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Diet Plan Specifics for People With Diabetes

How much should you have of each type of food? The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests that people with diabetes eat mostly high-fiber complex carbs, limit protein to 20% of the total daily calories, and limit saturated fat to less than 7% of calories.

Experts from the Joslin Diabetes Center issued guidelines directed at those with type 2 diabetes who are overweight or obese -- about 80% of those with type 2 diabetes. Those guidelines suggest fewer carbohydrates and a slight boost in protein.

  • About 40% of calories from carbohydrates
  • About 30% from protein
  • About 30% from fat

Fewer carbohydrates and slightly more protein helps people with type 2 diabetes drop unhealthy weight and control their diabetes, says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinic and Program, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston.  

"Any diet for a type 2 diabetic who is overweight should be a weight reduction diet," Hamdy says. Modest losses of a pound every one or two weeks, achieved by reducing daily calories by 250 to 500, is recommended for those who are overweight, he says.

Managing Your Carbohydrates

One goal of healthy eating is to stabilize blood sugar, and that's done by a "consistent carbohydrate" eating plan, says Pupo.

People with diabetes should take in about the same amount of carbohydrates with every meal. Total carbohydrates in your diet should be based on advice from your doctor.

Try to avoid having blood sugars spike up too high or down too low, she says. This happens with diets high in refined carbs or sugary drinks. Having consistent meals throughout the day is one way to manage blood sugar levels.

There are several ways to manage carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate Counting

Write down how many carbs you eat. The ADA suggests you start with 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal. The consult with your doctor, and adjust your carbohydrates per meal based on blood sugar levels and your doctor’s advice.  

To learn carb counting, you can read food labels or get a list from your doctor.

The Plate Method for Carbohydrates

The plate method is a simpler way to count carbs and control portion sizes. You visualize a line dividing your plate in half. Then divide one half into two quarters.

  • Fill the largest section -- half your plate -- with non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, or green beans.
  • Fill one of the two smaller sections -- a quarter of your plate -- with starchy foods such as whole grain breads, potato, or cooked cereal such as cream of wheat.
  • Fill the second smaller section -- a quarter of your plate -- with meat or meat substitutes.

The Link Between Healthful Eating and Fewer Complications

Eating healthfully can help you control blood sugars and reduce the risks of complications of diabetes such as nerve pain (diabetic peripheral neuropathy),heart disease, and foot problems.

"Most complications are related to fat and the amount of fat in the diet," says Hamdy. Any diet that can reduce high cholesterol levels [by reducing fat] is good, he says.

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