Diabetic Diets 101

Diabetic Diet Plans

Like most diet plans, diabetic diets rely on caloric restriction. The number of daily calories varies based on several factors, including goal weight, activity level, type of diabetes and gender.

A Type I diet is based on body weight: roughly 16 calories per pound of body weight (35 cal/kilogram) [source: Norman]. So someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) would be on a diet of roughly 2,400 calories per day.

For someone with Type II diabetes, the daily calorie load is typically lower. The issue isn't just sugar -- it's the excess calories that are contributing to being overweight. An endocrinologist will determine a goal weight based on the patient's height. The calorie load will then be determined based on the specific ideal body weight, probably somewhere in the range of 1,500 to 1,800 calories. Here's a rough way to calculate the goal weight:

  • For a woman, start at 100 pounds (45.4 kg). Then add 5 pounds (2.3 kg) for every inch (2.54 cm) over 5 feet (1.52 meters). If she has a large frame, add 10 percent of the total.
  • For a man, start at 106 pounds (48.1 kg). Add 6 pounds (2.72 kg) for every inch over 5 feet. If he has a small frame, subtract 10 percent of the total [source: Norman].

Once you know how many calories you're consuming, there's the question of what those calories come from. For the moment, forget what you know about the food pyramid. For our purposes, what matters is any food that the body converts to glucose, or blood sugar. To a diabetic, all those foods are carbohydrates. They include sugar, obviously, but also fruit, bread, soda, milk and yogurt.

Carbohydrates should make up 40 to 60 percent of daily calories. The remainder should come from meats and fats. There are four calories to each gram of carbohydrates, so on the Type I diet above, the patient would consume 240 to 360 grams of carbohydrates (representing 960 to 1,440 calories) per day [source: Norman].

To simplify these calculations, many diabetics count exchanges, or groups of 15 grams. You might have seen this terminology on a nutrition label: "Each serving contains 2 carbohydrate exchanges." That means the food in question has about 30 grams of carbs. The Type I diet above permits 16 to 24 exchanges in a day.

But what can you actually eat? On the next page, we'll find out.