Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat: Diabetes Meal Planning

Updated on April 5, 2018
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie Hicks has been a type 1 diabetic for 15 years. She manages the disease with an insulin pump, doctor visits, diet, and exercise.

Healthy vegetables are one of the best foods for a diabetic to eat
Healthy vegetables are one of the best foods for a diabetic to eat | Source

What Are the Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat?

Believe it or not, a healthy diet for a diabetic is very similar to any other healthy diet.

I have been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. Over the past decade, I have experienced the direct effect of ingesting an excess of processed foods, not enough fresh fruits and vegetables, and restaurant meals that are too large, too fatty, and too salty. Because my body does not make any insulin on its own, I am dependent on insulin injections administered in an amount tailored to the food I eat. It was very eye-opening to see the dramatic rise in blood sugar levels from certain food items!

With my diagnosis, I had little choice but to improve my diet so that my blood glucose levels could remain in a consistent, healthy range. Along the way, I've learned that potato chips, french fries, pizza, ice cream, white bread, rice, pasta, and crackers are not anyone's friend—let alone a diabetic!

A diabetes-friendly diet should include:

  1. Drinking lots of water (or other unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage)
  2. Fresh fruits and vegetables
  3. Lean meats (if not vegetarian)
  4. Low-fat dairy (if not vegetarian)
  5. Legumes
  6. Bread, cereal, or pasta that are high in fiber and minimally processed

Blood glucose levels can be partly controlled by good meal planning.
Blood glucose levels can be partly controlled by good meal planning. | Source

Diabetics Don't Need to Cut Out All Carbohydrates

A common mistake that newly diagnosed diabetics make is believing that they cannot eat any carbohydrates. Unless your doctor advises you to do so, you will want to have at least 15-20% (ideally 40%) of your daily caloric intake to be from carbohydrates.

The trick is to incorporate complex carbohydrates into your diet rather than simple carbs.

Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into glucose that is carried in the bloodstream for use as the body's energy. Because glucose is the most readily available fuel and is required for your body to work, no one can survive on a carb-free diet.

As with any healthy diet, the keys are moderation and balance. Fast-acting, simple carbohydrates like sucrose are commonly found in syrups and refined white flour (e.g. bread, crackers, pasta). These are digested quickly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar followed by a crash soon after.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are commonly found in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain bread, cereals, and pasta—all of which have high fiber content. These dietary selections—particularly when combined with protein—can help keep your blood glucose at a more stable, manageable level.

Over time, you will be healthier—and feel healthier!

Fresh Foods Are Best for a Diabetic

Believe me, I love to snack as much as the next person. However, as a diabetic, the problem is that I often feel horrible several hours later. Since my diagnosis, I have learned to enjoy simple, fresh foods as much as I used to love the "convenient" alternatives.

Green, red, or purple grapes are delicious. Just about any type of berry that is in-season can make a perfect snack. Sliced carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower are among the many veggies that taste amazing raw or dipped in low-fat dressing.

The great thing about fresh fruits and vegetables is that they have both water and fiber. These elements help you feel fuller faster. In addition, because they are high in fiber, they have less of a tendency to spike blood sugar levels.

When it comes to meal planning, fresh protein sources are superior to pre-packaged alternatives. Although they are convenient, avoid frozen meals, boxed meals, and most canned alternatives, unless you have prepared them yourself.

I have learned that fresh foods, used in my own recipes, are far superior to pre-packaged meals and ingredients. It's so good to know that you don't have artificial colors, seasonings, and preservatives. We are natural beings that will respond best to natural food!

More importantly, it is easier to count carbohydrates and calories when you make your own meal. Every time I go out to eat, I usually estimate that these values will be at least 1/3 higher than I would estimate if making the dish at home.

Fresh fruits can satisfy a sweet tooth without spiking blood glucose levels.
Fresh fruits can satisfy a sweet tooth without spiking blood glucose levels. | Source

Meal Planning

Diabetics should consult a doctor and a nutritionist to develop a tailored meal plan that will best help you manage your condition.

Forming a Diabetic Meal Plan

Get Advice From Professionals

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you will probably be advised to meet with both an endocrinologist and a nutritionist.

I spent several days working with a nutritionist, learning all about how to measure and estimate portion sizes, count carbohydrates, and factor in the positive impact of fiber and the negative impact of fat on my diet. Some medical centers offer multi-day seminars on nutrition for diabetics.

The good news is that you may not be told that you can't eat certain foods. You will learn what to expect as a result of enjoying sugary, high-carbohydrate, and/or high-fat selections in moderation. You can even occasionally enjoy your favorite foods or dishes by testing your blood glucose frequently. Continually monitoring your sugar levels allows you to make necessary adjustments to your insulin medication and activity level.

Your doctor and nutritionist can provide valuable guidance regarding diet that you simply cannot get from a book or an article like this one.

A nutritionist is most valuable when there are other complexities that need to be factored in. If you are very active (i.e. construction worker or athlete) or if you have food allergies or sensitivities, a chronic condition such as celiac disease or Chron's disease, or religious/cultural restrictions on diet, a specialist can develop a balanced, healthy meal plan for your specific situation—something that may be too complicated for you to plan out on your own.

Testing supplies for a diabetic
Testing supplies for a diabetic | Source

Test Your Blood Glucose Levels Frequently

The best way to figure out your diabetes meal planning is to test your own blood glucose often.

I have noticed that I react differently to the "average" population when I eat certain healthy, prepackaged foods. Protein bars that say they have 22 grams of carbs usually require me to take at least 1/3 more insulin than another comparable meal.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to diabetes, you really have to determine which foods work best for you. Some people may not be as greatly affected by simple carbohydrates, while others see an immediate spike in blood sugar.

The best way to determine a sound diabetes meal plan is to test your blood glucose before you eat and two hours after every meal.

  • A level between 80-120 is in a normal range and should be recorded. If your level is lower than 80, it means that you need more carbohydrates.
  • If your level is higher than 120, it means that you need to either reduce the number of carbs or increase your insulin.

Again, be sure to talk to your medical professionals. They will be able to factor in your medical condition, activity level, and dietary restrictions when determining the best diet for you.

What are the best foods for a diabetic to eat?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Stephanie Hicks

    Comments

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      • Butch45 profile image

        Butch45 

        4 months ago

        I am doing a plant based whole food diet 8 months now and have not felt this good in a long time.

      • profile image

        Jessica 

        5 months ago

        I'm always looking for different ways to keep my sugar lower but some food keep it high and I don't even eat that much.

      • profile image

        LuAnn Meyer 

        12 months ago

        Very helpful information. Thank you!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thank you Bill! I was just thinking this morning about a few more hubs I will write on diabetes. Best to you and your friends. Thank you for the comment and shares! Cheers, Steph

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        5 years ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Steph. You are our HubPages authority when it comes to diabetes. This is all very helpful info. I have a few friends with diabetes and I will forward this on to them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on this topic. Great job, Bill.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Derdriu,

        I agree! Carrots (and other root vegetables) are higher in carbs, but with their fiber and water content, they're a super addition to a diabetic diet, or anyone interested in eating well. Best to you, Stephanie

      • profile image

        Derdriu 

        5 years ago

        Steph, One of my favorites is my family's carrot soup recipe. It's my understanding that unlike most fresh fruits and vegetables, carrots find their nutritional value enhanced by proper cooking. Do you know if this is a fact or a -- ;-] -- non-fact?

        Respectfully, and with many thanks and all the votes, Derdriu

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks everyone! A good diet can help people that suffer from diabetes (both forms), as well as those that are seeking to avoid the disease. Best, Steph

      • profile image

        conrado fontanilla 

        5 years ago

        This Hub is similar to my Hub "Foods Diabetic Type 2 To Eat And To Avoid" on fresh foods. I emphasize on causes of diabetes that are free radicals and x-rays , the latter are obtained from tobacco. Voted useful and interesting.

      • Lightshare profile image

        Lightshare 

        5 years ago

        Thanks Steph for a valuable information -)

      • mperrottet profile image

        Margaret Perrottet 

        5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        My husband struggles with keeping his diabetes under control, but has found that if he does what you say, and limits his carbs to complex carbs he has good results. Good hub with lots of useful information!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Jeffrey - I will message you with the links. Best, Stephanie

        p.s. I also have a few hubs on solar panels

      • Jeffrey Sherknus profile image

        Jeffrey Sherknus 

        5 years ago from Venice, Florida

        Stephanine, I read your profile and it said you done some blogging on solar panels. Can you point me to some of your blogs. I am in FL and I am going to try to install a 3KW solar array.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks Jennzie -great idea to change your diet now. Best to you, Steph

      • jennzie profile image

        Jenn 

        5 years ago from Pennsylvania

        Type 2 Diabetes runs in my family, so I should probably start following this advice before I get it next. Informative hub- voted up and useful.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thank you teaches and Carol - there is nothing like suffering from an endocrinologic disease like diabetes to show you - in black and white - what eating unhealthy foods are doing to you. Raw fruits and veggies, and other minimally processed foods are an excellent way for diabetics and others to stay healthy! All the best, Steph

      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 

        5 years ago from Arizona

        You did a great job on this hub with explanations of healthy eating. As we all know what is good for type two diabetics is good for the general population. If we all ate this we we would erradicate many healthy concerns. I hope many read this. I am voting up and sharing. Excellent.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        5 years ago

        Great hub, Steph. I have family members with diabetes and I know how important it is to keep up on eating the right foods. In order to keep myself from going there, I eat lots of natural foods - raw veggies & fruits, whole grains and organic when possible. Voted way up!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hello Faith Reaper,

        Yes, my friends are in awe when I avoid fries, chips and rice, but they understand that its necessary for my health. A diabetic diet is probably healthy for just about any person (of course, check with a doctor). The emphasis on fresh, unprocessed, low-fat foods is key! All the best, Steph

      • Faith Reaper profile image

        Faith Reaper 

        5 years ago from southern USA

        Excellent hub, Steph! I keep telling my husband that we should go on a diabetics diet, even though we are not diabetics, as it is just as you say, a healthy diet, and I think we all should take to heart. Very insightful and well-written hub here. In His Love, Faith Reaper

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Kelley,

        Love when you comment positively on my diabetes hubs! I really trust your judgment. Natural foods are the most predictable as far as impact on blood glucose, and are healthy, high in vitamins, fiber, etc. If everyone followed a diabetic diet, we'd have a much healthier population! Best to you, Steph

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks Bill - it's a good topic for me. I know a ton about it, and these hubs usually climb pretty high in score because diabetes information is searched for often. :) Best, Steph

      • profile image

        kelleyward 

        5 years ago

        Fantastic hub Steph! As I type 1 diabetic I agree that it's best just to stick with foods in their most natural forms. I hate having to deal with too high or too low blood sugar, it can be a major distraction to the day. Take care, Kelley

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I hope these are doing well on views and the search engines because they are very useful and important information for diabetics. Great job Steph!

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