What is a diabetic diet?
A diabetic diet — medically known as medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for diabetes — simply translates into eating a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes.
Rather than a restrictive diet, a diabetes diet or MNT is a healthy-eating plan that’s naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In fact, a diabetes diet is the best eating plan for most everyone.
How can I improve my diet?
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will likely recommend that you see a dietitian to guide you on dietary changes and MNT that can help you control your blood sugar (glucose) level and manage your weight.
A healthy diet is a way of eating that that reduces risk for complications such as heart disease and stroke. Healthy eating includes eating a wide variety of foods including:
- whole grains
- non-fat dairy products
- lean meats
There is no one perfect food so including a variety of different foods and watching portion sizes is key to a healthy diet. Also, make sure your choices from each food group provide the highest quality nutrients you can find.
When you eat excess calories and fat, your body responds by creating an undesirable rise in blood glucose. If blood glucose isn’t kept in check, it can lead to serious problems, such as a dangerously high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia) and chronic complications, such as nerve, kidney and heart damage.
Making healthy food choices and tracking your eating habits can help you manage your blood glucose level and keep it within a safe range. A good meal plan should fit in with your schedule and eating habits. Some meal planning tools include the plate method, carb counting, and glycemic index. The right meal plan will help you improve your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers and also help keep your weight on track. Whether you need to lose weight or stay where you are, your meal plan can help.
People with diabetes have to take extra care to make sure that their food is balanced with insulin and oral medications, and exercise to help manage their blood glucose levels.
Foods to avoid
Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by accelerating the development of clogged and hardened arteries. Foods containing the following can work against your goal of a heart-healthy diet.
Saturated fats. High-fat dairy products and animal proteins such as beef, hot dogs, sausage and bacon contain saturated fats. Get no more than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat.
Trans fats. These types of fats are found in processed snacks, baked goods, shortening and stick margarines and should be avoided completely.
Cholesterol. Sources of cholesterol include high-fat dairy products and high-fat animal proteins, egg yolks, shellfish, liver, and other organ meats. Aim for no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day.
Sodium. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
Creating your plan
There are a few different approaches to creating a diabetes diet that keeps your blood glucose level within a normal range. With a dietitian’s help, you may find one or a combination of methods that works for you.
Counting carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates break down into glucose, they have the greatest impact on your blood glucose level. It’s important to make sure your timing and amount of carbohydrates are the same each day, especially if you take diabetes medications or insulin. Otherwise, your blood glucose level may fluctuate more.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 system. A dietitian may recommend using the exchange system, which groups foods into categories such as carbohydrates, meats and meat substitutes, and fats.One serving in a group is called an “exchange.” An exchange 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 group. So, for example, you could exchange — or trade — one small apple for 1/3 cup of cooked pasta, for one carbohydrate serving.
Glycemic index. Some people who have diabetes use the glycemic index to select foods, especially carbohydrates. Foods with a high glycemic index are associated with greater increases in blood sugar than are foods with a low glycemic index. Complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber — such as whole-grain rice, bread or cereals — have a lower glycemic index than do simple carbohydrates — white bread or white rice, for example — and usually are preferred to highly processed foods. But low-index foods aren’t necessarily always healthier, as foods that are high in fat tend to have lower glycemic index values than do some healthier options.