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Diabetes Diet 101 - What Should I Eat?

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What Should I Eat?

Nutrition and Diet for the Treatment of Diabetes

By Nina Nazor

Nutrition plays a very important role in diabetes prevention and treatment. The main goal of your diet is to help you attain and maintain the best metabolic control.

That means having near-normal values of blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin levels; LDL (good) and HDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels; blood pressure and body weight.

If you have diabetes you should see a dietitian to help you design a meal plan that will allow you to achieve your treatment goals.

A balanced and healthy diet, low in fat, with a low glycemic index, high in fiber and loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals is easy to follow when you know how to make smart choices.

Nutrition and Diabetes

Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals are the nutrients that our bodies need for fuel. Let's see what are the general recommendations for each of these nutrients and some others in the treatment of people with diabetes.


Carbohydrates are the nutrients with the greatest effect on your blood glucose levels.

Quality and Quantity

Both, the quantity and the type of carbs of the food you eat influence your glucose levels after having a meal. There are 2 good tools to control the carbs you eat: they are
the Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Load. Using these tools may give you an additional benefit to control your blood glucose levels.

Carb counting

Monitoring the total grams of carbs you have in each meal is key in achieving good blood glucose control.
Carbohydrate counting is an easy method for calculating the grams of carbohydrates you eat. The Exchange System allows you to trade foods within a group of the same nutritional value without having to do any calculations and it also helps you to keep track of the carbs you eat. To learn how to count carbs easily, take a look at the Carb Counting and Food Exchanges Photo Gallery. Also, learn about a new category of carbohydrate known as "net carbs", which are believed to have none or little impact on blood glucose levels.

How Many Carbs Should You Have Daily?

Restricting total carbs to less than 130 grams per day is not recommended according to the guidelines developed by the American Diabetes Association. Also, the National Academy of Sciences–Food and Nutrition Board recommended that diets provide 45–65% of calories from carbohydrate, with a minimum intake of 130 g carbohydrate/day for adults.

Joslin Diabetes Center released new nutrition guidelines for diabetes in 2005. This new guidelines recommend that 40 percent of total daily calories come from carbohydrates, mainly from fresh vegetables, fruits and beans. There is a lot of controversy about the amount of carbs a person with diabetes should have for achieving the best control. Many folks with diabetes believe in strict carb control.

It is an experiment for every person with diabetes but no matter how many carbs you eat, make sure you have enough vegetables to cover your vitamin and mineral needs.

Sugar and Sweeteners

You can include some sugar in your diet, as long as you count your carbs and keep your blood glucose under control. You can also
safely use sugar substitutes that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Fats have a very important role in our bodies. They are a very concentrated source of energy, help protect our internal organs, help us regulate temperature, aid us in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (like A,D,E and K) and give our bodies essential fatty acids needed to regulate several functions like pain and inflammation processes.

However, there are Good and Bad Fats. Saturated fat should be less than 7% of your total calories and your intake of trans fat should be minimum.

You should pay extra attention to read the Nutrition Facts Labels looking for the content of fat in the processed foods you eat. You must also try to include fatty fish such as salmon or sardines in your diet and use vegetable oils to ensure your body gets essential fats.
Learning to read the Nutrition Facts food labels will provide you with information to make smart choices for weight, blood glucose and cholesterol control.


You should avoid eating too much protein. The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein is between 12-15% of your total daily calorie intake. However, the average protein intake for adults in the USA is between 15% and 20% of energy intake. You should be more careful in case you have signs of kidney disease. Also, always choose lean protein and avoid cooking methods that use too much fat. Read more about how much protein you need.

Vitamins and Minerals

According to the guidelines established by the American Diabetes Association taking vitamin and mineral supplements is not generally advised because of lack of evidence of efficacy and concern related to long-term safety. However, the development of several complications seems to be related to the oxidative stress process caused by high glucose levels.

Unfortunately we don't get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat. Even if we follow a really healthy diet, the soil is depleted from many natural nutrients that will never reach our table. Thus, you have to make sure that you have a very generous portion of vegetables and not-too-sweet fruits every day to provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals it needs or talk with your doctor about taking a supplement.


Fiber is the undigested part of the foods we eat. Fiber helps you feel satisfied and may decrease the absorption of glucose and cholesterol. The recommendation is to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Read some tips on How to Increase your Fiber Intake.


If you drink alcohol, the recommendation is to limit yourself to one drink per day or less for adult women and two drinks per day or less for adult men.

One drink means 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz distilled spirits. If you have diabetes, alcoholic beverages can raise or lower your blood sugar, depending on many factors. Read more about alcohol and diabetes.

Weight Loss

If you are overweigh and have diabetes, you should try to lose some weight. The only strategy that works safely is to make changes in our lifestyle to eat fewer calories, in the form of healthy foods, and exercise most days of the week for at least 45 minutes.

Just by losing 10% of your body weight you can help your diabetes control. Small amounts of weight reduction can decrease the amount of medication you need to keep your blood sugar in the healthy range, and will make you feel and look better.

You can do it! Take a look at the
10 Tips for Weight Loss and the article Medifast: Lose Weight and Control Diabetes

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes–2006. Position Statement. Diabetes Care 29:S4-S42, 2006.