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The Most Balanced Meal Plans for Diabetes

written by: Tara Kimball • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/3/2011

Eating with diabetes can be an overwhelming task. Meal plans that provide a vitamin-packed low-fat diet with high quality carbohydrates are the best diabetic meal plans. Make your food choices carefully to reduce the risk of dangerous side effects from diabetes.

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    Why Should I Watch What I Eat?

    Managing diabetes properly means eating a healthy diet that is optimized to balance your blood sugar and help you control your body weight. Blood sugar spikes due to poor diet can have a devastating effect on your health, from nerve damage to heart problems. Stick to regular mealtimes and eat consistently throughout the day to help keep your blood sugar level, avoiding unnecessary spikes. With proper planning around the best types of foods to eat, you can get the most nutritional benefit from foods that help regulate your blood sugar.

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    High Quality Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates become sugar when your body breaks them down. That sugar gets passed into your bloodstream, raising your blood glucose levels. Simple sugars and low quality carbohydrates such as white bread, plain white rice and juice break down into sugar rapidly, causing a sudden spike in your blood sugar.

    High quality carbohydrates such as brown rice, vegetables and beans will break down slowly, causing a gradual effect on your blood sugar that reduces the occurrence of sudden spikes. Low-fat dairy products and fresh fruits are another target for high quality carbohydrates.

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    Fiber

    Foods high in fiber help to battle heart disease and stabilize blood sugar. Dietary fiber is the part of your plant foods that cannot be processed by your body, passing through without absorption or digestion. Packing a double health punch, beans and fibrous fruits and vegetables are a great selection to add dietary fiber. Also, select whole grains for the highest fiber content in comparison to the carbohydrate. When you calculate your carbohydrate intake for a meal, subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrates for foods with more than 5 grams of fiber per serving.

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    Fish for Heart Health

    Fish that contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides, which is a common problem among diabetics. Fresh fish such as salmon, cod and tuna are lower in fat and cholesterol than many red meat selections. Get your protein with an added health punch, truly making your calories count.

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    Not All Fat is Bad Fat

    Many nuts as well as produce like avocado contain polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, the least damaging forms of fat. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are excellent substitutions for saturated fats in your cooking and snack foods because they help to reduce high cholesterol, another common struggle for those with diabetes. Consume all of these fats in moderation, though. They are still high in calories and should be accounted for against your daily caloric intake guideline.

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    What Not to Eat

    Reduce your consumption of saturated and trans fats, particularly found in processed foods and full-fat dairy products. Your saturated fat consumption should be less than 7 percent of your daily calorie intake, and trans fats should be eliminated completely.

    Full-fat dairy products and animal fats contain higher amounts of cholesterol than low-fat selections and fish or other lighter proteins. Most dietitians recommend limiting your consumption of additional high-cholesterol foods that will reduce the effects of your cholesterol-reducing diet choices in other areas.

    Sodium intake can increase your blood pressure and put you at risk of heart disease. Reduce your consumption of sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams every day to avoid the detrimental effects of a high-salt diet.

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    Overall Execution

    Plan to eat three meals a day at approximately the same time every day. Between breakfast and lunch, have a 15-gram high-quality carbohydrate snack. Combining protein with your carbohydrate snack will help you feel full and will slow the progression of the sugar impact, keeping your blood sugar more consistent. Repeat this snack process between lunch and dinner, and again before bedtime to stabilize your blood sugar overnight.

    A high-quality carbohydrate combined with protein is essential at night to help keep your blood sugar steady all night. Low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers and a low-carbohydrate vegetable makes an ideal snack.

    Include a healthy protein choice, a variety of vegetables or fruits, and a high-quality whole grain carbohydrate for the best diabetic meal plan. Calculate your carbohydrates in 15-gram servings, and stay within the serving recommendation provided by your doctor or dietitian. If you need to reduce your weight, your doctor will limit your overall calorie intake below the standard 2,000-2,200 per day. Keep your caloric guideline in mind when you create your daily menu.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic: Create Your Healthy-Eating Plan

    Kids Health: Meal Plans and Diabetes

    American Diabetes Association: Diabetes Meal Plans and a Healthy Diet

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