Adopt a Healthy Diet
There is no single "diabetes diet." People with diabetes should eat the same healthy, wholesome foods that everyone else should. A healthy diet for people with diabetes:
- is moderate in complex carbohydrates, such as beans, vegetables and grains
- is low in fat, particularly saturated fat and cholesterol
- has adequate protein, such as meat, poultry, fish and tofu
- is high in fiber, which can be found in fresh vegetables and fruits as well as whole-grain breads and some cereals
- is low in sugary foods and sweets
- includes moderate amounts of alcohol — but only if it does not react with your medication (If you take any medication, check with your doctor before drinking alcohol.)
If you have already been eating healthy, balanced meals — keep it up! If not, changing an unhealthy diet to a healthy one will definitely help your diabetes. In fact, it's almost impossible to maintain healthy blood glucose levels without eating a balanced diet that is low in sweets and fats and high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, with moderate amounts of protein.
What to Eat
It's key that you understand what you need to eat so that you can keep the glucose in your blood as close to a normal level as possible — your health depends on it. It's also important to coordinate your meals with your physical activity and with your diabetes pills or insulin, if you take them.
You need not go it alone when planning your meals. As part of your diabetes management team, a dietitian will work with you to customize a meal plan that fits your food likes and dislikes, eating habits, personal and medical information, as well as your lifestyle.
Different foods affect your blood glucose level differently:
- Some foods cause the blood glucose to rise quickly.
- Others cause the blood glucose to rise more gradually.
- The amount of carbohydrates you eat will have the most impact on your blood glucose levels.
Work closely with your dietitian and your diabetes educator to learn how different foods impact your blood glucose.
When to Eat
When you eat can impact your blood glucose levels. For instance, skipping meals can cause your blood glucose to get too low — a condition called hypoglycemia. This can make you feel weak and shaky and can even make you pass out. Eating makes your blood glucose go up. Eating about the same amount of food at the same times every day can help keep your blood glucose from getting too high or too low. Talk with your doctor and your dietitian or diabetes educator about when you should eat and when you should take your medicine.
In general, follow these guidelines:
- Take your diabetes medicine at about the same time(s) each day. If you take diabetes pills, take them before you eat. If you take regular, NPH or Lente insulin, give yourself an injection 30 minutes before you eat. If you take Humalog insulin lispro or Novolog insulin aspart, give yourself an injection right before you eat.
- Be physically active at about the same time every day.
What you eat and how you prepare food is so routine that sometimes changing your habits may feel quite uncomfortable at first. Think about other times when you had to make adjustments — like having a new addition to your family or getting used to a new job. It's awkward, but you probably feel less stress about the changes if you have a sense of humor and give yourself time to adjust to all the new ways of doing things. When you first start to change what you eat, you might try approaching it with the same patience. It takes practice to develop new eating habits so that you gain skill and confidence about eating the foods that help you manage your blood glucose levels.
Written by Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008