Meal plans should be individually tailored to meet the unique needs of each patient. Meal plans are individualized, but nearly all recommendations follow a few common threads. Read on to learn the basic components of a healthy diabetes diet.
1. Eat healthy meals and snacks regularly throughout the day: Eating regular meals and snacks spread evenly throughout that day is crucial to keeping blood glucose levels within a healthy range. Going too long without eating will cause glucose levels to fall, possibly resulting in hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is defined as blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dL. Blood glucose levels can lead to weakness and fatigue, dizziness, shaking, increased heart rate, confusion, mood changes, and headaches. Left untreated, hypoglycemia can result in seizure and loss of consciousness.
Going too long without a food also increases hunger, making it more likely to overeat at your next meal or snack. Consuming a large amount of food in one sitting results in a rapid increase of blood glucose that your body may have a difficult time handling, especially if you are already insulin resistant or insulin deficient! Additionally, when feeling starved, we often reach for the first food available, which is usually not the healthiest option! While chips, cracker and cookies quickly satisfy hunger, they wreak havoc on the blood stream. Blood glucose levels will rapidly spike, followed by a drastic crash shortly after. To avoid sharp fluctuations of blood glucose levels, it is recommended to eat 3 meals and 1-3 snacks spaced evenly throughout the day.
2. Consider your calories: Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk for developing diabetes. Consistently eating calories in excess of what your body requires results in weight-gain. In order to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, you must consider how many calories your body needs each day. Calorie needs are unique and vary from person to person as many variables factor in to daily requirements – age, sex, medical conditions, medications, sleep habits, stress, work environment, and more!
It is also important to consider where your calories are coming from. All foods contain calories, although not all foods provide nutritional benefit. Some foods are high in calories yet low in nutrients. These are considered calorie-dense, or nutrient-poor, foods. Examples include refined grains, chips, crackers, cookies and cake. These foods should be limited in the diet. Other foods are low in calories yet high in nutrients. These are considered nutrient-dense foods. Examples include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins. The majority of your daily intake should come from nutrient-dense foods. This allows you to get the most nutritional benefit without consuming excess, empty calories!
3. Balance your plate: For optimal overall health, our diets must consist of a wide variety of whole foods! Whole foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, low-fat dairy, lean meat, poultry, fish, and unsaturated oils. Each whole food source provides a unique set of nutrients, all of which are essential for maintaining a healthy body. The American Diabetes Association offers a simple tool for meal planning based on the “plate method”. When preparing a meal, aim to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, one quarter whole grains, and one quarter lean protein. Heart-healthy fats should be included in small amounts along with a hydrating, calorie-free beverage. Snacks may reflect the “plate method” but on a smaller scale.
Some individuals require more detailed meal and snack planning in order to effectively regulate blood glucose levels. Carbohydrate counting is a more regulated meal planning tool used to help appropriately spread carbohydrate-rich foods among meals and snacks. Individuals on insulin are encouraged to learn and use carbohydrate counting on a daily basis. Carbohydrate counting can be challenging at first and therefore you may benefit from meeting with a dietitian or a physician well versed in this topic.
These three points are basic, generalized recommendations. For more information on effective management of diabetes, including individualized guidance and one-on-one nutrition counseling, call (205) 582-3322 or set up an appointment with us by clicking the button below.
You can also check out our new and unique program called Healthy Weight Loss, where you get to work closely with a physician board certified in obesity medicine.
Take care and have a great weekend! Dr. Efe Sahinoglu and the Birmingham DPC team