Can Guiding Stars help me with food choices for diabetes?

Young man in a supermarket
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Having diabetes is hard enough. Layer on food shopping questions about which products the best choices to help manage the condition and, well, it can make feeding yourself (or your loved one) a big, intimidating job. If you’re looking for an easier way to make food choices for someone with diabetes, Guiding Stars is here to help!  

Healthy Eating & Diabetes

For people with diabetes, we tend to think that carbohydrates in foods are the focus of any dietary adjustments. That may be true, but there are other nutritional considerations, too. The America Diabetes Association’s current nutrition consensus report emphasizes increasing vegetables (especially non-starchy ones), reducing sugars and refined grains, and choosing more whole foods as opposed to highly processed foods.

That sounds like a regular healthy eating approach to me. It’s one that would be appropriate for pretty much anyone looking to boost the nutrition quality of his or her diet. Because people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing certain types of heart disease, the recommended eating plan can also be considered a generally good, heart-healthy plan as well. Basically, if you want to eat healthfully—whether you have diabetes or not—following the ADA’s recommendations is a solid approach. 

Following the Stars

Using the Guiding Stars you see on products, shelf-tags, and signage in the supermarket can help you select the best food options for a diabetes food plan (or any healthy diet). By comparing the number of stars that Product A earns to those that Product B earns, you can see which is of higher nutritional quality. Products can earn from 1 to 3 stars, representing good, better, and best nutritional value.

Comparing Within Categories

Comparing foods within the same general category (such as cereals, breads, or canned beans, for example) is the best way to use the Guiding Star system. You can learn more about how we arrive at the star ratings, as well as about some surprising star ratings from previous blog posts. 

Here, I explore two food categories where choosing products with more Guiding Stars can be especially helpful for people planning meals that fit the ADA recommendations.  

Grain Some Gains

Yes, grains are a carbohydrate food. People with diabetes are advised to limit their carb intake. This means that squeezing the most nutrition out of these foods is important. An easy way to do this is to focus on eating fewer refined grains and more whole grains. In the wide world of grain products, cutting back on refined breads, crackers, baking mixes, and cereals means that a lot of foods won’t be on your regular grocery list anymore. Learning how to swap in whole grains instead of refined-grain foods is a skill you’ll benefit from.

Where does Guiding Stars come in here? Well, products with more whole grains get more “credit” in the Guiding Stars algorithm. Comparing one loaf of bread to another based on their star value is an easy way to choose the best option.

So Dairy Easy

Dairy products with no added sugar (regular milk, cottage cheese, and some yogurts) deliver a good dose of carbohydrates from the milk sugar (lactose) that they naturally contain. You don’t need to give up these foods, but do make it a point to check the Nutrition Facts label. The new Nutrition Facts label format calls out added sugars, so finding this info this is easier than ever for consumers.

If you’re in a hurry, you can simplify things even further by just looking for those dairy products that have stars (or the most stars). The Guiding Stars algorithm already takes into account added sugar levels. You’ll see that there are quite a few yogurts that don’t make the cut. It’s usually the added sugars that knock them out.

Another point to consider in this category is fat level. The ADA recommendations suggest a diet where total fat intake is less than or equal to 30% of total calories, and saturated fat intake is less than or equal to 10% of calories. This guideline is also wise for general heart health. Again, Guiding Stars can be of help here, since it takes into account saturated fat as well as trans fat levels in foods. 

Remember, when you’re shopping for foods to fit into a certain diet plan due to medical conditions or personal health recommendations, it’s important to read the food label. Labels contain a lot of information, including nutrition specifics, but also food allergy and ingredient information. And when food choices become more limited due to your eating plan, don’t forget to compare products and follow the Guiding Stars—they’ll easily lead you to better choices.