There is no one diet for all people with diabetes. There is, however, a "recipe" for eating healthfully that is similar to recommendations for heart health, cancer prevention and weight management.
To successfully manage diabetes, you need to understand how foods and nutrition affect your body. Food portions and food choices are important. Carbohydrates, fat and protein need to be balanced to ensure blood sugar levels stay as stable as possible. (This is particularly important for people with type 1 diabetes.)
The keys to a healthy eating plan are:
- Eat meals and snacks regularly (at planned times).
- Eat about the same amount of food at each meal or snack.
- Choose healthful foods to support a healthy weight and heart.
Put Together a Plan
You need a registered dietitian on your team who will work with you to put together a daily meal plan that takes into account your food preferences, level of physical activity and lifestyle.
Your RD will work with you and your physician to strike the right balance between your meal plan and any diabetes medications you take.
Plan Healthy Meals
Good health depends on eating a variety of foods that contain the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. If you have diabetes, a healthy daily meal plan includes:
- Starchy foods like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, other grains and starchy vegetables such as beans, corn and peas
- Vegetables (not including starchy ones)
- Meat, fish, poultry, cheese and tofu
- Milk and yogurt
- Healthy fats.
The actual amounts of each food group depend on the number of calories you need, which, in turn, depends on your age, sex, size and activity level. Together with your registered dietitian, you can develop an eating plan that is best for you.
Meal Plan Options: Exchanges and Carbohydrate Counting
Carbohydrates affect your blood sugar more than protein or fat. As your daily meal plan is designed, portioning out foods high in carbohydrate will help control blood sugar levels.
- Choose Your Foods: Exchange List for Diabetes
The exchange system for meal planning uses food groups, like the ones listed above: starchy foods, vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy and fat. Within each exchange are foods that contain similar amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Because foods are divided this way, you are able to "exchange" one food for another within any one group. For example, bread, cereal, rice and potatoes are all starch exchanges. Your meal plan will specify a certain number of starch exchanges that you can have for a meal or snack. You may then select any foods within the starch group that stay within the number of servings planned. For each meal you will likely have exchanges in at least three to four food groups.
You need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Your RD will determine a specific amount of carbohydrates for each meal or snack to ensure your blood sugar stays in good control. Your job is to learn the number of carbohydrates in each food measured in grams, then keep to the planned number.
Carbohydrate counting gives you wiggle room in terms of making food choices. However, to ensure you eat healthfully your focus should be on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and low-fat milk. Sweets should be saved as occasional treats.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, seek the expert advice of a registered dietitian to help you manage the disease while ensuring you get the nutrients your body needs. Use the Find a Registered Dietitian tool to locate a registered dietitian in your area.
Reviewed December 2012