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What is a Healthy Diabetic Diet?
The ideal diabetic diet is one which includes a wide variety of foods that can help lose extra weight, reduce or control blood sugar levels, reduce high cholesterol and prevent the complications of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. To achieve these one may need to use meal planning tools which include the plate method, carb counting and glycemic index.
A healthy diabetic diet should include the following foods:
- Non-starchy vegetables - spinach, carrots, lettuce, greens, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes
- Starchy vegetables - cooked beans and peas, potatoes, green peas, corn, lima beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash
- Whole grains - whole wheat or rye, cereal, oatmeal, grits, hominy, cream of wheat
- Non-fat dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt
- Lean meats - beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
- Poultry - chicken or turkey without the skin
- Fish - tuna, salmon, cod, catfish
- Other seafood - shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, mussels
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Using a Diabetes Menu Plan
To create a diabetes menu planner one must be familiar with principles like controlling portion size, counting calories, counting carbohydrates and glycemic index of foods. A registered dietitian’s advice may be helpful.
When one prefers to control portion sizes rather than count carbohydrates, one can use the plate method of creating a meal. In this method one makes imaginary divisions (like a pizza) on his/her plate and from healthy food choices, fills up these subdivisions to create a meal. For example, on a plate, one should fill:
- Two parts with non-starchy vegetables
- One part with starchy food such as potatoes or bread
- One part with a protein source, such as meat, fish or seafood
- One part with low fat milk or yogurt
- One part with a fruit or juice
Another way of making a diabetes menu plan is to use the carb counting method. By knowing the amount of carb to eat, figure out the portion size to match. One serving of carbohydrates is approximately 15 grams and ideally, one should consume about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate at a meal, depending on an individual’s energy needs and blood sugar level control. To do this, one must know that there are about 15 grams of carb in each of these examples:
- One small piece of fresh fruit
- Half cup of canned or frozen fruit
- One slice of bread
- Half cup of oatmeal
- One-third cup of pasta or rice
- Four to six crackers
- Half an English muffin or hamburger bun
- Half cup of black beans or starchy vegetable
- One-fourth of a large baked potato
- Two-thirds cup of plain fat-free yogurt
- 2 small cookies
Aside from these one must always include a source of protein and fat to balance the meal. Trans fats and saturated fats must be avoided and sodium content reduced.
Another way of planning a diabetic diet is by focusing on the glycemic index of foods. The glycemic index, or GI, measures how a particular food raises blood glucose level. These foods are ranked according to how they raised blood glucose compared to a reference food like bread. Therefore in planning meals one must choose foods with a low or medium GI index. These are usually foods that are high in fiber content such as dried beans and legumes, non-starchy vegetables and some starchy vegetables, most fruit, and many whole grain breads and cereals like barley, whole wheat bread, rye bread and all-bran cereal. Eating these carbohydrates must be balanced with fat and protein sources like meat and dairy products.
In general, there is not one ideal type of meal plan or diet program that works for everyone with diabetes. It is important to keep in mind that carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels and one must plan meals, buy products and prepare foods in such a way that there is a balance in nutrients and control of calories. These plus proper medications and exercise will prevent complications such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension and high cholesterol.