If you spend your days juggling Zoom meetings, caring for your family, and tackling tasks that focus on anything but self-care, chances are your midday meal has become an afterthought. But if you’re managing type 2 diabetes, making a healthy lunch one of your priorities can have a significant effect on your weight and blood sugar level. Whipping up your meal at home is the simplest way to make sure that happens. Plus, eating out for many meals is associated with negative health effects, like a higher body mass index and cholesterol levels, according to a study published in May 2015 in the International Journal of Obesity.
Thankfully, all it takes is a little know-how — and these easy recipe ideas — to create quick, healthy lunches that are diabetes-friendly.
For starters, think about building your lunch around a lean protein source, such as skinless chicken, tuna, shrimp, beans, or tofu, as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests. In general, “protein does not raise blood sugar as quickly or as greatly as foods high in sugar or options from the grain group,” says Julie Stefanski, RDN, CDCES, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who is based in Baltimore. From that base, Stefanski recommends adding at least 1 to 1½ cups of your favorite nonstarchy vegetable. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and green beans as diabetes-friendly nonstarchy veggie options.
As for carbohydrates, aim for 30 to 45 grams (g) if you’re a woman and 45 to 60 g if you’re a man, suggests Amy Kimberlain, RDN, CDCES, who is based in Miami and is also a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Choose your carbs wisely. “They’re not all created equal,” Kimberlain explains. For example, while brown rice, which is a whole grain, and white rice, which is refined, contain similar amounts of carbs per serving — 50 g and 44 g per cup, respectively, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — they affect blood sugar very differently. “The key difference is in the fiber content,” Kimberlain says. Brown rice packs 3.1 g of fiber per cup, whereas white rice offers only 0.6 g. A higher fiber count means your body will take longer to digest the brown rice than the white, which will help keep your blood sugar stable and your belly fuller, potentially aiding weight loss, per the Mayo Clinic.
Plus, whole grains like brown rice offer more protein, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains like white rice, Kimberlain notes. Opt for whole-grain carbs over refined carbs whenever possible.
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Finally, stick to roughly 1 tablespoon (about a thumb’s worth) of fat, which the ADA notes includes olive oil, nut butter, and canola oil, suggests Carrie Swift, RDN, CDCES, a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) who is based in Richland, Washington.
Of course, these are only the building blocks for a nutritious, diabetes-friendly lunch. For inspiration, here are 12 simple lunch ideas for your diabetes diet, along with estimated calorie and carb counts: