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The Diabetic Diet: Controlled Eating for Diabetes

As the adage goes, “You are what you eat.” And it’s true…

According to the International Diabetes Foundation, up to 80 percent of type II diabetes cases are preventable by adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity.

One of the most important things you can do to improve and prolong your health is maintain a healthy diet. Although this is true for everyone, at any age, it’s more critical once you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

The good news is that modifying your diet to accommodate diabetes doesn’t mean you’ll have to eat much differently than most people without diabetes. In fact, all you’ll need to do is eat a variety of healthy and nutritious foods in moderate amounts, be aware of the food’s effect on your blood sugar, and maintain regular mealtimes – the same things every person should do to stay healthy.

I Have Diabetes. Why is Controlling My Diet so Important?

Your body produces insulin to regulate your blood sugar level and works hard to maintain it within a fairly narrow range. If you have diabetes, your body has difficulty maintaining your blood sugar levels within the normal range – whether the level is too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

This is due to one of two reasons: your pancreas secretes little or no insulin (type I diabetes), or your body produces too little insulin or is resistant to insulin (type II diabetes). When this happens, your blood sugar levels can become too high. This can cause the long term complications often associated with diabetes, such as blindness, nerve damage and kidney damage.

Therefore, anything you can do to help your body maintain a normal blood sugar level is good.

As an example, foods high in carbohydrates generally require more insulin to digest. The more carbohydrates you eat, the greater the impact on your blood sugar. And the higher the blood sugar, the more insulin you need.

Overeating, or eating foods high in carbohydrates, can cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar levels. Since your body already has difficulty producing the necessary insulin, maintaining a normal blood sugar level is easier when you don’t overload your body with too much food, or foods that are more difficult to process, such as those that rank high on the glycemic index.

What’s the Glycemic Index? Why Is It Important to People with Diabetes?

The glycemic index (GI) measures a food’s effect to on your blood sugar (glucose) levels. In a nutshell, it measures the way each food’s carbohydrates are processed by your body.

Foods with a high GI score contain rapidly digested carbohydrates, which promote a rapid rise and fall in your blood glucose level. Foods ranked lower on the glycemic index score contain carbohydrates that are more slowly digested. The result is a gradual and lower rise in your blood glucose level.

As you can imagine, eating foods lower on the gylcemic index makes it easier for your body to maintain a normal blood glucose level. This is because the sugars are processed more slowly, and over a longer period of time, rather than creating a sharp spike that requires large amounts of insulin.

Common Diets for People with Diabetes

In addition to the glycemic index, there are several other methods you can use to choose, measure and monitor your diet. If you aren’t sure where to start, check with a dietician and /or nutritionist, especially one that is familiar with diabetes. You may want to become familiar with all of the resources below, as the additional information will only make it easier for you to best manage your diabetes.

TIP: Measure your food carefully for best results.

  • Food Guide Pyramid – Groups food by protein and carbohydrate content, rather than their classification as a food. For example, cheese is grouped with meat, instead of dairy. To maintain a similar carbohydrate ratio, the portions will also vary.
  • Rating your Plate – A good way to get started. About ½ the food should be non-starchy vegetables, ¼ should be protein, and ¼ should be grains or starches
  • Exchanges Lists – Foods are grouped into basic types (starches, fruits, milks, meats, etc.). You’ll receive a specific number of exchanges per day, and can substitute / trade foods within a group
  • Carbohydrate Counting – Add together the total number of carbohydrates in your meal.
  • A balanced, low carb diabetic diet should help to alleviate some or all of your diabetes symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with diabetes should follow these general guidelines:

    Diabetes and Obesity

    As recommended by the Mayo Clinic.

    Why Do People with Diabetes Have to Eat on a Schedule?

    If you have diabetes, it’s not just about what you eat. When you eat is just as important. Planned, regular mealtimes are important for people with diabetes because it helps you maintain that ever-important blood sugar level.

    Your eating schedule will depend on the type of diabetes you have, your level of activity, any medications you are taking, as well as your typical blood sugar levels before and after you eat.

    Overall, the best thing you can do to control your diet when you have diabetes is work with both your physician and a dietician or nutritionist, especially one that works with diabetes patients on a regular basis. They will be able to educate you further, and work with you to personalize this information, as well as recommendations based upon your special needs and characteristics. Determining your needs is the hardest part…

    Once that’s done, controlling your diet is as easy as following the recommendations: eating healthy, nutritious foods, on a regular schedule – a diet good for everyone, not just people with diabetes. Always be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels as recommended and immediately report any problems to your physician. And if you can include some exercise in your daily routine, this will go even further toward controlling your diabetes.


    American Diabetes Association –
    International Diabetes Foundation –
    Glycemic Index –

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