Diabetes is a complex disease with a variety of factors that can impact blood sugar levels. This is why it’s important to follow the recommended dietary guidelines and consult with a registered dietitian for individualized recommendations.
A well-planned diet for diabetes includes whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. It also emphasizes portion control, carbohydrate monitoring, and regular meal timing.
A meal plan is a guide for when, what and how much to eat to get the nutrients you need and keep your blood sugar level, also known as glucose, within target. A good meal plan will consider your goals, tastes, lifestyle and any diabetes medicines you might be taking.
A meal plan should include healthy foods such as lean proteins, nonstarchy vegetables and whole grains. You should also limit saturated fats such as chicken skin and fatty meats, and avoid added sugar and beverages such as pop, juice and coffee with added sugar. Various methods for planning meals are available, such as the plate method or carbohydrate counting, but check with your health care team about which one might work best for you.
Counting carbohydrates is one of the tools people with diabetes use to manage blood sugar levels. It requires you to carefully calculate the number of carbs in each meal and snack.
Carbohydrate counting helps you learn how to balance insulin with food and exercise, so that you can lose weight and maintain your health. It can help prevent sudden spikes in your blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing long-term complications from diabetes.
Start by reading food labels and learning how to estimate portion sizes. It’s also helpful to have handy tools like a kitchen scale and measuring cups and spoons. Also, consider signing up for a monthly diabetic education workshop at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Institute. Ask your care team or dietitian for a referral.
For people with diabetes, meal timing is key. Having consistent meals at regular times can help manage blood sugar levels, as can eating the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal and snack.
Eating a balanced diet with protein-rich foods, high-fibre starches, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats can help keep blood glucose levels in the target range. It’s also important to coordinate meal and medication schedules, if you take insulin or other diabetes medicines.
Your meal schedule may be influenced by cultural, family and weather patterns. However, it’s usually best to aim for three meals and two snacks each day. Aim to eat every four hours with a balanced meal that includes carbs, proteins, fats and fiber. This will help you feel full and satisfied longer.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to have variety in your meals. This includes different foods, textures and flavours, as well as different colours, nutrients and ingredients.
Our research suggests that meal variety can help increase dietary compliance with a health diet. Specifically, we found that as within-meal food variety increases, judgements of expected satiation and perceived volume converge, suggesting a potential role for a ‘volume heuristic’ in promoting increased calorie intake with food variety.
Carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels, but you can control the amount of carbohydrates you eat by monitoring portion size. Aim for a variety of healthy carbohydrates, including low glycaemic index foods like whole grains and starchy vegetables, low fat dairy products and some fruits. You may also want to watch your sodium intake as some foods can be high in salt.
Exercise makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which helps lower blood sugar levels. It also promotes healthy weight and can reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
To get the most benefit from your exercise routine, speak with an exercise physiologist to develop a personalised exercise plan. They can advise you on a safe amount of physical activity to engage in and how often. Always drink water before, during and after exercising to stay hydrated.
Be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet indicating you have diabetes and carry hard candy or glucose tablets with you during physical activities in case your blood sugar level falls low (hypoglycemia). Also, try to avoid stress, which can raise your blood sugar. You can do this by learning relaxation techniques, prioritising tasks and setting limits.