Co-Author: Fatima Tariq
Though diabetes is giving a tough time to hypertension and cardiac diseases, yet the fancy food choices of human species has made its preponderance irrefutable. If you are victimized by the availability of fancy food choices and their hawkish advertisements, then you surely have experienced a concussion where you would end up making a bad food choice for yourself.
The science of food types, quantities and portion sizes are so confusing that a normal person would land in to a state of binge eating. Above and all, if you are a diabetic and are unaware of this whole world of nutrition, first and foremost is to understand the absolute relationship between your disease and your food choices.
Diabetic meal planning can seem like an impossible job at first but in a nutshell learning few basic techniques can help you plan your diabetic diet yourself. Although for newbies the diabetic meal plans are best designed by keeping various factors in mind by registered dietitians according to the blood glucose levels and the type of the diabetes but you can also set your diabetic meal by keeping the three basic tools under check.
- The plate method
- Carb counting
- Glycemic index of foods
Diabetes Meal Plans: The Plate Method For Diabetics
An interesting concept regarding meal planning of diabetics entertains the concept of healthy eating plate. Meal planning for diabetics can seem a jeopardizing task but portioning it out via using the healthy eating plate concept can help simplify it.
If you are a diabetic then the diversity in foods can make a significant impact on your life but if you learn to choose foods that are good for you and learn to calculate portion sizes then the main issue faced in diabetes i.e. the high blood sugar levels can be managed to a great extent.
Now coming towards the most talked healthy plate concept. Healthy eating plate is basically a calculated estimation of ‘what’ and ‘how much’ of the food that should be eaten by the diabetics on a daily basis in each meal.
It suggests putting imaginary lines through your eating plate and dividing foods accordingly into small portions with respect to major food components. The broader characterization includes filling up:
- 50% non-starchy vegetables
- 20% proteins
- 25% grains and other starchy foods
- Along with the remaining 5% covered with fruits and drinks
Detailed Guidelines For A Healthy Diabetic Plate
The detailed guidelines for the healthy diabetic plate provided by American Diabetic Association (ADA) are given below:
- Divide your dinner plate into three sections by drawing an imaginary line through the center of the plate. Then put another line on one side of the two halves.
- Moving further, you should fill the largest section with non-starchy vegetables such as; broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, mustard, artichoke, asparagus, baby corn, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, turnip, green salads, onions and tomatoes etc.
- Fill up one of the small sections with grains and starchy foods. The common examples of grains include; bulgur-cracked wheat, whole wheat flour, whole oats, whole-grain corn, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, whole-grain barley, whole faro, wild rice, buckwheat, buckwheat flour, triticale millet, quinoa and sorghum. The starchy vegetables include; potatoes, pumpkins, parsnips, acorn squash, butternut squash, green peas and corn.
- Then in the other small section, place the proteins. e.g., plant-based proteins, seafood like fish, chicken, egg whites and cheese etc.
- Add a serving of fruit and a serving of dairy products. Fruits having low glycemic index like melon and pineapple are best for diabetics. Other fruit options mentioned by the ADA include; apples, apricots, avocadoes, bananas, berries, cantaloupes, dates, dried fruit, figs, grapefruit, grapes, melons, kiwis, nectarines, oranges, papayas ,peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, tangerines and watermelons.
- A low-calorie drink like water or an unsweetened beverage such as tea or coffee serves as a good option for diabetics.
Know The Glycemic Index Of Foods
Beware of Glycemic index as it is the base for the food chosen by diabetics. You might be wondering how? Let us help you in putting the speculations and confusions at rest. It is known that naturally some foods have high glycemic index and when you consume them your glucose spikes and random blood glucose level is noted high. Therefore, Pancreases has to work more by producing more insulin.
But diabetics have a problem and they can only produce little or no insulin at all. So, in order to stay away from all the trouble, diabetic meal plans are structured in a way that includes foods with low glycemic index.
Another concept that needs to be understood whilst learning diabetic diet planning is the glycemic load of foods. It is a very simple and practical method to check the glycemic index of certain foods. It reflects the extent of the increment in the blood-sugar levels as soon food is consumed.
It can easily be calculated by the help of a simple equation which works by multiplying a food’s Glycemic index in percentage by the number of net carbohydrates in a given serving. It can be mathematically indicated by the following equation:
GL = GI/100 x Net Carbs
It should be noted that the net carbs are equal to the total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber.
Monitoring Sugar Content For Diabetes
Another important point that needs to be addressed regarding meal planning for diabetics is the sugar content from different foods. It is a common misconception regarding sugar content in diabetics that artificial sugars are the sole culprits behind raising blood glucose levels. However, other carbohydrates also play an important role.
- An established fact about type I diabetes is that it is caused by genetics and other various factors and sugar has nothing to do with it.
- However type II diabetes is caused by overeating caloric-rich foods and consuming sugary foods.
Therefore, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people should limit their artificial sugar intake including sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes.
Sugar is only one form a carbohydrate that raises blood glucose, therefore nutrition labels on foods should be read carefully and the type of food source being consumed should be identified correctly to keep the sugar level under check.
Increased Quantities Of Carbs Are More Dangerous
Previously it was believed that people with diabetes should completely avoid sugar owing to the fact that consuming sugars would raise blood glucose levels to a very high extent. However, latest research has turned the tables and experts now believe that the total amount of carbohydrates affects the blood glucose levels more than the type of carbohydrate.
Swapping Carbs With Small Amount Of Sugars
It is observed that diabetics can keep their blood glucose levels on the right track by substituting carb-containing foods with small amounts of sugars. However, the ADA suggests that it does not give diabetics the green signal to consume all the sugars they want. Moreover, it is recommended to keep sweets reserved for special occasions with the routine diet of diabetics containing nutrient-rich foods e.g.,
- Whole grains
- Non-fat dairy
- Lean meats
Swapping Sugars With Carbs
Another effective way to keep the blood glucose level under control is by substituting small portions of sweets with other carbohydrates in the diet. This tip can be useful for diabetics who splurge on sugary foods.
It should be noted that these sweeteners including white sugar, cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, molasses, fructose, maple syrup and agave nectar contain both the calories and carbs. Therefore, these should not be consumed in excess quantities.
According to the ADA, all of these sweets can be swapped with other carb options such as:
- Rice crackers cereal
- Milk/ yogurt
- Potatoes/ peas
The carbohydrate content should be checked by looking for the total carbs on food labels that contain starch and sugar. If you only calculate the amounts of sugar, leaving the starch content aside, then this can become problematic for your blood sugar levels, which one raised would not be coming back to normal any time soon without any medicinal intervention.
Read the basic Carbohydrate article for exploring good carbs and bad carbs options along with carbohydrate counting for the meal planning.
Let us help you to in leading the way to make you understand carbohydrates in detail and the exact method to count them. Since, carbs have a direct effect on the blood glucose levels therefore, the quantity and type of carbs should be chosen carefully to keep glucose levels in control.
Generally, 45-60 gram carbs are recommended at a time in one meal for diabetics. However, the exact quantity varies from diabetic to diabetic according to your blood sugar levels and should be asked from a registered dietitian.
By reading this article you would have come to know that how important is the carbohydrate counting for people with diabetes especially for type-1 diabetics, who cannot neutralize high amount of carbs without artificially administered insulin. Ideally, in perfect scenarios diabetes should try to adopt a low carb diet that is low in carbohydrates. Having said that, Low carb diets help to control the blood sugar levels which otherwise might be subjected to abrupt increase by consuming carb rich foods those which have high glycemic indexes.
There are two major methods of meal planning using carb counting technique.
- The first one is following a consistent carb meal plan with a consistent amount of insulin.
- The second entails changing carb intake with an adjustable amount of insulin.
One of the very useful tips is to keep the same amounts of carbs each day to keep blood glucose levels under control. Moreover, these should be eaten in moderation as cutting carbs completely out of the diet can have deteriorating effect on health.
Mostly it is recommended to read food labels carefully to count the number of carbs in each food product. But if you are consuming a homemade freshly prepared meal then low carb options should be used that have low glycemic index.
To sum it up, let’s recall that the daily recommended amount of foods containing carbs for diabetics i.e. 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal. However, the exact amount of the carbs suggested for diabetics cannot be quantified due to individual differences in the individuals. It is suggested to balance out the high glycemic Index foods with the low ones. Although it is not impossible to calculate the amount of carbs for each meal plan but it is better to get help from a registered dietitian in the beginning.
Examples of foods w.r.t. glycemic index
Since, it was already mentioned about the glycemic index a number of times in this article. Let’s understand this core concept in greater detail. So, glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of the rate at which foods raise the blood sugar level.
Some foods have high glycemic index meaning their consumption can spike up the blood sugar levels immediately. Therefore, foods having lower GI are more suitable for diabetics because sudden shooting of blood sugar levels is adverse and can lead to complications in the absence of insulin.
American Diabetes association has divided the foods according to the glycemic index. These include:
- Low GI Foods (55 or less)
- Medium GI (56-69)
- High GI (70 or more)
Low GI Foods
The low Glycemic index foods which raise the glycemic index up to 55 or less are stone-ground are: whole wheat or pumpernickel bread oatmeal , oat bran, muesli pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar, sweet potato, corn, yam, lima or butter beans, peas, legumes , lentils, fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots etc.
Medium GI Foods
The foods which raise blood glucose level up to 56 to 69 are whole wheat, rye, pita bread, oats or rice (brown, wild or basmati).
High GI foods
The foods which are considered as high glycemic index foods are white bread, bagel, corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal, white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers melons and pineapple etc. All of these foods have been seen to elevate blood glucose to 70 or higher.
Other recommendations for diabetic Meal Planning
Other useful tips recommended by ADA for diabetic diet planning are as follows:
- For good management of diabetes it is advised to choose healthy fats sources in small amounts.
- Moreover, cholesterol-free oils should be used for cooking. A good practice regarding oil consumption is to keep switching between different types of oils e.g., sunflower oil, canola oil etc.
- However for salads, extra-virgin olive oil should be used and some healthy additions like nuts, seeds, avocado and vinaigrettes can be made.
- Sugary drinks should be avoided and drinks like organic, sugar-free lemonade and water should be used.
- Juices in any form should be avoided while whole fruit should be consumed to keep the fiber content intact and to avoid increasing the glycemic load of the fruits.
- Choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
- Choose products containing whole grains such as whole wheat pasta and bread instead of white bread and regular pasta.
- Processed cereals should be swapped with whole grain oatmeal.
- Brown rice should be used in place of white rice.
Choosing the right kinds of foods and organizing diabetic meal plans can be a crucial job. Therefore, before eating any food, people suffering from diabetes should follow the above mentioned guidelines provided by the ADA.
Moreover, planning advice from a registered dietitian should be taken regarding the exact quantity of each food and for specific diabetic diets.