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Eating Well with Type 2 Diabetes

Nutrition Know-How

-- By Becky Hand, Registered Dietitian & Tanya Jolliffe, Healthy Eating Expert

When you have diabetes, your diet plays a key role in controlling your blood sugar levels. SparkPeople strongly encourages everyone with diabetes to meet with a Registered Dietitian or a Certified Diabetes Educator in their area. These health professionals can assess your individual nutritional needs and develop a specific plan to meet your physical needs, work schedule and activities, medication schedule, health goals, tastes and lifestyle. You should not alter your diabetes management plan without discussing your options with your health care provider. With all this in mind, SparkPeople will still be a great resource for you. Use this article to review key points for eating with type 2 diabetes. Note: SparkPeople does offer meal plans designed for people with diabetes. Click here to learn more.

Carbohydrate Basics
Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source. During digestion, sugar (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood sugar (glucose). If you consume too much carbohydrate-rich foods at one time, your blood sugar levels may raise too high, which can be problematic.

Carbohydrates are found in cereals and grains, fruits and fruit juices, milk and yogurt, and sweets. Because they are important sources of energy, it's important to include nutritious carbohydrates at each meal and snack. But keep in mind that the healthiest carbohydrate choices are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, and low-fat dairy products.

Portion Control
Portion control is a problem for many people, but for individuals with type 2 diabetes it becomes even more important—especially when concerning carbohydrates. About half (50%) of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates--even when you have diabetes. A general recommendation is to eat about 2-3 carbohydrate servings (30-45 grams) at each meal for women and 3-4 carbohydrate servings (45-60 grams) at each meal for men. Both men and women should limit carbohydrates at snacktime to 1-2 carbohydrate servings (15-30 grams). Click here for a detailed, printable chart that shows single (15-gram) servings of carbohydrate-containing foods

Your healthcare professional will help you determine the ideal carbohydrate range that is right for you each day. If this number differs from SparkPeople's Spark*D nutrition recommendations, that's OK; follow your practitioner's advice. Note and memorize your mealtime and daily carbohydrate goals, and use SparkPeople's detailed and free Nutrition Tracker to track your foods. Even if our recommendations are different, you'll still be able to see how many carbs you're eating during every meal and snack, which will be helpful in your diabetes management.

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Other Important Eating Strategies
When it comes to controlling your blood sugar, when and what you eat with your carbohydrates is just as important as the type and amount of carbohydrates you consume. Here are some other important eating strategies for type 2 diabetics:

1. Space your meals evenly. Evenly spacing out your meals and snacks throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. General guidelines say to wait at least 2 hours (but no more than 5 hours) between meals and snacks during the day. Eating at regular intervals will help to prevent your blood sugar level from going either too high or too low. You can set-up your SparkPeople Nutrition Tracker with as many meals and snacks as you'd like, using the eating schedule provided by your health care professional.  When you track your foods, you'll see your carbohydrate totals (plus calorie, protein and fat) for each meal and snack you eat throughout the day.

2. Consider adding a little lean protein to every meal and snack. Small portions of protein do not  raise blood sugar levels. They may help slow down the rate at which carbohydrates are digested, and typically help you feel full longer. The amount of protein you need should be determined by your health care professional. Protein sources include foods like meat (such as beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, deli meats, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and turkey) and meat alternatives (such as eggs, egg substitutes, peanut butter, nuts and tofu). Cheeses and cottage cheese are also protein sources but are sometimes categorized as calcium sources. When evaluating your SparkDiet for protein and carbohydrate balance, just remember that meat, meat alternatives and cheese all count as protein sources.

Your health care professional will help you determine how many grams of protein are right for you each day. If this number differs from SparkPeople's recommendations, you'll need to adjust your Nutrition Tracker to help you better monitor your intake. To make necessary changes follow these easy steps:

  • Make sure you're logged in and go to your Nutrition Tracker. Near the top of the page, click the button that says "Change Nutrition Goals." Click the "edit" button next to SparkPeople's protein recommendation. Change this range to reflect the protein recommendations from your health care provider. Click "save" at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click "Save your changes" to return to your newly updated Nutrition Tracker.
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3. Eat healthy fats in moderation. Fats are an important part of a well-balanced diet. Like protein, eating fats along with carbohydrates can help curb hunger. Fats are found in things like margarine, butter, shortening, cream cheese, gravy, mayonnaise, nuts, seeds, oil, salad dressings, and sour cream. While it is important that you include some fat in your meals and snacks, it is equally as important that you make wise choices about the type and amount that you consume. When you have diabetes, you are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke because diabetes can accelerate the development of clogged and hardened arteries. That is why heart-healthy eating should also be a part of your diabetes diet. Use the following guidelines when making fat selections:
  • Eat fats in moderation. Your total fat intake should make up no more than 30% of your calories daily—that's about 60 grams of fat for someone who eats 1,800 calories each day. (Your SparkDiet and Nutrition Tracker already reflect this guideline.)
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat to no more than 7% of your daily calories—that's approximately 14 grams for an 1,800-calorie diet. The following steps will help you adjust your Nutrition Tracker:
    • Make sure you're logged in and go to your Nutrition Tracker. Near the top of the page, click the button that says "Change Nutrition Goals." Click the "Add another nutrient to track" button near the bottom. Select "Fatty acids, total saturated" from the drop-down list. Change the pre-selected range to reflect the saturated fat recommendations from your health care provider. Click "save" at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click "Save your changes" to return to your newly updated Nutrition Tracker.
  • Avoid artery-clogging trans fats as much as possible.
  • When you do consume fat, choose heart-healthy fats that are monounsaturated (such as olive and canola oils) and/or polyunsaturated (found in nuts and seeds). Consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily. (Your SparkDiet and Nutrition Tracker already reflect these guidelines.)
4. Fill up on fiber. Eating fiber-rich foods at meals and snacks can also help keep your blood sugars stabilized because it slows the rate at which carbohydrates are digested. Dietary fiber comes from parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. There are actually two different types of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber (found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables) increases the movement of material through your digestive system. Soluble fiber (found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium) is more important for diabetics. It dissolves in water to form a gel-like material and can help lower cholesterol levels. Ingestion of large amounts of soluble fiber (approximately 50 grams) appears to improve blood glucose levels. However, it is unknown if regularly consuming that much fiber each day is realistic for most people.  Currently, there are no clinical practice recommendations that suggest people with diabetes should consume more daily fiber than the general public. SparkPeople recommends 25-35 grams of fiber daily, and your Nutrition Tracker already reflects this.

5. Take advantage of “free foods.”Certain foods do not tend to raise blood sugar levels and can be used to help “fill in” your meal plan with little worry about their blood sugar affects. Examples of these foods include:
  • Non-starchy vegetables, including asparagus, green and wax beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, greens, lettuce, onions, pea pods, peppers, radishes, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, and zucchini. These tend to be better choices for diabetics than starchy vegetables.
  • Foods like club soda, artificially-sweetened coffee and tea, diet soda, sugar-free gelatin, seasonings, sugar substitutes and non-dairy creamer have few carbohydrates and calories and are usually considered “free” foods that you do not have to count in your meal plan.
Meal Planning: Putting It All Together
If you have diabetes, SparkPeople highly recommends that you work directly with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator to receive personalized nutrition guidelines and meal plans. Together you can develop a diabetes meal plan, based on your health goals, tastes, and lifestyle—as well as the latest guidelines for healthy eating. Click here for examples of two different meal planning systems.
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.
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