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 planning!)
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 meals are:
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 they eat.
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 day.
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.