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Eating Right With Diabetes

Medical Information From The Cleveland Clinic

Maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with diabetes. Following the right meal plan can make all the difference to a person struggling to keep their blood sugar under control. But what is the right meal plan? How much of which food group should you eat? Along with a visit to a dietician, this guide should help answer questions you may have.

Understanding Carbohydrates and Fiber

Carbohydrates provide fuel for the body in the form of glucose. Glucose is a sugar that is the primary means of energy for all of the body’s cells. There are two types of carbohydrates — simple and complex.  Simple carbohydrates are sugars — they are found in refined sugar, and in fruits. Complex carbohydrates are the starches — they are found in beans, nuts, vegetables and whole grains. They are considered very healthy mostly because they are digested by the body slowly and provide a steady source of energy. Carbohydrates have the most immediate effect on your blood glucose since carbohydrates are broken down into sugar early during digestion. It is important to eat the suggested amount of carbohydrate at each meal, along with some protein and fat.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in three food groups: fruit; milk and yogurt; and bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables. You will need to consider the total amount of carbohydrates when working out your daily meal plan.

What Is Carbohydrate Counting?

Counting grams of carbohydrate and evenly distributing them at meals will help you control your blood glucose. Carbohydrate counting is a method of meal planning that is a simple way to keep track of the amount of total carbohydrate you eat each day.

Instead of following an exchange list, you monitor how much carbohydrate (sugar and starch) you eat daily. One carbohydrate choice is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate.

With carbohydrate counting, you plan your carbohydrate intake around the amount of insulin that’s available to process it. The insulin can be either injected or naturally produced by your body. If you eat more carbohydrate than your insulin supply can handle, your blood glucose level goes up. If you eat too little carbohydrate, your blood glucose level may fall too low.

A registered dietitian will help you figure out a carbohydrate counting plan that meets your specific needs. For adults, a typical plan generally includes three to four carbohydrate choices at each meal, and one to two carbohydrate choices as snacks. With carbohydrate counting, you can pick almost any food product off the shelf, read the label, and use the information about grams of carbohydrate to fit the food into your meal plan.

Carbohydrate counting is most useful for people who take multiple daily injections of insulin, use the insulin pump or who want more flexibility and variety in their food choices. The amount and type of insulin you are prescribed may affect the flexibility of your meal plan.

Carbohydrate counting may not be for everyone, and the traditional method of following food exchange lists may be used instead.

How Much Fiber Should I Eat?

Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods and it plays an important role in the digestive process. Fiber helps move foods along the digestive tract and adds bulk to stool to speed its passage through the bowel and promote regular bowel movements. Fiber also delays sugar absorption, helping to better control blood glucose levels. In addition, fiber binds with cholesterol and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Lastly, fiber helps prevent constipation and reduces the risk of certain intestinal disorders.

The goal for all Americans is to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. The best way to increase your fiber intake is to eat more of these fiber-rich foods:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked dried beans and peas
  • Whole grain breads, cereals, and crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Bran products
  • Understanding Fat

    Since diabetes raises your risk of developing heart disease, eating foods lower in fat – especially saturated fat – is particularly important to keep that risk as low as possible. In addition, limiting calories from fat will help you lose any extra weight, especially when combined with an exercise program.

    Here are some general guidelines for selecting and preparing low-fat foods:

  • Select lean meats including poultry, fish, and lean red meats. When preparing these foods, don’t fry them. Instead, you can bake, broil, grill, roast, or boil.
  • Select low-fat dairy products such as low-fat cheese, skim milk, and products made from skim milk such as nonfat yogurt, nonfat frozen yogurt, evaporated skim milk, and buttermilk. Remember to include dairy products in your daily carbohydrate count.
  • Use low-fat vegetable cooking spray when preparing foods.
  • Select lower fat margarines, gravies and salad dressings, and remember to watch the carbohydrate count on condiments and dressings.
  • All fruits and vegetables are good low-fat choices. Remember to include fruit and starchy vegetables in your daily carbohydrate count.
  • Your registered dietitian can provide more information on how to prepare and select low-fat foods.

    Understanding Salt

    Having diabetes puts you at greater risk for high blood pressure. High levels of sodium (salt) in your diet can further increase that risk. So your healthcare provider or dietitian may ask you to limit or avoid these high-sodium foods:

  • Salt and seasoned salt (or salt seasonings)
  • Boxed mixes of potatoes, rice, or pasta
  • Canned meats
  • Canned soups and vegetables (with sodium)
  • Cured or processed foods
  • Ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, other spreads, and canned sauces
  • Packaged soups, gravies, or sauces
  • Pickled foods
  • Processed meats: lunch meat, sausage, bacon, and ham
  • Olives
  • Salty snack foods
  • Monosodium glutamate or MSG (often added to Chinese food)
  • Soy and steak sauces
  • Low-Sodium Cooking Tips

  • Use fresh ingredients and/or foods with no salt added.
  • For favorite recipes, you may need to use other ingredients and eliminate or decrease the salt you would normally add. Salt can be removed from any recipe except from those containing yeast.
  • Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.
  • Avoid convenience foods such as canned soups, entrees, and vegetables; pasta and rice mixes; frozen dinners; instant cereal; and pudding, gravy, and sauce mixes.
  • Select frozen entrees that contain 600 milligrams or less of sodium. However,limit yourself to one of these frozen entrees per day. Check the Nutrition Facts label on the package for sodium content.
  • Use fresh, frozen, no-added-salt canned vegetables, or canned vegetables that have been rinsed before they are prepared.
  • Low-sodium canned soups may be used.
  • Avoid mixed seasonings and spice blends that include salt, such as garlic salt.
  • What Seasonings Can Replace Salt?

    Herbs and spices are the answer to improving the natural flavors in food without using salt. Below are some mixtures to use for meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, soups, and salads.

    Spicy Blend
    2 tablespoons dried savory, crumbled
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
    1 tablespoon dry mustard
    1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    2 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/4 teaspoon curry powder

    Saltless Surprise
    2 teaspoons garlic powder
    1 teaspoon basil
    1 teaspoon oregano
    1 teaspoon powdered lemon rind or dehydrated lemon juice

    Herb Seasoning
    2 tablespoons dried dill weed or basil leaves, crumbled
    1 teaspoon celery seed
    2 tablespoons onion powder
    1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
     A pinch of freshly ground pepper

    Spicy Seasoning
    1 teaspoon cloves
    1 teaspoon pepper
    2 teaspoons paprika
    1 teaspoon coriander seed (crushed)
    1 tablespoon rosemary