Food and Diabetes

Contrary to popular belief, having diabetes doesn't mean that you have to eat special foods and follow a complicated diabetes diet plan. For most people, having diabetes simply translates into eating a variety in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes.

This means choosing a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Rather than a restrictive diabetes diet, it's a healthy-eating plan that's naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. In fact, it's the best eating plan for anyone who wants to manage his or her weight and adopt healthier eating habits.

Counting Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate counting can be a helpful meal-planning tool, especially if you take diabetes medications or insulin. Eating the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal or snack will keep your blood sugar from going too high or too low throughout the day. If you're taking insulin, your diabetes educator can teach you how to count the amount of carbohydrates in each meal or snack and adjust your insulin dose accordingly.

The amount of protein or fat in the meal or snack generally isn't a factor when determining the insulin dose. However, that doesn't mean that you can go overboard on low-carbohydrate foods or those that don't contain carbohydrates, such as meat and fats. Remember, too many calories and too much fat and cholesterol over the long term may lead to weight gain, heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

Some people who have diabetes use the glycemic index to select what they eat — especially carbohydrates. Those with high glycemic index are associated with greater increases in blood sugar than are those with a low glycemic index. But low-index ones aren't necessarily healthier. Those that are high in fat tend to have lower glycemic index values than do some healthy foods. If you're counting carbohydrates, work with your dietitian to learn how to do it properly to meet your specific needs.

Using Exchange Lists

Your dietitian may recommend using the exchange system, which groups foods into categories — such as starches, fruits, 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 sugar — as a serving of every other in the same group. So you can exchange — or trade — half of a medium baked potato (3 ounces) for 1/3 cup of baked beans or 1/2 cup of corn because they're all one starch serving.

Your dietitian can help you use an exchange list to figure out your daily meal plan. He or she will recommend a certain number of servings from each group based on your individual needs.

Food and Diabetes

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