Diabetes: The Basics – Healthy Eating
Diabetes and Food
Knowing how to eat right will help you keep your blood sugar normal and control your diabetes.
Four (4) Steps to Healthy Eating for Controlling Diabetes
- Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
Having a regular pattern makes diabetes easier to control. Try to eat at about the same time every day. Try to eat about the same amount of food at each meal.
- Do not skip meals
Eating some food every 4 to 6 hours will help keep your blood sugar normal. Even if you are not hungry, eat a small amount of food to keep your blood sugar normal.
- Drink sugar free or diet beverages
Regular soda pop, fruit punch and powdered drink mixes have a lot of sugar in them. Too much sugar can make your blood sugar go too high and make your diabetes hard to control.
- Learn about carbohydrates Not enough carbohydrate could lead to low blood sugar. Too much carbohydrate could lead to high blood sugar.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, or “carbs,” are sugars and starches.
Foods containing sugar include:
Fruit and fruit juice, milk, sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, cookies, cake, pie, candy, donuts, regular soda pop, sugar-sweetened coffee and tea, jams and jellies, ice cream, sugar-sweetened cereals
Foods containing starches include:
Bread, unsweetened hot or cold cereal, crackers, pasta, rice, other grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, dried beans, peas, corn, lima beans
Why are carbohydrates important?
When you eat carbohydrates, they turn into glucose. Glucose is also called “sugar,” and is your body's main source of energy. Just as a car needs gas, your body needs glucose to work well.
It is important to eat some carbohydrates, but too much, or the wrong kind of carbohydrate will make your diabetes hard to control.
Choose these carbohydrates more often: whole wheat breads and buns, unsweetened cereals, brown rice, pasta and noodles, potatoes, fruit, sweet potatoes (without added sugar)
Choose these carbohydrates less often: jams and jellies, sugar-sweetened cereals, cake, cookies, donuts, pies, honey, sugar, maple syrup
Who can give me more information about food?
A registered dietitian (die-a-tish-an) can help you learn more about diabetes and food. When you talk to the dietitian, ask these questions:
- How much carbohydrate do I need at each meal?
- Are there other things I need to pay attention to (fat, sodium, calories)?
Rate Your Plate
Planning meals when you have diabetes does not need to be difficult. Two plates with a dinner are described below. Which one sounds like your dinner plate?
The first plate has a large serving of spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce, with grated cheese sprinkled on top. The spaghetti covers the plate, and is piled up to about 2-3 inches.
The second plate is not entirely filled. Ithas a chicken leg and thigh covering about 1/3 of the plate, a serving of potatoes covering about ¼ of the plate, and some broccoli and salad covering about 1/3 of the plate.
Does your plate look like the second one? If not, consider a few of the following changes:
- Plan around plants. Your meals should be mostly plant-based. Grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits should make up at least 2/3 of your plate, leaving 1/3 or less for meat or low-fat dairy.
- Cut out extra fat. Trimming visible fat off meat and removing skin from poultry before cooking can cut the fat content of the meat in half. Use sauces, gravies and dressings in moderation—they're often loaded with fat and calories.
- Pay attention to portions. Most Americans eat much more than their bodies actually need. Do you know how much a serving is? Here is a simple way to estimate:
- Starches: a slice of bread the size of a CD case, or 1/2 cup of pasta or cooked cereal the size of a tennis ball, or 1 cup of unsweetened breakfast cereal.
- Vegetables: 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables like 4 large leaves of lettuce, or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables the size of a light bulb.
- Fruit: 1 medium piece of fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball, or 1/2 cup fruit salad or canned fruit the same size.
- Meat or other protein: 2-3 ounces of cooked meat the size of a deck of playing cards, or 2-3 slices of lowfat cheese, or 1/2 cup cooked dry beans the size of a light bulb.
- Milk: 1 cup milk or yogurt
- Fat: 1 teaspoon, about the size of the tip of your thumb.
- Sweets: 1 cookie 2 inches across.
- Think about your drink. Water is always a great choice, but if you want variety choose sparkling water, diet soda, or unsweetened or diet iced tea. If you drink fruit juice limit your daily intake to 1/2 cup of 100% juice. Avoid regular soda pop, fruit drinks, punch and powdered drink mixes that are sweetened with sugar.
How Much Should I Eat?
The amount of food you should eat each day depends on many things: your sex, your age, your weight and how physically active you are. A visit with a registered dietitian (RD) is the best way to find out how much and what kind of foods you should be eating. A dietitian can to work out a meal plan with you that meets your diabetes needs and includes your personal and cultural likes and dislikes.
How do I get started?
Until you are able to make an appointment with a dietitian, use these guidelines to get you started:
First, you need to know how much food is in a serving size for each food group.
- For grains, beans, and starchy vegetables 1 serving is one slice of bread the size of a CD case, or about 1/2 cup of most starchy foods. This is the size of a tennis ball.
- For fruit, 1 serving is 1 small piece of fresh fruit the size of a light bulb, or about 1/2 cup.
- For milk, 1 serving is 1 measuring cup fill of lowfat milk, plain yogurt, or diet flavored yogurt.
- For meat or other protein, 1 serving is 1 ounce of meat, fish or cheese. This is the size of a slice of lunchmeat or cheese, or 1 egg. Three (3)ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
- For oil, 1 serving is 1 teaspoon of oil.
- For low-calorie vegetables, 1 serving is 1 cup of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables. Although these do contain some calories, they are so low in calories that many people can treat them as “free foods.” If you need to fill up on something, choose low-calories vegetables.
For more information about food groups and portion sizes, refer to the recording in this series, “Meal Planning with the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid.”
About 2,000 calories a day is a good amount for a medium-framed woman with moderate activity, or a medium-framed man who has a low level of activity. Assume that you eat 3 meals a day, and that you eat about the same amount of food at each of these meals. To get about 2,000 calories a day, each meal should have:
- 2 servings of grain
- 1 serving of fruit
- 1 serving of milk
- 2 ounces of meat or protein
- 2 teaspoons of oil
- 1 serving of vegetable (This is not necessary at breakfast.)
If you are smaller or less active, you need a little less than this. You could eat 1 less serving of grain and fruit, and 1 less ounce of meat at one meal each day. Leave the other meals the same.
If you are larger or more active, you need a little more than this. You could eat 1 more serving of grain and fruit each day, and 1 more ounce of meat at one meal each day. Leave the other meals the same.
Meal Planning with the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid
Your food choices make a difference in your diabetes control. The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid gives you an idea of how to plan your meals based on the food groups. It was created as a visual way of showing what foods you should eat a lot of, and what foods you should eat less of. Here is a description of what it looks like:
- This pyramid is a tall triangle, divided by lines that run from the base to the tip of the triangle.
- These lines form tall, thin triangles inside the larger pyramid.
- These tall thin triangles inside the pyramid show how much of each food you should eat.
- The largest two sections stand for vegetables and starches.
- The next largest section stands for low-fat dairy foods.
- The sections standing for fruit and lean meats are smaller, and the section standing for oils is very small.
People with diabetes need to pay special attention to carbohydrate foods, which are the foods that raise blood sugar. On the pyramid, carbohydrate foods can be found in the grains/beans/starchy vegetables, fruits, and milk groups. Foods in the vegetable group also contain a small amount of carbohydrate.
Eating a variety of foods from each group is recommended for your health.
Here is a list of the 6 food groups on the diabetes food guide pyramid. For each food group, the list tells you how much carbohydrate is in a serving , and what the serving sizes are for some of the most common foods that are in that group. For most people, you can eat more than one serving in each meal. The serving sizes give you an idea of how to measure your food.
Grains, beans, and starchy vegetables:
1 serving = 15 grams carbohydrate
1 serving can be any of these: 1 slice bread, 1/2 small bagel or English muffin, 1/2 cup cooked cereal or pasta, 1/3 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup mashed potatoes, 1 cup cold cereal, 1 pancake (4-1/2 inches), 3 cups plain popped popcorn, 1 tortilla (6 inches), 1/2 cup corn, peas, or lima beans.
Choose whole grains for more fiber and better nutrition.
1 serving = 15 grams carbohydrate
1 serving can be any one of these: 1 small fresh fruit such as apple, peach, plum, or pear; ½ medium banana; 1 cup of berries such as strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries; 1/2 cup canned fruit (canned in fruit juice), 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit.
Choose a variety of fresh fruit for more fiber.
1 serving = 5 grams carbohydrate
1 serving can be any one of these: 1 cup raw vegetables such as celery, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, zucchini, or salad greens; 1/2 cup cooked vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, cooked greens; 1/2 cup tomato or vegetable juice
Choose dark green, yellow, or orange vegetables for the most vitamins.
1 serving = 12 grams carbohydrate
1 serving can be any of these: 1 cup milk, 1 cup unsweetened yogurt, 1 cup diet yogurt with fruit
Always choose low-fat or nonfat milk products instead of full-fat products.
Meat, cheese, fish, and other protein foods
1 serving = 0 grams of carbohydrate
1 serving can be any of these: 1 ounce cooked lean meat, fish or poultry, 1 slice of lunch meat, 1 slice of cheese, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
Choose lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish, and low-fat cheeses.
1 serving = 0 grams of carbohydrate
1 serving can be any of these: 1 teaspoon of canola, olive, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, corn, or sunflower oil.
Choose oils that are liquid at room temperature. The type of fats found in most oils can help lower “bad” cholesterol levels.