Note: The following guidelines* are presented for informational purposes only. Always consult your doctor before embarking on a new dietary plan.
If you have diabetes (or are trying to prevent it), you’re in luck: Delicious foods and meals can still be part of your everyday life. A nutritionist or diabetes educator can point to resources that can help, including cookbooks for people with diabetes.
It’s best to start by knowing your target blood glucose levels. For most people with diabetes, they will range from 70 to 130 mg/DL before meals, and less than 180 mg/DL after meals. However, it is critical to discuss this with your doctor and ask about the blood glucose levels that are best for you. Remember to measure your blood sugar and take your medication(s) as often as your doctor recommends.
A healthy diet includes a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats. When you have diabetes, you will especially need to watch your carbohydrate intake carefully. Your doctor is the best person to advise you on how many grams of carbohydrates to eat per day. Starches, dairy foods, fruits and vegetables carry more carbohydrates than most other foods, so it will be important to check the carbohydrate levels on those foods.
Learning serving sizes also will help. Here are some examples of “single serving” sizes, developed by the American Diabetes Association:
- Meat, fish, poultry — 3 oz. (about the size of the palm of your hand)
- Cheese — 1 oz. (about the size of your thumb)
- Milk, yogurt, fresh vegetables — 1 cup (about the size of a tennis ball)
- Bread — one slice
- Rice or cooked pasta — ⅓ cup
- Potato or corn — ½ cup
- Dry cereal — ¾ cup
When you first begin your new nutrition plan, you may want to invest in measuring spoons and cups (for both liquid and solid foods). With practice, you’ll develop an “eye” for the right serving size.
The ADA recommends using the “food pyramid” developed by nutritionists as a general guideline for how many servings to eat from each food group. Be careful not to eat too much protein, which can contribute to insulin resistance. Again, ask your doctor for guidance.
At each meal, the ADA recommends the following “Create Your Plate” approach to balance your nutrition:
Using your dinner (or breakfast) plate, draw an imaginary line down the middle of the plate.
- On one side, “cut” the plate again so you will have three total sections on your plate.
- Fill the largest section with non-starchy vegetables such as:
- spinach, carrots, lettuce, greens, cabbage, bok choy
- green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes
- vegetable juice, salsa, onion, cucumber, beets, okra
- mushrooms, peppers, turnip
- In one of the small sections, place starchy foods such as:
- whole-grain breads, such as whole wheat or rye
- whole-grain, high-fiber cereal
- cooked cereal such as oatmeal, grits, hominy or cream of wheat
- rice, pasta, dal, tortillas
- cooked beans and peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas
- potatoes, green peas, corn, lima beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash
- low-fat crackers and snack chips, pretzels, and fat-free popcorn
- On the other small section, place red meat, poultry, fish or meat substitutes. For example:
- chicken or turkey without the skin
- fish such as tuna, salmon, cod or catfish
- other seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab or mussels
- lean cuts of beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
- tofu, eggs or low-fat cheese
- Add an 8 ounce glass of nonfat or low-fat milk. If you don’t drink milk, add another small serving of carbohydrate such as a 6 ounce container of light yogurt or a small roll.
- Add a piece of fruit or a 1/2 cup fruit salad. Examples are fruit that is fresh, frozen or canned in juice or frozen in light syrup.
If you use a plate or bowl for breakfast, keep your portions small. Use half the plate for starchy foods; add fruit in one small part and a meat or meat substitute in the other.
Here are some tips that can help you stay on track with your blood sugar goals. Make sure you have spoken with your doctor before trying any of these strategies. (Source: American Diabetes Association)
- Buy whole grain breads and cereals.
- Eat fewer fried or high-fat, starchy treats, such as potato chips or French fries. Opt for fat-free popcorn, baked potato chips or pretzels instead.
- Instead of regular sour cream, use low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt, or fat-free sour cream.
- If you’re eating a sandwich, use mustard instead of mayonnaise.
- Rather than using butter on bread, rolls or toast, try low-fat or fat-free substitutes, such as low-fat mayonnaise or light margarine.
- Eat cereal with fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Try low-fat or fat-free salad dressing.
- Use spices and herbs.
- Use oil in small amounts, and substitute canola oil, olive oil or soft margarines (liquid or tub types) for fat from meat, butter or shortening.
- Choose pieces of fruit more often than fruit juice. Whole fruit is more filling and has more fiber.
- Buy cuts of meat with little fat on them.
- Eat chicken or turkey without the skin.
- Cook meat and meat substitutes in low-fat ways:
- Cook eggs using cooking spray or a non-stick pan.
- Limit the amount of nuts, peanut butter, and fried foods you eat. They are high in fat.
If you like sweets, it’s important to talk with your doctor about how they may affect your blood sugar. If your doctor says you can eat sweets in moderation, these approaches may help (Source: National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)) :
- Try sugar-free popsicles, diet soda, fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt, or sugar-free hot cocoa mix.
- Share desserts in restaurants.
- Order small or child-size servings of ice cream or frozen yogurt.
- Divide homemade desserts into small servings and wrap each individually. Freeze extra servings.
- Remember that fat-free and low-sugar foods still have calories.