Diabetes Diet

David’s Diabetes Diet

The food choices on my diet are easy. What I eat must taste great and provide great nutrition. Great taste is subjective and certainly varies from person to person. But great nutrition is objective.

All of us are still learning about nutrition. But we do know the foods that are good for us and those that we should avoid.

So why is the diabetes diet the most controversial part of controlling it? The controversy rages over just one issue – whether we should be eating a low or high carb diet.
The most appropriate level of carbohydrates is the only controversial part of the American Diabetes Association’s new nutrition recommendations. But my diet is a moderate one, and you can tweak it to include the amount of carbohydrates that you decide to eat.

What I eat keeps evolving. In the dozen or so years since I got my diabetes diagnosis my diet has changed dozens of times. Nutrition has become one of my biggest interests, and I think about what to eat more than I think about sex. Not many men can say that!

Judging from the questions I get from my correspondents, women think about diet a lot more than men do. I guess that this is because they generally shop and cook for their families.

Several recent questions, in fact, prompted me to weigh in here with my diet recommendations. For example, Kelly would like to retrain her husband, her son, and herself to eat better. Mary Lee wants to know the easiest eating plan to follow. Kabir wonders if I could make a list of foods that boost our health, conform to the glycemic index, and are full of antioxidants.

I don’t have to make a list of the best foods. George Mateljan, the founder and original owner of Health Valley Foods, has thought about food even more than I have. His site has a superb list of the world’s healthiest foods.

I generally agree with George’s food choices. But I am more concerned with the glycemic values of foods than he is, because he writes for a more general audience than for those of us with diabetes.

My pantry is pretty bare compared with what most people have. I like to keep it as simple as possible.

I keep my recipes simple too. When there are more than six ingredients – including two or three spices – there are too many for me. My diet would make Linus in the Peanuts comic strip happy. He decided not to drink something when he saw what it said on the side of the package. “It’s full of ingredients!” he exclaimed.

My diet includes almost all the fruits and vegetables. Generally, I prefer to steam my vegetables, although the microwave is great for winter squash and boiling is best for greens, like chard. I go easy on some of those so-called root vegetables – the ones that grow underground – especially potatoes and beets. I also go easy on dried fruit, like raisins, dates, and prunes. They are certainly great in low doses, but eating a lot of them spikes my blood glucose.

Legumes are a wonder food. Chana dal, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, soybeans, lentils, and others (all except broad beans) are low glycemic and high in protein.

The only grains I eat are barley and corn. The other grains, especially most varieties of rice and anything made from wheat flour – including almost all bread, crackers, cookies, and other pastries – are too high glycemic.

Nuts and seeds are also important in my diet. Almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are especially nutritious. Flax seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds also offer a lot of the nutrients we need. Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium that we have, so good in fact that the “UC Berkeley Wellness Letter,” to which I subscribe, recommends eating no more that five a day. Walnuts and flax seeds are a good source of the essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. And I remember to choose unsalted nuts when I shop.

I like to add a little fresh fruit or a few nuts to the yogurt that I often choose to lunch on. I make sure to shop only for plain, nonfat, organic yogurt. I sweeten it with a non-caloric sweetener.

My other favorite lunch is a salad of vegetables and beans. A salad has too many ingredients for me to prepare, so it is the usual meal that I have when I eat out. A large study in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that people who eat salads have higher levels of vitamins C and E, folic acid, and carotenoids.

Eggs are a wonderful food too, especially if truly free range chickens produce them. I buy all my eggs from a local farmer’s market vendor, who I know I can trust. Michael Pollan has reported on the scam that goes by the name “free range”. I love my eggs poached or hard boiled.

I am not a vegetarian. For dinner I eat wild fatty fish – particularly salmon – about twice a week. That’s the recommended level, because no matter how good this fish is in providing Omega-3 fatty acids, it does also contain mercury. Besides salmon, I also eat canned sardines and herring, the two other most readily available fish that are high in Omega-3. I also eat ground bison, which is lower in saturated fat than beef, and boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I cook all of these at low temperature in my oven on a cedar roasting plank. This is an easy, simple, and tasty way to cook.

I don’t fry anything any more. Too many AGEs.

Because I eat so little now that I am using Byetta, I make sure to get enough fiber. It’s generally better to get such nutrients from our food than from supplements, but few of us, myself included, can readily get enough fiber that way. So with each meal I take four psyllium husk caps.

At the time of my diabetes diagnosis the conventional wisdom was still that all fats were bad. Nobody woke me and the rest of the world up as much as Udo Erasmus did with his book, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill.

In addition to the essential Omega-3 fats, for cooking the only oil I use is olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fatty acids. I also eat avocados, which are also among the highest in this good fat. This fatty fruit is the basis of one of the three great appetizers.

My friend Gretchen Becker once complained that there are so few foods that we can safely eat. She was particularly appalled by the AGEs that cooking foods at high temperature produce.

I do find plenty of good tasting foods that are good for me to eat. But I also have a list of what to avoid.

The newest addition to that list of negatives is foods high in AGEs. I have also learned to avoid prepared foods that are high in sodium, and I will soon be writing an article about a great new salt substitute that is coming to market.

I avoid the “fats that kill,” that Udo taught me about. This are primarily the transfats, which we have recently recognized as the worst of all fats. I won’t eat anything that has the words “partially hydrogenated” on the nutrition label.

Saturated fat is almost as bad for us, especially for our cholesterol levels. I try to minimize it, but have not yet learned how to avoid it completely.

My biggest problem is with dairy products, even though I don’t drink milk. But butter works wonders on most vegetables. I also love to melt fresh mozzarella cheese on Morningstar Farms Veggie Breakfast Sausage Patties. I often have this combo for breakfast, choosing mozzarella because it is lower in saturated fat than other cheeses.

I now avoid non-organic food almost completely. And I reject all farmed-raised fish in favor of the wild.

Going easy on starches, especially rice, potatoes, and wheat flour has finally become easy for me. I can do without rice completely, but I do love potatoes, which have a lot of nutrition going for them, even while they are high glycemic. I have switched from the highest glycemic potatoes, baked Burbank russets, to lower glycemic varieties, especially the small new potatoes, and enjoy them steamed or boiled.

One of the hardest dietary lessons for me to learn is something that I don’t remember ever seeing in writing. Maybe it can help others.

This lesson is to avoid those food that I like so much that I can’t stop eating or drinking them. My list of those foods that I like so well includes kefir, stinky cheese, and prunes. I have had to learn to go cold turkey on them.

I’m sure that you will note that David’s Diabetes Diet talks only about foods and does not include a single recipe. That’s because the food choices are the basis of a diet, and the recipes will follow.

Do you have recipes that you can share based on these nutrition principles? If you do, I think all of us would appreciate you comments.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • David Mendosa November 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Dear Lilline,

    Good points. You write “her,” but who are you referring to?



  • Lilline November 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    david, HER meter may not be working properly that could be a problem too, the batteries may need to be changed too. are the test strips up to date too??? or that INSULIN is not agreeing with her and needs some other type.

  • Lilline November 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Basically I was raised as a vegetarian and one for 59 yrs, so I have another problem so I am getting alkaline. I need not to be keep losing weight, I can not handle any type of oil, I was going to do the BUDWEG PROTOCOL for my ailment but just to try the ORGANIC flaxseed oil 1/4 tsp bothered my heart, so instead I do 1/4 cup of organic cottage cheese, I NEVER ATE THIS before finding out I was diabetic, and so I was told from being dehydrated a long story is behind how I got dehydrated for one week, prior to that I was not dehydrated but in ER said I had afib found out i was diabetic and dehydrated, given IV DRIP then told to go HOME, two days later, I ended up in the ER , finally they admitted me HAD a different ER doctor and was ADMITTED so I could be treated, this time said no signs of AFIB, just a heart beat that skips beats, I was on IV water drip that two days later. and did not have to receive it again, for my stay in the hospital. I never knew I had a heart problem while in the hospital I DID NOT FEEL anything wrong, and I got to drink spring water in there. I ate cottage cheese too, 2 servings their menu had stuff on there I could not eat, so it was hard to find stuff but with whipped squash I had two servings and banana smoothie but when I found it was NUTRA SWEET BASED I could not eat that POISON. So I was put on a heart med I think it was the last day, since on this heart med CARDEIZM I have noticed I CAN NOT TOLERATE any OILS at all, I went to try a good type of cream cheese with Probiotics in it I found out that I can only handle 1 T of it that would give me 30 extra calories which I do need. I been taking the 1 T of organic flaxseed meal with the cottage cheese, for my condition as I found a website that said if you can not do the oil method, this will work the same, so I can not really eat starchy food s or breads noodles etc before for a sinus condition i have always had, and so I am on veggies and we all know they are more water and vits and minerals and hard to put weight with these. so i am going to see if a NUT BUTTER one tsp will bother me or not but I use to be able to eat nut butters that DANG HEART PILL wont let me eat fats what am I going to do the COTTAGE CHEESE IS LOW FAT, I can tolerate that 3 times per day My dietian said you need to eat that and beans which I do, HELP

  • Lilline November 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    wow doctors are like that???? they should be reported, you think they would be glad that you are not diabetic anymore, but I know, you have to keep eating low gi or the blood sugars would be back to square one.

  • Rhonda November 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you. I will ask dr. about a CDE. But I am concerned that they will not approve the low carb diet…..But it has helped me both with the numbers and I don’t have the cravings I used to have.

    • David Mendosa November 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      I appreciate your concern. Yet I have never heard of a doctor firing a patient who manages his or her diabetes well on a very low-carb diet. They need the money we pay them! And please do remember that we pay them. They work for us. And I have heard of many patients who fired their doctors. I have done that myself several times.



  • Rhonda November 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    What about insulin. Will it keep you from loosing weight? I have heard that it will cause weight gain, but my Dr said only if you use a lot. How much is a lot. Any thoughts?

    • David Mendosa November 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      Insulin won’t stop you from losing weight, but many people who take it do gain weight. Your doctor is not quite right. It’s not exactly that taking a lot of insulin causes you to gain weight when you use it. Instead, it’s taking too much at the wrong time. The amount and timing of insulin has to be very precisely calibrated to the amount of food that you eat, particularly the amount of carbohydrates, and the curve of its action (when it is the most effective) is in sync with the curve of the rise of your blood sugar from eating. Your doctor’s Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) can train you to do this right so you don’t gain weight from taking insulin.



  • Rhonda November 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I will try to test more and make sure this is what is going on. Thanks

  • Rhonda October 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I am not noticing any other symptoms when this happens. Is this not usual? I talked to another woman who said the same thing happened to her.

    • David Mendosa October 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Dear Rhonda,

      No, not usual. Eating, particularly eating carbohydrates, makes our blood sugar go up. When we don’t eat, it’s usual for our blood sugar to go down. I don’t understand what’s happening with you. Sorry.



  • Rhonda October 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    yes blood sugars go up if I go for too long without eating. Like I usually eat lunch at 12. If I don’t get lunch untill 1 or 2 the numbers will be up.

    • David Mendosa October 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      Not eating generally makes blood glucose levels go down. What else is happening when they go up?



    • David Mendosa October 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      Not eating generally makes blood glucose levels go down. What else is happening when they go up?



  • rhonda October 15, 2013 at 6:12 am

    i have been using insulin and mow for 3 weeks i have used no insulin and honnestly the numbers are about the same. The only difference is i have lost some weight since cutting out the daytime insulin. i have still used lantus at bedtime. i think my biggest problem is insulin resistance and my numbers go up if i go too long without eating. Thanks for all your help.

    • David Mendosa October 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      I’m puzzled by your comment. Do you really mean that your blood glucose goes up when you haven’t eaten for a long time? And how long a time?



  • Rhonda October 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I am from a small town but I do see a diabetic dr. The only one in town or close by that I know of. Her advice has always been more insulin. I am using less insulin now since low carb eating, but I am still seeing numbers as I described. I do exercise almost daily. I did try symlin but not much weight loss only enabled me to use a little less insulin. So because of expense I quit it. Any help is appreciated.

    • David Mendosa October 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      I think that your choices are either more insulin or fewer carbs. The only other strategy would be to use some oral medication, i.e. pills, but that would only complicate your treatment.



  • David Mendosa October 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Dear Rhonda,

    This really concerns me. You must see a good doctor.



  • rhonda October 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    i have left off all beans and am very low carb but blood sugar levels stay around 150 to 170 only rarely going to 130s. i know this is hard to believe, i dont even believe it myself. can anybody help? only other thong I’ve noticed is that levels are higher if i go to long without eating.

  • rhonda September 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    sorry for all the questions but i am new at this low carb thing. i dont understand why we worry about how much carb is in something if it is a slow carb. have you written any articles that might help me understand all of this. the lower carb eating is helping my numbers so i wamt to pursue it. thanks!

    • David Mendosa September 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      This is an interesting question that I haven’t seen any of the low-carb gurus address. But I think that indeed if the carbs you are eating are really very low-glycemic, you can safely consume them without detriment to your BG levels. I’m thinking in particular of chana dal and nopalitos.



  • rhonda September 6, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    what about the chana dal beans? i tried them and loved them nut mow o dont know whether to eat them or not…

    • David Mendosa September 7, 2013 at 3:13 am

      Dear Rhonda,

      Good question. Since they are high in carbs, I don’t eat them any more. Nevertheless, they have a very low glycemic index, meaning they will hardly increase your blood glucose level. I think this is a very close call whether to eat them or not.



  • rhonda September 2, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    but in your article you said you did eat them and they were a good food. what am i missing here?

    • David Mendosa September 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Dear Rhonda,

      I didn’t mean to confuse you. But I said that I rarely eat beans anymore. And I wrote this article way back in 2006. Since then I have revised it a couple of times, most recently at http://www.mendosa.com/blog/?p=1429



  • Rhonda September 2, 2013 at 7:56 am

    You say you eat beans. I was afraid they were too high in carbs for me. My glucose readings were good when I first started low-carb diet, [110-130] Now they are 150-190. I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I use 2 Tbs of Chia mixed with blueberries and a little plain yogurt for breakfast. I thought maybe the beans for lunch might be the culprit.

    • David Mendosa September 2, 2013 at 9:14 am

      Dear Rhonda,

      You are absolutely right that beans are high in carbs. I seldom eat them any more and only when I am travelling and can’t find anything better on the menu that chili.



  • David Mendosa January 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Dear Chris,

    The gold standard is the USDA National Nutrition Database at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/


  • chris g tucker January 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Good Question Dave, how does one know with Chia Seeds ?

  • David Mendosa January 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Dear Chris,

    Good point. How many net carbs (carbohydrates minus fiber) are you getting from the chia? How many otherwise? If I were you, I would try to limit my net carbs from all sources to 60 grams or less.


  • chris g tucker January 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Dave, I am a NEWLY diagnosed Diabetic, and was told to avoid too many Carbs. I was a little concerned that 3 glasses of thick Chia Mix a day may be too many carbs ? Sometimes, I mix a little wheat germ in my Chia, talk about Energy !!!!!!!! What other diabetic friendly grains might I mix in with my Chia ?

  • chris g tucker January 18, 2011 at 11:52 am

    I mix up a 1/2 galllon pitcher of Chia using 1/3 of a LB Chia Seeds to water, pour in a cup with sweet and low and lemon juice and drink 2 to 3 cups a day of it. IS this OK as a diabetic ?

    • David Mendosa January 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Dear Chris,

      Sounds good to me!


  • chris g tucker January 18, 2011 at 11:51 am

    David, is it OK as a diabetic to eat a LOT of Chia in a day ?

  • Dee February 2, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Hi David,

    Why did you gave up kefir?

    I’ve been making my own at home with a kefir culture (“grains”) and it’s little or no carb as far as I can tell.

    I let it culture overnight on the counter, then combine it with frozen blueberries and xanthan gum in the blender. I let it sit out for another 12-24 hours, then eat it with a bit of non-caloric sweetener.

    It doesn’t affect my blood sugar in any major way. I did an experiment the other day:
    I ate 200 gr (the equivalent of 7 oz of milk – by weight, not volume) on an empty stomach and tested my bg at intervals for 2 and a half hours. Here’re the results:
    Before 102
    45 mins after: 105
    90 mins after: 113
    2.5 hours after 100

    I eat a LOT of the homemade blueberry kefir mousse and stay in ketosis, my bgs are normal, and I’m losing weight. Plus I get all those beneficial probiotics, protein, calcium, etc. from this live food.

    Best regards,