How to Pick Produce for Diabetes Self-Management

The produce section of the grocery store is the perfect place to start your shopping. OK, so you lose 30 minutes of freshness without refrigeration, and you have to be careful not to mash your fruit in the bottom of the cart.

But, nothing beats starting your shopping by gathering what are arguably the healthiest foods in the store — fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole nuts, and probably some soy products hidden away someplace in produce. It’s all about getting into a healthy mood.

Start with nonstarchy vegetables. These nutrient packed foods should make up half of your plate every meal, and this pattern is especially important with diabetes. Why? Because nonstarchy vegetables are very low in carbohydrates.

So, with a variety of textures and colors you get a full stomach plus calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients like beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, anthocyanidins, and isoflavones — all with minimal impact on blood glucose.

Nonstarchy vegetables include lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, soft-shell squashes (think zucchini), peppers, asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, onions, green beans, eggplant, okra, and more.

Nonstarchy vegetables are the foundation for healthy eating, and don’t forget you can grow your own or get fabulous in-season vegetables at farmer’s markets. Select nonstarchy vegetables that are colorful and crisp.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and hard shell squashes shouldn’t be shunned. These foods are carbohydrate foods that you need to account for in your diabetes meal plan, but don’t forget that carbohydrates should account for about half of your daily calories.

Starchy vegetables offer many of the same nutrients as nonstarchy vegetables, and what would summer be without corn on the cob? Just be aware of serving sizes, and count the carbohydrates.

Fresh fruits are carbohydrate foods, too, but what a fine way to get your carbs and satisfy your sweet tooth. Today’s food transportation efficiencies allow you to choose from an incredible variety of fruits from around the world, like papaya, mango, and kiwi, in addition to U.S.-grown oranges, apples, grapes, peaches, pears, grapefruit, cherries, blueberries, melons, apricots, and strawberries.

Too numerous to mention all, eating a variety of fruits gives you a variety of vitamins, antioxidants, and powerful phytonutrients, as well as healthy fiber. Select fruits that are bright, free from blemish, and the appropriate firmness. Eat the skin of fruits with an edible skin, like apples, grapes, peaches, and pears, and remember to count the carbohydrate.

Often, the produce section of your store will include bulk nuts in their shell. Nuts are not carbohydrate foods, so they can make an excellent and healthy snack if eaten in moderation, and nuts offer a variety of healthy unsaturated fats. One benefit to buying nuts in the shell is you can generally get them without added salt.

You may also find soy foods in the produce section, such as tofu, tempeh, or soy processed into chicken-like or beef-like strips. Soy is a complete protein, and has been shown to help reduce bad LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure. It’s easy to add soy to your diet by trying these options with a vegetable stir fry.

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