Our Guide to Eating With Diabetes
If you live with diabetes, you know how important diet and exercise can be for your physical health. Following a healthy diabetic meal plan can help keep your blood sugar level in an ideal range. Along with prescribed medications from your physician, what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat are very important for maintaining healthy glucose levels.
Foods to Avoid
For the most part, having diabetes doesn’t mean you need to give up your favorite foods. However, you may have to eat them in smaller portions or at different times of day. The following foods should be limited if you have diabetes:
Fried foods and foods high in saturated fat
High-sodium foods (salty foods)
Sweets, such as ice cream, candy and baked goods
Drinks with added sugars, such as juice or soda
Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to consume alcohol. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to no no more than one or two drinks per day. If you’re taking insulin or diabetes medications that increase the amount of insulin your body makes, alcohol can cause your blood glucose level to drop dangerously low. Be sure there is food in your stomach before you consume alcohol to prevent this effect from being even stronger.
When to Eat
Dr. Thomas Campbell, physician at CHI St. Joseph Health Primary Care University Drive, says, “Many people with diabetes find eating at the same times each day helps them manage their blood sugar level.” Depending on the care plan you’ve developed with your doctor, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day. However, if you take “mealtime” insulin, your eating schedule can be more flexible.
Using insulin or certain diabetes medicines and then skipping a meal can cause your blood glucose level to drop too low. Talk with your doctor for more details about what’s right for you.
How Much to Eat
Eating the recommended amount of food is another way to help manage your blood glucose level, as well as your weight. Your healthcare team can recommend how much food and how many calories you should eat per day and meal. Use a fitness tracker to find out how many calories are in what you eat, or check the USDA’s Food-A-Pedia.
One way to plan your meals is to use the plate method. This method shows you how to portion your food groups based on how much of a 9-inch plate each food takes up. For example, you can fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with protein, and a quarter with a starch. This method eliminates the need to count calories and still lets you eat the recommended portions of each food group. To learn more about the plate method, use the interactive Create Your Plate tool from the American Diabetes Association.
Another method of meal planning involves carbohydrate counting. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, so they affect your blood glucose level more strongly than other types of foods. If you take insulin, counting carbs can also indicate how much insulin you need. Your healthcare team can recommend how many grams you should eat per day. To get started, you can:
Learn which foods have carbohydrates.
Read nutrition labels, and learn to estimate how many grams of carbs are in the food you eat.
Add the grams of carbohydrates from each food to get a total for each meal and day.
You should also plan to limit carbohydrates that have added sugars or those from refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. It’s best to get carbs from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk.
Managing Diabetes With Diet
Because it is a chronic disease, it’s essential to use a multidisciplinary approach to manage your diabetes. Talk to your primary care physician about coordinating care with specialists such as endocrinologists, eye doctors, kidney specialists, nutritionists and other professionals. Together, your treatment team specializes in you. Their recommendations can help you develop a diabetic meal plan that’s right for your needs.
At CHI St. Joseph Health, we know the importance of patient education and managed care when dealing with all types of diabetes. Our free Living Well with Diabetes classes provide information about how to live your best life while taking control of your symptoms. Find a primary care physician to help you manage your condition.