Contrary to common expectation, people diagnosed with diabetes can enjoy the same tasty, healthy, “normal” foods we all eat. The key to eating healthfully and managing your blood sugar levels is balance. All foods can be part of a healthy, diabetes-friendly diet, so long as you eat a proportioned, varied range of foods overall, and spread them out throughout your day to give your body a consistent source of healthy fuel.
Exchanging less-healthy for more-healthy
Ideally, a person who is newly diagnosed with diabetes will visit their Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), typically a dietitian or nurse, to learn about an eating plan called diabetes exchanges. The diabetic exchange system assigns foods into a variety of categories, such as starches, carbohydrates, vegetables, fats, and proteins. Your CDE then teaches you how common foods fit into the different categories. You’ll learn how many of each of these categories you should eat each day to best manage your blood sugar levels. Then you get to decide how you want to spread out those exchanges throughout your typical day.
Diabetes-friendly to meet your needs
When you can, you should always do your best to use the diabetes exchange system to manage your food choices. But when real life throws a curveball and you’re forced to pull together a quick meal or snack without the time to sort through the exchanges—fear not! You can assume 2,200 calories as the amount that a moderately active, average adult eats on a typical day, and divided these calories into carbohydrate, protein, and fat, as follows:
50 to 55% from carbohydrates
15 to 20% from protein
No more than 30% from fat
Since most people don’t think in percentages, you can roughly translate them into these approximate amounts each day:
275 to 300 grams of carbohydrate
83 to 110 gram of protein
No more than 73 gram of fat
Diabetes-friendly recipes should also meet basic guidelines for good health in terms of the amount of sodium, fiber, and saturated fat:
No more than 2,300 mg (2.3 g) of sodium per day
At least 21 to 38 grams of fiber each day; the more total calories you eat, the more fiber you need
No more than 7% of total calories, or about 17 grams, of saturated fat per day
Finally, divide these basic daily goals into three meals and two to three snacks per day.
Tools you can use for real life
In addition to using these formulas, you can keep the following tips in mind to help you make the best, healthiest, tastiest food choices you can—choices that may help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels and your good health!
For many people, having about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate at meals is about right
If you want dessert, cut back on other carbohydrate-rich foods, such as pasta and bread, at the same meal
Fiber is not digested and absorbed like starches and sugars are; fiber can slow the conversion of simple carbohydrates from food you eat into blood sugar; for this reason, the fiber grams are subtracted from the total carbohydrate grams in determining the carbohydrates contained in each meal and snack
The more of your carbohydrates you can eat as fiber-rich complex carbs, such as vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and whole grains, the better
Diabetes does not mean diet
Now that you understand a bit about how to eat healthfully to best manage diabetes, you can be comfortable knowing that the phrase “diabetes diet” has nothing to do with a lifetime of deprivation and special diet foods. Eating well with diabetes means eating what you love and balancing it with what you need.
October 7, 2010
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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