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The Basics of a Healthy Diabetes Diet

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Diabetes Diet Myths

Before you start a diabetes diet, get the facts. So many people believe that having diabetes means you must avoid sugar and carbohydrates at all costs, load up on protein, and prepare "special" diabetic meals apart from the family's meals. Wrong! Most people with diabetes can continue to enjoy their favorite foods, including desserts, as long as they monitor the calories, carbs, and other key dietary components and keep a regular check on their blood glucose levels.

Get the facts and start enjoying the foods you love on a diabetes diet.

What Is the TLC Diet for Diabetes?

People with diabetes who have abnormal cholesterol levels will likely be placed on a diet known as a "TLC" diet. The TLC diet will help reduce the intake of cholesterol-raising nutrients. As part of this diet, you may be asked to lose weight and increase physical activity levels. Looking at food labels will help you become more knowledgeable about your intake of fats and cholesterol.

Specifically, the TLC diet calls for the following:

  • Total fat consumption should be 25%-35% or less of total calories eaten per day.
  • Saturated fats should be less than 7% of total calories eaten in a day.
  • Polyunsaturated fats (from liquid vegetable oils and margarines low in trans fats) should be up to 10% of the total calories per day consumed.
  • Monounsaturated fats (derived from vegetable sources like plant oils and nuts) should be up to 20% of total calories per day eaten.
  • Carbohydrates should be 50%-60% of total calories per day eaten.
  • Fiber consumption should be 20-30 grams per day. These can be derived from oats, barley, psyllium, and beans.
  • The amounts of protein in the diet should equal about 15%-20% of total calories eaten per day.
  • Cholesterol content of the diet should be less than 200 milligrams per day.

How Much Fat Is Acceptable on a Diabetes Diet?

People with diabetes have higher than normal risk for heart disease, stroke, and disease of the small blood vessels in the body. Controlling blood pressure and limiting the amount of fats in the diet will help reduce the risk of these complications.

Limiting the amounts of saturated fats, increasing the amount of regular exercise, and receiving medical treatment can lower LDL (''bad'') cholesterol. Repeated medical studies have shown that these steps can reduce the risk of heart disease and death from heart attack in people with diabetes.

Artificial Sweeteners and Diabetes

Artificial sweeteners can be added to a variety of foods and beverages without adding more carbohydrates to your diabetes diet. Using non-caloric artificial sweeteners instead of sugar also greatly reduces calories in your favorite foods.

Keep in mind that foods with artificial sweeteners are not necessarily zero-carbohydrate foods. Many have carbohydrates; therefore, you must read the food labels to determine their gram amounts per serving  in order to take into account the effect that these carbohydrates have on your glycemic control. 

As long as you are aware of the content of carbohydrates, you can adjust your meal or medication to maintain blood sugar control. "Sugar free" means no sugar has been added, but you must remember these foods still contain carbohydrates, which do affect your blood sugars.

Examples of artificial sweeteners you can use include:

  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame-k
  • Saccharine
  • Sucralose
  • Other non-nutritive sweeteners

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid saccharine, and people who suffer from phenylketonuria should not use aspartame. People with phenylketonuria are unable to metabolize phenylalanine, an amino acid that's a common part of many proteins.

Some artificial sweeteners -- such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol -- have some calories and do slightly increase blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association cautions that eating too much of any artificial sweetener can cause gas and diarrhea.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD on July 17, 2012
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Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Normal
70-130
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If the level is below 70 and 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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