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Published on November 13, 2018

Our Guide to Eating With Diabetes

If you live with diabetes, you know diet and exercise are important for your physical health. In addition to taking your prescribed medications, what you eat, the quantity of food you eat and when you eat play a central role in maintaining healthy glucose levels.

Avoid These Foods

To a large extent, having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to give up all your favorite foods. But, you do have to eat them in smaller portions or at different times of day. Limit these foods if you have diabetes:

  • Fried foods and foods high in saturated fat
  • High-sodium foods (salty foods)
  • Sweets, such as ice cream, candy and baked goods
  • Drinks with added sugars, such as juice or soda

Your doctor can tell you whether its safe to consume alcohol. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to one or two drinks per day. If you’re taking insulin or diabetes medications that increase the amount of insulin your body makes, alcohol can cause your blood glucose level to drop dangerously low. Be sure there is food in your stomach before you consume alcohol to prevent this effect from being even stronger.

Eating Times

Dr. Alfred Okeke, an Endocrinologist at UNC Specialty Care at Goldsboro

Dr. Alfred Okeke, an Endocrinologist at UNC Specialty Care at Goldsboro, says many people with diabetes find eating at the same times each day helpful in managing their blood sugar levels. “Depending on your care plan, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day,” said Dr. Okeke. “But, if you take meal-time insulin, your eating schedule can be more flexible.”

If you take insulin or certain diabetes medicines, skipping a meal can cause your blood glucose level to drop too low. Your doctor can provide guidance on what’s right for you.

Quantity of Food

Eating the recommended amount of food is another way to help manage your blood glucose level, as well as your weight. Your health care team can recommend how much food and how many calories you should eat per day and meal. Use a fitness tracker to find out how many calories are in what you eat, or check the USDA’s Food-A-Pedia.

Meal Planning

One way to plan your meals is to use the plate method. This method shows you how to portion your food groups based on how much of a 9-inch plate each food takes up. For example, you can fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with protein, and a quarter with a starch.

This method eliminates the need to count calories and still lets you eat the recommended portions of each food group. To learn more about the plate method, use the interactive Create Your Plate tool from the American Diabetes Association.

Another method of meal planning involves carbohydrate counting. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, so they affect your blood glucose level more strongly than other types of foods. If you take insulin, counting carbs can also indicate how much insulin you need. Your healthcare team can recommend how many grams you should eat per day. To get started, you can:

  • Learn which foods have carbohydrates.
  • Read nutrition labels, and learn to estimate how many grams of carbs are in the food you eat.
  • Add the grams of carbohydrates from each food to get a total for each meal and day.

You should also plan to limit carbohydrates that have added sugars or those from refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. It’s best to get carbs from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk.

Managing Diabetes with Diet

Wayne UNC Health Care provides a multidisciplinary approach to managing your diabetes. Talk to your primary care physician about coordinating care with Wayne UNC’s Center for Nutrition and Diabetes Health, specialists, such as endocrinologists, eye doctors, kidney specialists, nutritionists and other professionals, as needed.

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