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4 Systems for Diabetes Meal Planning

Meal plans can help you eat a balanced diabetes diet. It's the natural way to manage your blood sugar levels.
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WebMD Feature

If you've got diabetes, the right meal plan can help you keep blood sugar under control. Fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products -- even sweets now and then -- all have a place in your plan.

"A meal plan provides a specific approach to controlling blood sugar," says Dianne Davis, RD, LDN, CDE, a dietitian with the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Center in Nashville, Tenn. "If you have diabetes, a meal plan is necessary."

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That's because a meal plan helps ensure you eat a balanced diet high in fiber and low in fats. It can also "help you lose weight, by controlling portion sizes and calories," Davis says.

Which Diabetes Meal Plan Is Right for You?

Your lifestyle and the type of diabetes treatment you're getting -- whether you're taking premeal insulin or not -- will determine the type of meal plan best for you, says Davis.

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all factored into a plan. But carbs are an especially important component since they have the biggest impact on blood sugar.

"Your meal plan can also include your favorite foods," Davis adds. "No food is off-limits -- it's a matter of how much you eat, when you eat it, and what it will do to your blood sugar."

With that in mind -- and understanding you should talk with your doctor before making big changes in your diabetes diet -- here are four meal-planning systems.

The Diabetes Food Pyramid

The diabetes food pyramid is similar to the USDA food pyramid you see on food labels. It is a pyramid in which a healthy diet means eating more grains, fruits, and vegetables, and less meat, sweets, and fats.

The diabetes food pyramid's general recommendations are:

  • Grains, beans, and starchy vegetables: 6 or more servings/day. One serving: 1 slice bread; 1/2 small bagel; 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, rice; 3/4 cup ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 cup cooked beans, corn, peas.
  • Fruits: 2-4 servings daily. One serving: 1 medium-size fresh fruit; 1/2 cup canned fruit; 1/2 cup fruit juice.
  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings a day. One serving: 1 cup raw vegetable; 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
  • Meat, Fish, Cheese: 2-3 servings/day. One serving: 2-3 ounces cooked lean meat, skinless poultry, or fish; I egg; 2 tablespoons peanut butter; 2-3 ounces cheese.
  • Milk and Yogurt: 2-3 servings daily. One serving: 1 cup (8 ounces) milk or yogurt.
  • Fats, Sweets, and Alcohol: eat these in small amounts. One serving: 1 teaspoon butter, margarine, or mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon cream cheese or salad dressing; 1/2 cup ice cream.

Combined foods, like eggplant lasagna, for example, will include servings from several food groups (1 vegetable, 1 meat, 1 fat).

This meal system has limitations, says Davis. "When you follow the diabetes food pyramid, you are not controlling specific grams of carbs and might not be able to achieve very tight blood sugar control," she tells WebMD. "However, the pyramid helps you see which foods are carbohydrates -- to get you acquainted with them."

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