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Eating healthy is not always easy, especially if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. Eating healthy and exercising are a very important part of managing your diabetes. There needs to be a balance.

By Laurie Dell'Aquila, RN, CDE

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, there are some dietary options for you to consider. Those options are utilizing the exchange system, counting carbohydrates, and eating balanced meals by applying the plate method.

A person with Type 1 diabetes can adjust their insulin to the carbohydrate content of the meal and/or snack. This method allows for flexibility for meal planning. With the technology today such as pump therapy or different insulin, the patient can personalize their diabetes management. It is important to learn how your body reacts to carbohydrates, exercise and other factors such as stress.

A person with type 2 diabetes is often dealing with insulin resistance, so it is important to get the fat out of the muscle. The individual with Type 2 diabetes is often overweight or carries their weight in the abdomen. It is important to focus on changing lifestyle, which is not always easy, but start gradually.

If an individual is overweight, losing 7 to 10 percent of their body weight will make a difference. If a person is not physically active and starts exercising or makes their exercise routine more consistent, it will make a big difference in managing the diabetes and making the individual feel more in control.

Diabetes requires the person who has it to take charge of this condition. That is why it important to work as a team to help manage the diabetes. The team includes the patient, physician, certified diabetes nurse educator and dietitian.

It is very helpful to work with a Certified Diabetes Nurse Educator and a dietitian, who also may be a Certified Diabetes Educator. The team will help you to get started and stay motivated to continue your lifestyle changes over your lifetime.


Here are some of the general guidelines:

  • Fat

Reduce the amount of dietary fat. The current American Diabetes Association guidelines advise that less than 7 percent of calories should come from saturated fat. These are the fats that raise LDL - bad - cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol should be less than 200 mg per day. Additionally, intake of trans-unsaturated fats should be minimized. These are better known as partially hydrogenated oils. Reducing fat intake may help contribute to modest weight loss.

Limiting the fat in your diet can also help prevent a spike in blood sugars and blood pressure. An excessive amount of fat prevents insulin from working efficiently and contributes to high blood sugars.

  • Protein

Keep protein intake in the range of 15 to 20 percent of total calories. Choices that are low in fat are recommended. A portion of poultry, fish or lean meat is about the size of the palm of your hand.

Choose lean protein foods that have no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce, like skinless white meat chicken or dry beans. Your entrée should consist of raw, steamed or grilled vegetables. 

  • Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are energy source foods, which raise your blood glucose. Carbohydrate choices should come from whole-grain breads or cereals, pasta, brown rice, beans, starchy vegetables, fruits and milk products.

Learning to read labels for total carbohydrate content rather than sugar provides the best information for blood sugar control. Carbohydrates differ in their calorie content, and thus affect weight and blood glucose control.

  • Sugars

While it is commonly believed that people with diabetes should avoid sweets, research has shown that foods that contain sugar do not make the blood sugar rise higher than meals with equal carbohydrate levels that don't contain sugar.

But not so fast with that gooey-double-fudge chocolate cake. Consider this: just a slice of white cake with chocolate icing will give you about 300 calories, 45 grams of carbs and 12 grams of fat. That's three starch servings and more than two fat servings.

Before indulging in that guilty pleasure, ask yourself if this will fit into your meal plan, or if you will still be hungry after spending these calories. Perhaps there are other choices you could make that would satisfy your craving without the added sugar and fat.

  • Fiber

High-fiber foods, such as wholegrain bread and cereal, can help decrease cholesterol and delay the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which helps prevent a sharp spike in blood sugars. Increasing dietary fiber is a general guideline for the entire population rather than specifically for people with diabetes.

To be successful with lifestyle changes, you must be committed to the program that you choose. It is very important to work with the team to help you stay motivated. Diabetes can be managed - you want to control the diabetes versus letting the diabetes control you.

Make an appointment to see a certified diabetes educator or registered dietician if you have not already done so. If you have visited them in the past, you may need to see them again, as studies show that an individual with diabetes does better if they see the diabetes team on a regular basis.

Laurie Dell'Aquila is the Supervisor of Nutritional Services and the Diabetes Program at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.​