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Healthy Diet Basics for Diabetes

A diet for diabetes is a healthy diet, controlled in calories, fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and salt. The foods that are good for controlling your blood sugar are good for everyone. Several components of your diet -- including the amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein that you eat -- affect your blood sugar levels. So to keep your blood sugar levels normal, you need to make healthy food choices, eat regularly without skipping meals, exercise regularly, and take the medicines your doctor prescribes.

Eating a properly balanced diet can help people with diabetes:

  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
  • Prevent low blood-glucose reactions
  • Reduce the risk of health problems caused by diabetes, such as heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Control blood sugar levels
  • Control cholesterol levels

A registered dietitian can be helpful in creating an individualized meal plan that works for you. He or she can provide in-depth nutrition education to help you develop a personalized meal plan that fits with your lifestyle and activity level, and medical needs.

General Guidelines for a Diabetes Meal Plan

In general, a healthy diet is good for everyone, so the food choices you should make are those that would benefit everyone, whether or not they have diabetes. For example, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, keep fat and sugar consumption down, and keep portions reasonable. Here are a few additional guidelines to remember:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods. Having a colorful plate is the best way to ensure that you are eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and other forms of protein such as nuts, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains/cereals.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing 5%-10% of your body weight could help improve your diabetes.
  • Choose foods high in fiber such as whole grain breads, fruit, and cereal. You need 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
  • Watch your portions. Eat only the amount of food in your meal plan. Eat about the same amount of food each day.
  • Distribute meals three to five hours apart.
  • Do not skip meals.
  • Eat meals and snacks at regular times every day. If you are taking a diabetes medicine, eat your meals and take your medicine at the same times each day.

Note: If you are taking some of the newer diabetes medicines, some of these tips may not apply to you; ask your health care provider.

A Diabetes Meal Plan and Sugar

You might have heard that, as a diabetic, you shouldn't have any table sugar. While some doctors continue to promote this, many -- realizing that the average person lives in the real world and will probably indulge in a bit of sugar every now and then -- have adopted a more forgiving view. Most experts now say that small amounts of sugar are fine, as long as they are part of your overall healthy meal plan and consumed with other foods. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Read food labels. Learn how to determine how much sugar or carbohydrates are in the foods that you eat.
  • Substitute, don't add. When you eat a sugary food, such as cookies, cakes, or candies, substitute them for another carbohydrate or starch (for example, potatoes) that you would have eaten that day -- unless the sweet treat is included in your meal plan.
  • Sugary foods can be fattening. Many foods, like chocolate, contain a lot of table sugar and tend to be high in calories and fat. If you are watching your weight (and most diabetics must), you need to eat these foods in moderation!
  • Check your blood sugar after eating sugary foods and talk to your doctor about how to adjust your insulin if needed when eating sugars.

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