Forget the idea of the "diabetic diet" -- a restrictive regime that
puts certain foods strictly off-limits. The healthiest diet for people with
type 2 diabetes is the same diet that's best for everyone else.
That means eating a wide variety of foods, and including items from all the
major food groups represented on the Food Pyramid -- protein, dairy, grains,
and fruits and vegetables -- every day. It means watching your portion sizes.
It means getting enough fiber, and avoiding an overload of fat, salt, alcohol,
and sugar. (Yes, you can have dessert -- in moderation, and with a little
Editor's Note: Food Pyramid Replaced
In June 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid with a new plate icon.
Following these steps will not only help control your blood sugar, but can
also help you reach a healthy weight, something that's especially important for
people with diabetes.
Your Healthy Eating Plan
As with any medical condition, people with type 2 diabetes should check with
their doctors before starting any diet or exercise program. It's also a good
idea to work with a registered dietitian and/or diabetes educator to come up
with an eating plan that suits your needs.
Two of the main tools doctors and dietitians use to help you plan healthy
Food exchanges. This system divides foods into major categories --
starches, fruits and vegetables, dairy, proteins, and fats -- and tells you how
many portions of each you should have each day.
Carbohydrate counting. With this system, you keep track of the grams
of carbohydrate (starches and sugars) you consume, with the idea of spreading
them out through the day to help keep your blood sugar steady.
The end result should be a plan tailored to your needs: one that takes your
age, gender, lifestyle, and eating habits into account.
Putting Your Plan Into Action
While you should be able to eat most of the same things as everyone else,
people with diabetes often have to limit the amounts they eat, prepare food in
different ways than they may have been used to, and think about when
Consider the issue of consistency: If you have diabetes, you need to eat
about the same amount every day, and at about the same times. You shouldn't
skip meals, or go more than four or five hours without eating during the
Another important element of a healthy diet is portion control. Your
health-care team can help you learn to gauge correct portion sizes, which are
often smaller than we've come to expect in the age of super-sizing. For
example, one serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and a
serving of pasta is about the size of half a tennis ball.
No more diet myths
But just what should those portions consist of on any given day? Here are
some guidelines for various types of foods you may have questions or
Sugar: Most experts now agree that it's OK for people with diabetes
to have a little dessert now and then. Sugar is just another form of
carbohydrate, so you can substitute a sweet for another starch (say, bread or
pasta) in your eating plan. But keep in mind that most sugary foods have lots
of calories, and few of the nutrients your body needs.
Fat: Too much fat is bad for anyone, but especially for people with
diabetes. A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet increases your risk of heart and
artery disease -- and people with diabetes already are more likely to get these
diseases. And, of course, eating too much fat can make you fat. So
choose lean cuts of meat, or fish or skinless poultry. Switch to skim or
low-fat dairy products. Cut out butter, and substitute low-fat margarine or
other seasonings such as broth, herbs, and fruit juices.
Salt: People with diabetes are at higher risk of high blood
pressure, which can be affected by the sodium in your diet. To cut down on
salt, limit packaged convenience foods and fast food, as well as pickles and
salty condiments like mustard. Use herbs, garlic, or fruit juices instead of
Fiber: Fiber is the non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant-based
foods. It keeps you feeling full longer, and may also help lower blood sugar
and blood fat levels. Choose whole grains and cereals, and eat lots of fruits
and veggies, to help you reach a healthy goal of 25 to 35 grams of fiber per
Alcohol: If your doctor approves, you may include small amounts of
alcoholic beverages in your healthy eating plan. (The American Diabetes
Association recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than
one a day for women.) If you do drink alcohol, never have it on an empty
stomach. And remember that alcohol tends to be high in calories and has few
nutrients. Choose light beer or dry wine, and sugar-free mixers.
Artificial sweeteners: Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners have no
calories, don't raise blood-sugar levels, and don't have to be counted as a
starch in your meal plan. But don't overdo it: Many artificially sweetened
foods still have plenty of calories and few vitamins and minerals.
While many, many people are living happily and healthily with type 2
diabetes, change doesn't always come easy at first. Here are a few tips to help
you get -- and stay -- with the program.
Ask for support. Let your friends and relatives know about the
changes you'll be making, and why they're important for your health. Ask them
to help you stick with your plan.
Plan ahead for temptation. If you're going to a party, prepare your
own healthy dish and bring it along. Or, if you're headed to a restaurant,
figure out ahead of time what you'll order and how it fits into your eating
Educate yourself. Learning as much as you can about your condition
will help you make informed decisions about it.
Make changes gradually. For example, if your goal is to eat more
veggies, add one serving at dinner every day. Once you're used to that change,
start sneaking in a second serving at lunch.
Get some exercise. Not only will exercise help control your blood
sugar and boost your health in other ways, it can reduce stress and improve
your outlook. See your doctor about getting started.
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Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
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