Good nutrition can improve everyone's health, but when you have type 2 diabetes, eating
the right foods is essential. You may worry about what kinds of food
to choose. But once you understand a few basic facts, you will become more
confident in your ability to eat well. Give yourself time to work on your
diet because eating habits DO NOT change overnight.
Here are the basic facts to understand:
- All food that you eat turns to sugar in your body.
- Carbohydrate-containing foods alter your sugar levels more than
any other type of food.
- These carbohydrates are found in starchy or sugary foods, such as bread,
rice, pasta, cereal, potatoes, peas, corn, fruit, fruit juice, milk, yogurt,
cookies, candy, soda, and other sweets.
- High-fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates are digested more slowly and are
- While vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, and spinach, contain carbohydrates,
they add much more to your health than to your sugars. Enjoy lots of them!
- Carbohydrates in food are measured in grams. You can learn to count
the carbohydrates in the foods that you like and that you eat.
Other important factors that impact your health and blood sugars are:
- Controlling your weight
- Eating healthy protein foods
- Including vegetables and fruit every day
- Enjoying the "good" fats
- Choosing carbohydrates wisely
- Determining a meal plan
Let's take these one at a time.
Losing weight and keeping it off
For many people with diabetes, weight loss is the key to getting control
of blood sugar and may eliminate the need for medication. A weight change
of just 5 to 10 % can be enough to control type 2 diabetes. (If you weigh 200
pounds, that's a loss of only 10 to 20 pounds!) You can enjoy looking better,
feeling better, and having more energy -- all while reducing your risks for
Losing weight will help your cells stop ignoring the insulin in your blood
(what we call lowering insulin resistance). To lose weight you need to take
in fewer calories and burn more. When you eat, your body converts calories
into energy. Eating more than your body needs leads to storing the extra energy
as body fat. Eating less will decrease your fat stores.
To estimate how many calories you need in order to lose weight follow, these
- Write what you think is a healthy weight for you on this line:________
- Add a zero to the end of that number.
- If you reduce your usual daily calories to this number, you should begin
to lose weight. (For example, if your desired weight is 130 pounds, your
total calorie intake each day should be no more than 1300.)
You can find calorie information on food labels or
in books designed for this purpose. You may be surprised at how fast calories
add up. You may need to do some measuring of portions to be accurate with your
counting. Pay attention to how much cereal, rice, or pasta you are putting
on your plate. Is it more than you would have guessed?
Eating healthy protein foods
Protein is an important nutrient that builds muscles and bones and gives you
energy. Protein also helps with weight control because it helps you feel full
and satisfied from your meals.
The healthiest proteins are the leanest. This means that they have the least
fat and calories. The best animal protein choices are fish or shellfish, skinless
chicken or turkey, low-fat or fat-free dairy (skim milk, low-fat cheese), and
egg whites or egg substitute. Plant proteins, such as those from beans, nuts,
legumes (lentils or soy foods such as tofu or soymilk) can be as healthy or
healthier. If you eat red meats, choose the leanest cuts (loin and tenderloin).
High-fat proteins like many red meats, fried fish, and cheeses contain more
calories and unhealthy fat. Try to eat these much less often.
If you already show signs of kidney damage, your health care provider will
likely have you restrict protein intake and should teach you how to do so.
Including vegetables and fruit
Vegetables like broccoli, green beans, leafy greens, zucchini, cauliflower,
cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins,
and minerals. Many studies have shown that eating plenty of vegetables is extremely
healthy. Try to eat at least 3 to 5 servings every day. This amounts to roughly
2 cups of vegetables.
Fruit is also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You should try
to eat about 2 to 3 servings of fruit each day. Fruit servings can be tricky.
One fruit serving is equal to: 1 medium apple, pear or orange; 1 small banana;
or 4 ounces of juice. Whole fruits are the best choices because they contain
Enjoying the good fats
Fat is an essential part of your diet. If you have heard that you should eliminate all fat
from your diet, you will be pleased to learn that eating healthy fat can improve
your diabetes control and even help you lose weight. The best way to keep calories
under control while adding the good fats is to remove some of the "empty calorie" foods
like snacks. If you replace some of your simple carbohydrates with these fats,
you may get better blood sugar results. For example, try eating 10 almonds
or walnuts rather than crackers. Or, eliminate croutons and try a few slices
of avocado on your salad instead.
The best choices for fat in your diet are called mono-unsaturated fats and omega-3
Examples of good fats include olive and canola oils, oily fish, walnuts, almonds,
peanut butter, avocado, and olives. An extra benefit is that these foods taste
The fats that you should eat less often are saturated fats (which come
from butter and other full-fat dairy products and meat) and partially hydrogenated
fats (found in many margarine, crackers,chips, cookies, and other
Choosing carbohydrates wisely
All carbohydrates are not equal. The best are high in fiber and provide slow-releasing
energy into your blood. Beans, whole grain bread, oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole-wheat
couscous or pasta, brown rice, and barley are among the best carbohydrate choices
for your diet.
Look for the word "whole" (like "whole wheat") as the first ingredient on
food labels of breads and cereals.
The Glycemic Index can help you choose carbohydrates
wisely. It is a measure of how fast a food raises blood sugar. More research
is needed to evaluate if the glycemic index is a useful tool in controlling
Find a meal plan that works for
A meal plan means that you follow a pattern of eating from day to day. Finding
a routine and being consistent with your food will help you get better control
of your blood sugar levels. A registered dietitian who understands diabetes
can help you set up an eating plan.
Remember to take your time in trying to change your eating patterns. Food
plays so many roles in our lives and we've formed our eating habits over many
years. It may be easier to work on one change at a time. Gradual progress
is often the key to success.
Review Date: 5/1/2006
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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