The USDA created a new meal planning tool called choosemyplate.gov that talks about how the general public should plan their menu and eat a healthier diet. The plate design includes fruits, grains, dairy, proteins and vegetables as part of the healthy diet. People who are diabetics can follow this advice with some simple changes to make it more specific to their needs. Changes involving types of foods and portions will be the most important ones to consider.
As a diabetic, you should be concerned with all the areas of the my plate diagram. Sometimes diabetics can concern themselves too much with one or the other of the groups and a healthy plate includes all different food groups. Protein, carbohydrate and fats are important because they provide nutrients that your body needs to grow and maintain health.
Carbohydrate is something that most diabetics are aware of. Carbohydrates are made of complex, simple and fibrous starches. Simple starches, such as sugars, can provide a lot of calories without a lot of nutrition. Dietary fiber adds no substantial calories but provides superb benefits such as helping to lower cholesterol and digest food more slowly (thereby absorbing your other simple and complex carbohydrates more evenly and balancing your blood sugars). The more dietary fiber you eat, the better! Complex carbohydrates are foods such as pastas and whole grains that are absorbed slower than simple sugars but still can increase your blood sugars over time.
On the my plate diagram, carbohydrates are found in the fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains areas. That is nearly all of them, which is why a diabetic should be concerned with portion size, while still trying to make a balanced diet. As a diabetic you have to consider the total amount of carbohydrate and not just the group. Depending on your allowed calories and carbohydrate amounts, you may have a slightly different plate.
When you eat fruit, you get fiber + simple carbohydrates + vitamins such as C & B which help with healing and energy. When you drink fruit juice, you only get simple sugars. So, as a diabetic you should choose whole fruits and canned fruits that are in their own juice (not syrup). Usually, a portion consists of enough of the food item to receive 15 gm of carbohydrate from eating it. So a small fruit or 1 cup of strawberries or 1/4 cup dried fruit makes a portion. You should read the labels on the food items if they come in a can or bag and pay attention to the Total Carbohydrate portion of the label to determine how much is one serving. You can drink 4 ounces of juice or eat one whole fruit – I think you know which one will make you feel fuller and the one with fiber will be absorbed at a slower rate and not cause as large a spike in your blood sugar.
Vegetables are divided into two groups for diabetics – starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables are those such as potatoes, corn, peas and beans. Those foods contain more carbohydrate per portion than a regular vegetable, and usually less fiber (except beans). They can contain about 15 gm per 1/3 cup of each food cooked. While they provide nutrients and some fiber, as a diabetic you should make sure you consider the amount of carbohydrate in the total you consume for the meal. You may want to consider them as part of the “grains” group since they contain similar nutrients and amounts of carbohydrates.
Non-starchy vegetables are those that are green, orange, red and yellow such as carrots, asparagus and broccoli. These food items have less than 5 gm of carbohydrate per serving and usually have 2-3 gm of fiber per serving. This makes them excellent sources of foods that are filling on a plate with vitamins and minerals – such as iron and vitamins A & E but have little calories. They are nutrient dense and filling – making them an easy addition to your plate without needing to be concerned about the amount of carbohydrate they contain. Eating 1/2 cup of a non-starchy or 1 cup of salad is something that will add nutrition and fullness to the meal you are eating. Just be careful of what you add to them in the form of fats such as butter and creams. Diabetics should eat 4-5 servings per day of non-starchy vegetables for a healthier diet. Add a portion of non-starchy vegetables to your plate when you are still hungry and you will have a filling meal.
Eating grains as part of your diet is very important. They typically contain both dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates that make a healthy diet plan which will add fullness and slow the absorption of the carbohydrates they contain. Grains can be oats, rice (choose brown and long grain), whole grain pasta and bran cereals. Serving sizes are about 1/2 cup of cooked grains that are equal to 15 gm of carbohydrate. When you eat these items, they count as part of your allowed amounts of carbohydrate for the meal but they also add B & E Vitamins which give energy and work as anti-oxidants in your body.
Eating more whole grains and higher fiber foods are a vital part of maintaining your blood sugars and balancing your diet. When you eat fiber, it is not absorbed as part of the meal but remains in your digestive tract and slows the absorption of your other foods as well. This is a good thing when it comes to absorbing complex nutrients such as carbohydrates because the slower you absorb them the better your body can respond with insulin – instead of spikes which cause you to store glucose as fat instead of using it to fuel your body. So, eating whole grains in the correct portions and amounts means you can better manage your appetite and blood sugars.
Dairy, while it contains carbohydrate, also contains fat and protein plus some minerals such as calcium. One serving of dairy – about 8 ounces – has the standard 12-15 gm of carbohydrate but the amount of fat depends on the type of dairy that you choose. Choose more low fat and skim dairy products to avoid adding extra calories. Eating 1 or more servings of dairy daily is a healthy choice and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
When you eat low fat yogurt or skim milk or cottage cheese you are adding nutrition in the form of protein and carbohydrate but not fat. Believe me, we get enough fat in our regular lives, you don’t need to add to needlessly. There are some forms of skim milk now that are made to taste like 2% milk without the added fat, so you can reap the benefits of dairy without the need for extra calories.
Eating protein is part of life, and it is part of many of the foods we eat. But how much is the right amount? A person should choose to eat about 3 ounces of meat at a meal. This looks similar to a deck of cards as far as visual portions. It may seem small at first, but when you fill your plate with the rest of the items such as grains, vegetables and fruits you have a very full plate and a very filling meal. Meat includes some fats and depending on the cut of meat, it can be a very lean or a very fatty meal. Choosing to trim meats and cooking them using leaner techniques such as grilling or broiling makes them healthy choices. Fish can contain good amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids which are heart healthy and should be eaten 2-3 times per week to receive the benefits of the fatty acids. Chicken without skin and leaner cuts of meat trimmed of fats fits into a diabetic diet quite well.
When you eat protein, you give your body nutrients it needs such as zinc and B12 as well as protein to build tissue. Too much protein is potentially bad for your kidneys if you are diabetic and have some beginnings of kidney problems it is wise to try to limit your protein to about 4-5 ounces per day. But in general, even if you are healthy, you should only eat about 3-6 ounces protein per day.
An Overall Plan
Eat more seafood, whole grains, low fat dairy, healthy oils (mono unsaturated), fruits and vegetables (high fiber items) and lean proteins. Try to eat less salt, saturated fats, solid/trans fats and refined grains.
While I have not discussed fats as part of this plan, I tried to highlight the areas where you can get added fats in your diet. As a diabetic, it is important to get some fats. Trying to eat more poly and mono unsaturated fats is important, such as those found in olive and canola oils. When you cook for yourself using a meal plan, you can control the amounts and portions that you consume which leads to a better controlled diet.
Diabetics should work hard to manage the amount of each type of nutrient they eat to keep their blood glucose under control and reduce their risk for complications. Meal planning does not have to be hard, though. Click on our diets to learn more about what we offer – meal plans with recipes, nutritional information and guidelines to help you – for 1400, 1800 or 2200 calorie diets.