Putting it all together: Creating a plan
A few different approaches to creating a diabetes diet are available to help you keep your blood glucose level within a normal range. With a dietitian's help, you may find one or a combination of the following methods works for you:
- The plate method. The American Diabetes Association offers a simple seven-step method of meal planning. In essence, it focuses on eating more vegetables. When preparing your plate, fill one-half of it with nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots and tomatoes. Fill one-quarter with a protein, such as tuna or lean pork. Fill the last quarter with a whole-grain item or starchy food. Add a serving of fruit or dairy and a drink of water or unsweetened tea or coffee.
Counting carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates break down into glucose, they have the greatest impact on your blood glucose level. To help control your blood sugar, eat about the same amount of carbohydrates each day, at regular intervals, especially if you take diabetes medications or insulin.
A dietitian can teach you how to measure food portions and become an educated reader of food labels, paying special attention to serving size and carbohydrate content. If you're taking insulin, he or she can teach you how to count the amount of carbohydrates in each meal or snack and adjust your insulin dose accordingly.
The exchange lists system. A dietitian may recommend using food exchange lists to help you plan meals and snacks. The lists are organized by categories, such as carbohydrates, protein sources and fats.
One serving in a category is called a "choice." A food choice has about the same amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat and calories — and the same effect on your blood glucose — as a serving of every other food in that same category. So, for example, you could choose to eat half of a large ear of corn or 1/3 cup of cooked pasta for one starch choice.
- Glycemic index. Some people who have diabetes use the glycemic index to select foods, especially carbohydrates. This method ranks carbohydrate-containing foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels. Talk with your dietitian about whether this method might work for you.
A sample menu
When planning meals, take into account your size and activity level. The following menu is tailored for someone who needs 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day.
- Breakfast. Whole-wheat bread (1 medium slice) with 2 teaspoons jelly, 1/2 cup shredded wheat cereal with a cup of 1 percent low-fat milk, a piece of fruit, coffee
- Lunch. Cheese and veggie pita, medium apple with 2 tablespoons almond butter, water
- Dinner. Salmon, 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, small baked potato, 1/2 cup carrots, side salad (1 1/2 cups spinach, 1/2 of a tomato, 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar), unsweetened iced tea
- Snack. 2 1/2 cups popcorn or an orange with 1/2 cup 1 percent low-fat cottage cheese
Embracing your healthy-eating plan is the best way to keep your blood glucose level under control and prevent diabetes complications. And if you need to lose weight, you can tailor it to your specific goals.
Aside from managing your diabetes, a diabetes diet offers other benefits, too. Because a diabetes diet recommends generous amounts of fruits, vegetables and fiber, following it is likely to reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. And consuming low-fat dairy products can reduce your risk of low bone mass in the future.
If you have diabetes, it's important that you partner with your doctor and dietitian to create an eating plan that works for you. Use healthy foods, portion control and scheduling to manage your blood glucose level. If you stray from your prescribed diet, you run the risk of fluctuating blood sugar levels and more-serious complications.
March 25, 2017
See more In-depth
- Diabetes meal plans and a healthy diet. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/diabetes-meal-plans-and-a-healthy-diet.html. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.
- Delaying or preventing type 2 diabetes. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/delaying-preventing-type-2-diabetes. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.
- Glycemic index and diabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html. Accessed Aug. 19, 2016.
- Eating fish for heart health. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Eating-Fish-for-Heart-Health_UCM_440433_Article.jsp. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.
- Daly A, et al. Choose your foods: Exchange lists for diabetes. Alexandria, Va.: American Diabetes Association and American Dietetic Association; 2008.
- Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(11):3821.
- Colditz GA. Healthy diet in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.
- When meal planning gets complicated ... A simple solution. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2015-03/when-meal-planning-gets.html. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.
- Bone health for life: Health information basics for you and your family. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/bone_health_for_life.asp. Accessed Aug. 19, 2016.
- Traditional American cuisine: 1,200 calories. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/menus_tac_1200.htm. Accessed Aug. 19, 2016.
- Mozaffarian D. Fish oil and marine omega-3 fatty acids. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 19, 2016.