Diabetic Diets 101

Diabetic Diet Foods

On a diabetic diet, you can still eat a wide variety of foods, but you'll have to keep a watchful eye on portions. You'll need to have a scale and measuring cups in your kitchen to make sure serving sizes are accurate.

Obviously, you'll need to read nutrition labels, but what about the foods that don't have them, like a roll from a bakery? You'll need to look up nutrition information for everything that isn't labeled. The American Dietetic Association publishes free online exchange lists to help you do it [source: American Dietetic Association].

Remember that every food, not just carbohydrates, has some impact on your blood sugar. Low-carb, high-fiber foods -- whole grains and vegetables -- are great. You also have so-called free foods, such as bouillon, tea or sugar-free candy, whose caloric load and impact on blood sugar are so low as to be negligible. Free foods don't count as exchanges.

Of course, the opposite of free food is junk food. You'll have to be careful about certain snacks. When your calories are restricted, your first consideration must be how many nutrients you get from a food. Watch out for empty calories -- high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient foods such as chips.

Some favorites are going to take a hit here. Packages of cookies can't be first on the shopping list any more. If you're used to certain processed foods, you might discover that their artificial-sweetener versions taste ... off. You might get used to the artificial-sweetener version, eat the regular version as a very occasional treat, or find a healthier snack.

Don't forget that a diet isn't limited to things you chew. Soda and juices are often high in sugar. Some kinds of alcohol contain carbohydrates, and all of them contain calories. You'll need to be careful about your alcohol intake anyway -- diabetic bodies tend to be sensitive to alcohol. Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men, one a day for women [source: Norman].

It's all very well to plan a diet, but sticking to it is another matter altogether. On the next page, we'll look at some tips for making a diabetic diet successful.