Diet: Diabetes

Food is an important tool that you can use to control diabetes and stay healthy. Eating well-balanced meals in the correct amounts will help you control your blood glucose levels and prevent low blood sugar reactions. It will also help you reduce the health risks of diabetes. There is no one specific diet that is right for everyone with diabetes. But there are general guidelines to follow. A registered dietitian (RD) will create a tailored diet approach that’s just right for you. He or she will also help you plan healthy meals and snacks. If you have any questions, call your dietitian for advice.

Guidelines for success

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting a diabetes diet or weight loss program. If you haven't talked with a dietitian yet, ask your provider for a referral. The following guidelines can help you succeed:

  • Select foods from the 6 food groups below. Your dietitian will help you find food choices within each group. He or she will also show you serving sizes and how many servings you can have at each meal.

    • Grains, beans, and starchy vegetables

    • Vegetables

    • Fruit

    • Milk or yogurt

    • Meat, poultry, fish, or tofu

    • Healthy fats

  • Check your blood sugar levels as directed by your provider. Take any medicine as prescribed by your provider.

  • Learn to read food labels and pick the right portion sizes.

  • Limit carbohydrates at each meal to help manage your diabetes. The carbohydrates you eat become glucose in the blood. Talk with your healthcare provider about how many grams of carbohydrates are recommended for you at each meal. Eat 3 meals a day, at consistent times. Don't skip meals. If you are hungry between meals, eat a small, low-carbohydrate snack.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider if you drink alcohol. Alcohol can have unpredictable effects on blood glucose. It's also high in empty calories and can raise a type of blood fat called triglycerides. Drink water or calorie-free diet drinks instead.

  • Eat less fat to help lower your risk of heart disease. Use nonfat or low-fat dairy products and lean meats. Avoid fried foods. Use cooking oils that are unsaturated, such as olive, canola, or peanut oil.

  • Don't eat foods with added salt. Salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which can cause heart disease. People with diabetes already have a risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Stay at a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, cut down on your portion sizes. But don’t skip meals. Exercise is an important part of any weight management program. Talk with your provider about an exercise program that’s right for you.

  • For more information about the best diet plan for you, talk with an RD. To find an RD in your area, contact:

    • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics www.eatright.org

    • American Diabetes Association 800-342-2383 www.diabetes.org

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