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Frequently Asked Questions About Diabetes Diets

  • Is there one best diabetes diet?
  • Answer:

    "No," there is no one best diabetes diet, says Marisa Moore, RD, LD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

    "It's a common misconception that people with diabetes have to follow a certain diabetes diet," says Moore, who instead recommends seeing a registered dietitian to help build a meal plan customized to your height, weight, age, and activity level.

    According to Moore, watching carbohydrates is crucial for diabetics, because carbs affect blood sugar more than protein and fat. So, learning to count carbs can help maintain your blood sugar, as can eating plenty of produce, lean protein, low-fat foods, and getting exercise.

    "Most people find that what they eat is not very different from what the general population eats," says Moore. "They just have to limit some things -- such as concentrated sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages -- a little more than others."

  • The Atkins diet is low in carbs and high in protein and fat. Would an Atkins diabetes diet be right for me?
  • Answer:

    Many people with diabetes think the Atkins diet -- a carbohydrate-restricted, high-protein, high-fat plan -- makes sense. "I do see a lot of interest," says Moore.

    But your body needs carbs, cautions Moore. "They give us energy, and when we cut out carbohydrates, we also cut out fiber and vitamins and minerals that are important for good overall health." And there are risks to an Atkins diabetes diet.

    "Remember, 65% of people with diabetes die of heart attack or stroke," Moore says. Cut out carbs and you may end up eating more saturated fat or trans fat, which can boost your heart disease risk. Most people see an increase in their cholesterol and other blood fats while on the Atkins diet. That's a definite concern with diets like Atkins, she says.

    The take-away? More research is needed before low-carb diets are deemed safe and effective for people with diabetes.

  • Can I eat sugar or desserts on a type 2 diabetes diet?
  • Answer:

    There's nothing you can't eat -- even with diabetes, says Moore.

    The key? Moderation, of course. Studies show that sugar doesn't increase blood sugar any more than the same amount of starch or other carbohydrates, Moore says. That means you can enjoy sweet foods as part of a type 2 diabetes diet, as long as you substitute them for other carbohydrate-containing foods in your meal plan.

    But don't go wild with sugar-free desserts! Most contain carbohydrates from flour, or are sweetened with substitutes that boost blood sugar. That's why it's important to read food labels to see how many carbohydrate grams you're getting per serving. Have questions? Talk to a dietitian. ''Everyone should be able to enjoy the sweet things in life," says Moore.

  • I have gestational diabetes. How do I maximize my chances of a healthy pregnancy?
  • Answer:

    "As soon as you find out that you have gestational diabetes, work with your doctor to get a referral to a dietitian," says Moore.

    Though gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery, high blood sugar during pregnancy could lead to a very large, fat baby, making delivery more difficult. Moore recommends a pregnancy meal plan that promotes proper weight gain and normal blood sugar.

    Carbohydrate counting is recommended and, to keep blood sugar normal, try eating three small- to moderate-size meals a day, plus two to four snacks. Your doctor may also recommend exercise where possible, says Moore, "since it helps to burn off additional blood sugar."

  • What are common sources of hidden carbohydrates when I'm dining out?
  • Answer:

    Eating out can be tricky when you have diabetes. "We have to think about how the food is prepared and not be afraid to ask what's in it," says Moore.

    In addition to the obvious breaded or fried foods, carbs can hide in creamy foods -- which often contain a flour thickener or milk (the lactose in milk is a sugar, which can raise your blood sugar). So watch out for creamed or cheesy vegetables, casseroles, sweet sauces, even fat-free salad dressings.

    "Typically, these aren't a big deal, as long as you are not overdoing portion sizes," Moore says. But if you're enjoying a carb-rich meal, such as a Chinese entrée with rice, try cutting back on the rice if you know the sauce or dressing is going to be sweet.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD on July 17, 2012

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