A diabetic meal plan can help regulate blood sugar levels because it can help you plan out your meals ahead of time and stick to a regular eating schedule, which reduces the risk of blood sugar spikes.
Small, but frequent meals and snacks as well as keeping an eye on carb intake are the key parts of this plan.
Keep in mind: Everyone’s personal dietary needs differ depending on height, weight, and activity level and major changes to your diet should be discussed with your physician.
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People with diabetes have a hard time processing sugar (or glucose) in their body due to lack of or difficulty using the hormone insulin (what turns glucose into energy): This can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels – 600 mg/dL or more (which is considered a medical emergency).
This is why it’s so important for individuals with diabetes to pay attention to their food and beverage choices, as they have a direct effect on the body’s blood sugar levels. Following a diabetic meal plan is one way to do this.
“Meal planning takes the temptation out of convenience foods and pre-packaged meals, which are some of your problematic culprits here,” says John Fawkes, NSCA, and editor of the wellness resource, The Unwinder. “Pre-packaged foods are more likely to contain hidden sugars, sugar alcohols, and refined carbs stripped of their fiber. That’s what’ll spike your blood sugar.”
High blood sugar levels can lead to eye damage or diabetic retinopathy, kidney failure, diabetic coma, increased risk of stroke, heart attack, nerve damage, urinary tract infections, or death. Seizures and confusion may occur if your blood sugar level is too low – 70 mg/dl or fewer.
Here are a few tips on how to set up a diabetic meal plan that works for you. Below you’ll find a seven-day example to kickstart your journey.
Note: This meal plan, based on 1,500 calories per day, should be adjusted to reflect your gender, age, weight, and activity levels. Consult your doctor before you begin cutting foods from your diet, as doing so could be potentially dangerous.
Seven-day diabetic meal plan
Managing diabetes with a healthy meal plan means eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one-to-two snacks per day and around the same time each day.
“Eating meals and snacks on time is essential for all, but it’s especially essential for people with diabetes,” says Sharon Priya Banta, MS, RD, CDN with MiraBurst. “This helps to ensure that their blood sugar doesn’t spike. People with diabetes should not skip meals as this causes a drop in blood sugar and binging later in the day, which may lead to unhealthy food choices.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Diabetes Association, a person with diabetes should aim to get around 45% of their daily calories from carbs. This roughly works out to include up to three-to-four servings of carbohydrates per meal, plus up to one serving of carbohydrates for snacks.
“As long as the kidneys are healthy, 10-35% of your total daily calories should come from healthy sources of protein; steamed, baked or grilled, not fried,” Banta adds.
What is a good meal plan for people with diabetes?
A healthy meal for a person with diabetes will include a generous serving of fresh non-starchy veggies, a moderate portion of carbs, and a healthy protein source. Banta has provided a seven-day meal plan below that caters to the dietary needs of those with diabetes.
Total for the day: ~1,526 calories
Total for the day: ~1,591 calories
Breakfast: One-half cup of a non-sugary cereal, one cup fat-free or 2% milk, and one cup raspberries, string cheese (~376 calories)
Lunch: Plain Greek yogurt, 6 oz., one cup blueberries, and seven whole-wheat crackers (~322 calories)
Snack: Twenty seedless grapes, two slices of muenster cheese, and 13 almonds (~374 calories)
Dinner: One cup cooked pasta with ½ cup no-sugar-added spaghetti sauce from a jar, a side of cooked broccoli, and a tossed salad with lite dressing (~423 calories)
Total for the day: ~1,500 calories
Breakfast: One packet of instant plain oatmeal, and ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce, hard-boiled egg (~295 calories)
Lunch: One cup reduced-sodium vegetable soup, seven whole-wheat crackers, tuna fish (with mayonnaise, red onions, and relish) on romaine lettuce (~500 calories)
Snack: Seven whole wheat crackers with hummus (~237 calories)
Dinner: Three ounces of chicken, packaged salad, and ½ cup beans, three whole-wheat crackers, and one banana (~493 calories)
Total for the day: ~1,525 calories
Total for the day: ~1,519 calories
Total for the day: ~1,504 calories
Total for the day: ~1,537 calories
Depending on the medicines or type of insulin you take, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day. Based on the CDC recommendations, a person with diabetes should have approximately 200 grams of carbs per day. The American Diabetes Association says that the amount of carbs you consume per meal should take up about a quarter of your plate.
According to Fawkes, deciphering “good carbs” (i.e. fiber-rich carb options such as almonds, flax seeds, etc.) from “bad carbs” (white bread, processed rice, other bakery items) is the hardest part. “Carbs really get demonized when you’re diagnosed with diabetes,” says Fawkes. “But it’s really all about eating the right types of carbs. These are not off the table in a healthy, balanced diabetic diet.”
There are two types of carbohydrates:
Simple carbohydrates (soda, cookies, cakes, candy, etc.): The body generally digests simple carbs very quickly which can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels that can reduce satiety, trigger hunger pains sooner, and potentially lead to overeating.
Complex carbohydrates (fruit, legumes, whole wheat bread, quinoa, etc.): Complex carbs often contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber which slows digestion and reduces the risk of a blood sugar spike.
For example, if you were to scarf down two pieces of pizza and a Twinkie (both of which have a high glycemic index), you’d probably feel hungry again within an hour.
To better understand how certain foods may affect your blood sugar levels, here’s a link to an abbreviated chart of the glycemic index for more than 60 common foods courtesy of Harvard Health. Glycemic index is a value that’s assigned to food based on how quickly or slowly it will increase your blood sugar.
Meal planning isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can help you take control of your blood sugar levels – whether you decide to stay in or go out.
According to Banta, the easiest way to stick to a diabetic meal plan is to cook at home and educate yourself.
“Cooking at home allows for greater control of ingredients and portion sizes,” says Banta. “Unless the individual has been advised by a registered dietitian on how to ‘portion size carbohydrates,’ then in that case, with that nutrition education, eating out is OK as well.”
If you’re still having trouble deciding on which menu item to choose when you’re out and about, Banta recommends using the “My Plate Method.”
“First, fill up your plate with many (unlimited) non-starchy veggies such as broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, brussels sprouts,” says Banta. “Second, select healthy sources of protein (not fried) such as fish, deli meats, low-fat yogurts and milk, nuts and legumes, and lastly, select a healthy carb source such as whole wheat bread, pasta, quinoa, or sweet potato.”
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