makes eating out a challenge for people who have diabetes.
They have to be extremely careful to choose a healthful lunch that will not cause a spike in their blood sugar.
Portion control is especially important when eating out, as lunch dishes may be much larger than appropriate. People with diabetes should resist the urge to super-size any meal or snack.
Another option might be eating a small amount of the meal and taking the rest home to eat sometime later.
The following ideas can help people with diabetes avoid carb-heavy, overlarge, or sugary options at lunchtime:
- Choose whole-grains where possible or skip the flour-based options.
- Order salad dressing on the side rather than already added.
- Look for broth-based soups.
- Consider a vegetarian option.
- Choose grilled, roasted, or baked meats, fresh poultry, and fish.
- Ask for steamed vegetables when possible.
- Swap mashed potatoes or french fries for non-starchy vegetables, such as a side salad or cooked greens.
- Replace refined, low-fiber carbohydrates, such as white rice or pasta, with beans or sweet potatoes with skins.
People with diabetes should try to avoid the following items in a meal:
- fried foods
- cream soups
- sugary drinks, such as soda, sweet tea, or juice
- alcoholic drinks
- white bread, rice, and refined pasta
- foods or meals with added sugars
Keeping blood sugar levels within a healthful range is vital for anyone with diabetes. People must stick to their doctor’s recommendations for 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
The plate method helps people select appropriate proportions of different foods. This method advises people to do the following:
- Fill one-half of a 9-inch plate, or about 2 cups, with non-starchy vegetables, such as greens or broccoli.
- Reserve one-quarter of the plate for roughly 3–4 ounces of proteins, such as chicken, fish, or plant-based alternatives.
- About ½–1 cup of starchy, high-fiber vegetables or grains, 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. Individual recommendations for ideal carbohydrate intake will vary, depending on an individual’s medical advice.
No matter how challenging it may seem at first, following a diet that a healthcare team has helped develop can give real benefits.
The following tips can support people with diabetes as they try to manage their blood glucose:
- Planning ahead: Use weekends to organize meals. This is a great way to guarantee a healthful, diabetes-friendly lunch every day.
- Stocking up at home: Fill refrigerators and pantries with easy-to-use, healthful ingredients.
- Cooking more: When grilling or roasting salmon or chicken, prepare extra for lunches later in the week. Make big batches of soups or stews that you can use for lunch on other days. These stews can be frozen for a later date.
- Keep a supply ready at work: Stock up on healthful, non-perishable items, such as nuts, seeds, canned tuna, and sardines, or dried chickpeas, and dried bean soup cups, and store them at your desk. These can be useful when a person cannot follow a planned lunch or when blood sugar levels dictate it.
- Watching the time: Some people with diabetes need to eat specific amounts of carbohydrates at set times, so keeping an eye on the time throughout the day is a wise strategy.
- Going low: Make a habit of selecting low-sugar, low-salt options when choosing food and drink.
- Going high: Look for foods that are high in fiber, such as nuts, whole grains, apples, pears, berries, avocado, oatmeal, beans, and legumes.
With the right planning, lunch need not be an uninspiring mealtime for people with diabetes.
What is a GI ranking, and does it affect me if I have diabetes?
GI ranking is a way of classifying the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Low GI foods raise blood sugars more slowly and to a lower level than high GI foods.
GI ranking of foods can, therefore, help those with diabetes make healthier food choices and ultimately manage their condition better. Foods that are typically high in fiber are often low in the GI rankings.
Natalie Butler, RD, LD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.