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Learning About Diabetes Food Guidelines

Your Care Instructions

Meal planning is important to manage diabetes. It helps keep your blood sugar at a target level (which you set with your doctor). You don't have to eat special foods. You can eat what your family eats, including sweets once in a while. But you do have to pay attention to how often you eat and how much you eat of certain foods.

You may want to work with a dietitian or a certified diabetes educator (CDE) to help you plan meals and snacks. A dietitian or CDE can also help you lose weight if that is one of your goals.

What should you know about eating carbs?

Managing the amount of carbohydrate (carbs) you eat is an important part of healthy meals when you have diabetes. Carbohydrate is found in many foods.

  • Learn which foods have carbs. And learn the amounts of carbs in different foods.
    • Grain products and starches have about 15 grams of carbs in a serving. These include bread, cereal, rice, pasta, beans and legumes, and starchy vegetables. A serving is 1 slice bread (1 oz), 1/4 large bagel, 2/3 cup crispy rice cereal, 3/4 cup cooked wheat cereal, 1/3 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup cooked pasta, 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils, or peas, 1/2 cup cooked corn, or 1/2 cup mashed potatoes.
    • Non-starchy vegetables have 5 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, 1 cup other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw, or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
    • Fruits have 15 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is 1 small apple or medium orange, ½ large banana, ½ cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit, ½ cup apple, grapefruit, orange, or cranberry juice, or 2 tablespoons raisins. Milk and alternatives have 15 grams of carbohydrate in a serving. A serving is 1 cup of milk or ¾ cup of no-sugar-added yogurt.
    • Milk and alternatives have about 15 grams of carbs per serving. A serving size is 1 cup of milk or fortified soy beverage or ¾ cup of no-sugar-added yogurt.
  • Learn how much carbs to eat each day and at each meal. A dietitian or CDE can teach you how to keep track of the amount of carbs you eat. This is called carbohydrate counting.
  • If you are not sure how to count carbohydrate grams, use the plate format (also called the plate method) to plan meals. It is a good, quick way to make sure that you have a balanced meal. It also helps you spread carbs throughout the day. Use a plate that is about 20 centimetres. Depending on how much carbohydrate you are supposed to eat at a meal, follow these guidelines for lunch and dinner:
    • Half the plate is at least two kinds of non-starchy vegetables. Examples are broccoli, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, and salad greens.
    • One-fourth of the plate is grain products and starches. Examples are bread, rolls, rice, crackers, cooked grains, cereal, tortillas, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and winter squash.
    • One-fourth is meat and alternatives. Examples are lean beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, tofu, eggs, beans, and lentils.
    • Add a small piece of fruit. Or choose ½ cup of frozen, cooked, or canned fruit.
    • Enjoy a serving of milk or an alternative. A serving is 1 cup of low-fat or skim milk, ¾ cup no-sugar-added yogurt, or 1 cup of fortified soy beverage.
  • Try to eat about the same amount of carbs at each meal. Do not "save up" your daily allowance of carbs to eat at one meal.
  • Meat and alternatives have very little or no carbs per serving. A serving size of meat is 2.5 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Examples of meat alternatives serving sizes are ¼ cup of cottage cheese, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.

How can you eat out and still eat healthy?

  • Learn to estimate the serving sizes of foods that have carbohydrate. If you measure food at home, it will be easier to estimate the amount in a serving of restaurant food.
  • If the meal you order has too much carbohydrate (such as potatoes, corn, or baked beans), ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or green vegetables.
  • If you use insulin, check your blood sugar before and after eating out to help you plan how much to eat in the future.
  • If you eat more carbohydrate at a meal than you had planned, take a walk or do other exercise. This will help lower your blood sugar.

What else should you know?

  • Limit saturated fat, such as the fat from meat and dairy products. This is a healthy choice because people who have diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease. So choose lean cuts of meat and non-fat or low-fat dairy products. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or shortening when cooking.
  • Don't skip meals. Your blood sugar may drop too low if you skip meals and take insulin or certain medicines for diabetes.
  • Check with your doctor before you drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Alcohol can also cause a bad reaction if you take certain diabetes pills.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.