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How a 'Diabetes Diet' Protects Your Health

Healthy food can help prevent diabetes complications.
WebMD Feature

If you have diabetes, a healthy diet does more than keep your blood sugar under better control. A good diabetes diet can also help prevent or delay the onset of complications such as nerve pain or heart disease.

Although some people talk about a "diabetes diet," there's really no such thing, experts say. The same healthy diet recommended for those without diabetes will help you if you have diabetes, too. You may need to then tailor the meal plan to your specific needs, such as lowering your cholesterol. But the general concepts of healthy eating are the same for you as for someone without diabetes.

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Here, what you need to know about eating to feel better now -- and for years to come.

The Diabetes Diet Myth

"The diet that used to be termed a diabetes diet is now considered just a healthy diet for all Americans based on the healthy guidelines from the Department of Agriculture," says Ruth S. Pupo, RD, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the East Los Angeles Center for Diabetes at White Memorial Medical Center.

One slight difference when she counsels those with diabetes: "We might encourage them to be more cautious with concentrated sugars like juices, candy, cake," she says.

Diet plans for people with type 2 diabetes are also more individualized than in the past. Such diet plans follow good nutrition, but also take into account the individual's specific dietary needs, says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center, in Baltimore.

One person with diabetes may need to lower cholesterol. Another may need to lower high blood pressure.

"One diet [plan] is not going to work for everyone," she says.

Yet, all are based on the same general concepts proven effective for improving blood sugars and controlling diabetes. Eat a diet that is:

  • Lower in calories
  • Higher in complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grain cereals
  • Lower in saturated fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meat
  • Higher in mono and polyunsaturated fat like olive oil or canola oil

Although experts disagree somewhat on the "ideal" meal plan details, they agree that spreading your carbohydrates over the day, or counting them carefully, are good ways to maintain blood glucose control.

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