DIABETES DIET: Create your healthy-eating plan
Your diabetes diet is simply a healthy-eating plan that will help you control your blood sugar. Here's help getting started, from meal planning to exchange lists and counting carbohydrates.

By Mayo Clinic Staff
A diabetes 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.

PURPOSE

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will likely recommend that you see a dietitian to guide you on dietary changes that can help you control your blood sugar (glucose) level and manage your weight.

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.

For most people with type 2 diabetes, losing pounds also can make it easier to control blood glucose and offers a host of other health benefits. If you need to lose weight, a diabetes diet provides a well-organized, nutritious way to reach your goal safely.

DIET DETAILS

A registered dietitian can help you put together a diet based on your health goals, tastes and lifestyle and can provide valuable information on how to change your eating habits.

RECOMMENDED FOODS
With MNT, quality is much more important than quantity. Make your calories count with these nutritious foods:

Healthy carbohydrates. During digestion, sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood glucose. Focus on the healthiest carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas and lentils) and low-fat dairy products.
Fiber-rich foods. Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Fiber can decrease the risk of heart disease and help control blood sugar levels. Foods high in fiber include vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), whole-wheat flour and wheat bran.
Heart-healthy fish. Eat heart-healthy fish at least twice a week. Fish can be a good alternative to high-fat meats. Cod, tuna and halibut, for example, have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than do meat and poultry. Fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health by lowering blood fats called triglycerides. However, avoid fried fish and fish with high levels of mercury, such as tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel.
'Good' fats. Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — such as avocados, almonds, pecans, walnuts, olives, and canola, olive and peanut oils — can help lower your cholesterol levels. Eat them sparingly, however, as all fats are high in calories.
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 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day.
Sodium. Aim for less than 2,000 mg of sodium a day.
Putting it all together: Creating a 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. But low-index foods aren't necessarily healthier, as foods that are high in fat tend to have lower glycemic index values than do some healthier options.
A sample menu
Your daily meal plan should take into account your size as well as your physical activity level. The following menu is tailored for someone who needs 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day.

Breakfast. Whole-wheat pancakes or waffles, one piece of fruit, 1 cup of low-fat milk.
Lunch. Chicken kabob, 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, 1/2 cup of juice.
Dinner. Pasta primavera prepared with broccoli, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of low-fat milk.
Snacks. Six homemade crispy corn tortilla chips, 1/2 cup fresh vegetables with a seasoned garlic sauce.

   

Learn the ABCs of a Diabetes Diet

The goal of nutrition for people with diabetes is to attain the ABCs of diabetes. The A stands for the A1c or hemoglobin A1c test, which measures average blood sugar over the previous three months. B is for blood pressure, and C is for cholesterol. People with diabetes should attain as near as normal blood sugar control (HbA1c), blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol levels.

Alcohol and Diabetes

Use discretion when drinking alcohol if you have diabetes. Alcohol is processed in the body very similarly to the way fat is processed, and alcohol provides almost as many calories as fat. If you choose to drink alcohol, only drink it occasionally and when your blood sugar level is well-controlled. Remember, most wine and mixed drinks contain sugar. It's a good idea to check with your doctor to ask if drinking alcohol is acceptable.

Diabetes and Glycemic Index

For years, researchers have tried to determine what causes blood sugar levels to soar too high after meals in those with diabetes. Potential culprits have included sugar, carbohydrates, and starches, among other foods. The glycemic index is a ranking that attempts to measure the influence that each particular food has on blood sugar levels. It takes into account the type of carbohydrates in a meal and its effect on blood sugar.

Foods that are low on the glycemic index appear to have less of an impact on blood sugar levels after meals. People who eat a lot of low glycemic index foods tend to have lower total body fat levels. High glycemic index foods generally make blood sugar levels higher. People who eat a lot of high glycemic index foods often have higher levels of body fat, as measured by the body mass index (BMI).

Talk to your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a diabetes educator and ask if the glycemic index might work to help gain better control of your blood sugar levels.

 
 

 

 
 
 
 

The Basics of a Healthy Diabetes Diet: Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no single "diabetes diet." That means that the foods recommended for a diabetes diet to control blood glucose (or blood sugar) are good for those with diabetes -- and everyone else. You and your family can eat the same healthy foods at mealtime.

However, for people with diabetes, the total amounts of carbohydrates consumed each day must be monitored carefully. Of the different components of nutrition -- carbohydrates, fats, and proteins -- carbohydrates have the greatest influence on blood sugar levels. Most people with diabetes also have to monitor total fat consumption and protein intake, too.

To keep your blood sugar levels in check, you need to make healthy food choices, exercise regularly, and take the medicines your health care provider prescribes. A dietitian can provide in-depth nutrition education to help you develop a personalized meal plan that fits your lifestyle and activity level, and meets your medical needs.