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Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat: Diabetes Meal Planning

Updated on October 9, 2017
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Stephanie Hicks has been a Type 1 diabetic for 15 years. She manages the disease with an insulin pump, doctor visits, diet, and exercise.

What are the Best Foods for a Diabetic to Eat?

What are the best foods for a diabetic to eat?

Believe it or not, a healthy diet for a diabetic is very similar to an "ordinary" healthy diet.

I have been living with Type 1 diabetes since 2002. Over the past decade, I have experienced the direct result of ingesting too much processed food, not enough fresh fruits and vegetables and restaurant meals that are too large, too fatty and made with too much salt. Because my body does not make any insulin on its own, I am dependent on 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 items!

With my diagnosis, I had little choice but to improve my diet so that my blood glucose levels 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!

As detailed below, sound diabetes meal planning should include lots of clear water or other non-sugar and non-alcoholic beverages. Add fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat meats and dairy (if you are not vegetarian), legumes, and a selection of minimally-processed, high fiber breads, cereal or pastas.

Diabetes blood glucose levels can be controlled in part with good meal planning
Diabetes blood glucose levels can be controlled in part with good meal planning | Source

Diabetics Should Talk to a Doctor and a Nutritionist to Develop Meal Plans to Help Manage the Disease

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you will probably be advised to meet with both an endocrinologist doctor 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 moderations. By testing blood glucose frequently (see below) you can better tailor your medication, activity level and/or insulin to allow you to sample favorite foods and dishes on occasion.

The bottom line is that your doctor and a nutritionist can provide valuable guidance regarding diet that you simply cannot get from a book or a hub like this one.

If you have: (1) food allergies or sensitivities; (2) another medical condition such as Celiac Disease or Chron's Disease; or (3) lifestyle or religious restrictions on diet, a specialist can take your specific issues into account in developing a balanced, healthy meal plan for you.

Diabetes Meal Planning

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?

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Diabetics Need Not Eliminate All Carbohydrates in Their Diet

A common mistake that newly diagnosed diabetics make is to believe 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 in the form of carbohydrate energy.

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

Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into glucose that is carried in the bloodstream for use as the body's energy. However, no one can survive on a carb-free diet. This is because glucose is the most readily available fuel for the body and is required to provide an ongoing source of energy.

As with any healthy diet, the keys are moderation and balance. Fast-acting, simple carbohydrates are those found in sucrose (sugar, syrup), and refined white flour (bread, crackers, pasta). These are digested quickly and can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, which can lead to a crash soon thereafter.

Complex carbohydrates are in fresh fruits and vegetables, which are higher in fiber, as well as whole grain breads, cereals and pasta. Particularly when combined with protein, these dietary selections can help keep your blood glucose at a more even, manageable level.

Over time, you will be and feel healthier!

Best Vegetables for Diabetics

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

Diabetic? Fresh Foods are Best!

Believe me, I love to snack as much as the next person. As a diabetic, the problem is that I often feel horrible several hours later.

Since my diabetes 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 is simply perfect for a snack. Sliced carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower are among many veggies that taste amazing raw on their own, 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 100% natural, 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. While convenient, you should avoid frozen meals, boxed meals, and most canned alternatives, unless you have prepared them yourself.

I have learned that fresh foods, used in your own recipes, are far superior to pre-packaged meals and ingredients. Not only is it better to know that you don't have artificial colors, seasonings and preservatives, but let's be real - we are natural beings that will respond best to natural (real) food!

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 at least these values will be at least 1/3 higher than I would estimate if making the dish at home.

Diabetes Meal Planning

Diabetics Should Test Blood Glucose Frequently Before Planning Meals

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

I have seen that certain prepackaged (healthy) foods seem to react differently in me than the "average" population. Protein bars - which state that they include 22 grams of carbs - usually take at least 1/3 more insulin than another comparable meal.

Because there is not "one size fits all" when it comes to diabetes, you really have to determine which foods work best for you. Some people may be able to tolerate a higher fat diet. Others may not be as greatly affected by simple carbohydrates.

The best way to determine a sound diabetes meal plan is to test before and two hours after every meal you eat. A level between 80-120 is right in range, and should be recorded. Lower than 80 means that you need more carbohydrates, based on your medication/insulin level. Higher than 120 probably means that you need to either reduce the number of carbs (or fat), or increase your medication.

Be sure to talk to your medical professionals. They will be able to take into account individual variations, depending on medications, other diagnoses, diet and activity level.

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

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks


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    • profile image

      LuAnn Meyer 3 months ago

      Very helpful information. Thank you!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      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 image

      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 image

      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 Pennsauken, NJ

      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 image

      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 image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • jennzie profile image

      jennzie 5 years ago from Lower Bucks County, PA

      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 image

      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 image

      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 image

      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 image

      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

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      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!