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How a 'Diabetes Diet' Protects Your Health

Healthy food can help prevent diabetes complications.

Diet Plan Specifics for People With Diabetes

How much should you have of each type of food? The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests that people with diabetes eat mostly high-fiber complex carbs, limit protein to 20% of the total daily calories, and limit saturated fat to less than 7% of calories.

Experts from the Joslin Diabetes Center issued guidelines directed at those with type 2 diabetes who are overweight or obese -- about 80% of those with type 2 diabetes. Those guidelines suggest fewer carbohydrates and a slight boost in protein.

  • About 40% of calories from carbohydrates
  • About 30% from protein
  • About 30% from fat

Fewer carbohydrates and slightly more protein helps people with type 2 diabetes drop unhealthy weight and control their diabetes, says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinic and Program, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston.  

"Any diet for a type 2 diabetic who is overweight should be a weight reduction diet," Hamdy says. Modest losses of a pound every one or two weeks, achieved by reducing daily calories by 250 to 500, is recommended for those who are overweight, he says.

Managing Your Carbohydrates

One goal of healthy eating is to stabilize blood sugar, and that's done by a "consistent carbohydrate" eating plan, says Pupo.

People with diabetes should take in about the same amount of carbohydrates with every meal. Total carbohydrates in your diet should be based on advice from your doctor.

Try to avoid having blood sugars spike up too high or down too low, she says. This happens with diets high in refined carbs or sugary drinks. Having consistent meals throughout the day is one way to manage blood sugar levels.

There are several ways to manage carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate Counting

Write down how many carbs you eat. The ADA suggests you start with 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal. The consult with your doctor, and adjust your carbohydrates per meal based on blood sugar levels and your doctor’s advice.  

To learn carb counting, you can read food labels or get a list from your doctor.

The Plate Method for Carbohydrates

The plate method is a simpler way to count carbs and control portion sizes. You visualize a line dividing your plate in half. Then divide one half into two quarters.

  • Fill the largest section -- half your plate -- with non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, or green beans.
  • Fill one of the two smaller sections -- a quarter of your plate -- with starchy foods such as whole grain breads, potato, or cooked cereal such as cream of wheat.
  • Fill the second smaller section -- a quarter of your plate -- with meat or meat substitutes.

The Link Between Healthful Eating and Fewer Complications

Eating healthfully can help you control blood sugars and reduce the risks of complications of diabetes such as nerve pain (diabetic peripheral neuropathy),heart disease, and foot problems.

"Most complications are related to fat and the amount of fat in the diet," says Hamdy. Any diet that can reduce high cholesterol levels [by reducing fat] is good, he says.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Normal
70-130
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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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