Diet and Meal Plan For Diabetes

What is The Best Meal Plan For People With Diabetes

After a recent diagnosis of diabetes, one of the first thoughts that usually comes to mind is: “What should I eat from now on?”. It is a normal reaction to be concerned about the future and inquiry how to keep your diabetes under control. We are here to help you figure out the next steps and what to expect regarding your nutrition.

Let Us Talk About Diabetes

The first thing you need to get clear is what diabetes is and how it can affect your body.

Under normal circumstances, your body processes the food you eat and turns it into glucose (sugar) that gets released into your bloodstream; when this happens, your pancreas gets a signal to make and release a hormone known as insulin. This hormone allows glucose to enter the cells and be used as energy.

However, blood sugar levels stay high when the pancreas makes no or too little insulin or does make enough, but the body cannot use it. Therefore, the body cells cannot get enough energy. This is called diabetes. (1)

Diabetes is a long-term health condition that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Some complications of uncontrolled diabetes include:

  • Kidney disease;
  • Vision loss;
  • Heart disease;
  • Nerve damage;
  • Amputation of lower extremities.

Types of Diabetes

Although a high blood sugar level is the common ground for all types of diabetes, there are some differences among them: (1, 2)

Type 1 Diabetes

This type of diabetes is often genetic. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells of the pancreas by mistake, rendering it unable to make insulin. It is usually diagnosed during childhood, and there is no way to prevent it.

People with type 1 diabetes rely on daily self-administered insulin injections to control their blood sugar. However, watching what they eat is of utmost importance to help achieve stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Type 2 Diabetes

Unhealthy lifestyle habits are the leading factors that cause this type of diabetes. However, other factors, such as genetic mutations or hormonal diseases, may also cause it. This is the most common type of diabetes and is typically diagnosed in adults.

Since being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors, type 2 diabetes can be prevented in most cases. 

Gestational Diabetes (Diabetes During Pregnancy)

As stated by its name, this type of diabetes appears during pregnancy in a previously non-diabetic woman. Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. However, it can cause some complications that can affect both mother and child during pregnancy.

What About Pre-Diabetes?

People with prediabetes have high blood sugar, but their levels are not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Even so, prediabetes is a serious condition that has been linked to heart disease. Additionally, prediabetes can evolve into diabetes and other health problems if left untreated. (3)

At this stage, making healthy lifestyle changes and following an appropriate diet is imperative to reverse the condition and keep normal blood sugar levels. (4)

Here you can find some articles that may be of assistance if you have prediabetes:

What Can You Eat When Having Diabetes

diabetes meal plan

What Can You Eat When Having Diabetes

One may think that having diabetes means you need to refrain from eating all the foods you like and cut carbohydrates entirely from your diet, but this is not true at all.

While you do need to start eating cleaner, you can still enjoy your favorite foods from time to time. However, you should keep in mind to eat small portions and keep track of the amount of carbohydrates in your diet.

Besides this, it is important that you include all macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) in your meals. It is also important to prioritize eating natural, non-processed ingredients to get all the nutrients you need while feeling full. Your food choices will make the difference.

Some foods may belong to one category of macronutrients, but most foods may fall under two or more categories depending on the macronutrients they contain. So, let us take a deeper look at the foods you should get. (2, 5)

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are the main source of energy for the body. Examples of healthy carbohydrates you should include in your diet include:

  • Grains: prioritize whole grains like wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, oatmeal, whole grain bread, and whole grain pasta. 
  • Vegetables: they can be either non-starchy (leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) or starchy (potatoes and sweet potatoes.)
  • Fruits: strawberries, grapefruit, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, pears, kiwi, melon, oranges, etc. 
  • Low-fat dairy and its derivates (milk, yogurt)
  • Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc.

You should also get carbohydrates rich in dietary fiber, which comprises the parts of plant foods that are undigestible. Fiber is important because it helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, maintains bowel health, and reduces constipation. Foods that are rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Proteins

Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which are essential building blocks for almost all processes in your body. Proteins also help in maintaining the hormonal and metabolic balance of the body. These include:

  • Lean meat, like sirloin or pork tenderloin; 
  • Fish;
  • Seafood;
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey);
  • Eggs;
  • Nuts and seeds;
  • Dairy and its derivates (milk, yogurt, cheese);
  • Soy products (tofu, edamame);
  • Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, etc.

Fats

Fat is necessary to store energy, insulate your organs against external damage, and transport and absorb some fat-soluble vitamins in your body. Just make sure to get enough “good” fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats) instead of “bad” fats (saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fats).

Foods that are high in good fats include:

  • Avocados;
  • Olive oil;
  • Canola oil;
  • Peanut oil;
  • Nuts;
  • Coconut;
  • Seeds, like sunflower and sesame seeds;
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

Knowing The Glycemic Index of Your Foods

Now you know what foods you can get to keep your diabetes under control. Though, to get the best results possible and keep your blood sugar levels steady, you also need to know about the glycemic index of foods.

The glycemic index is the capacity that a certain food has to raise blood sugar levels 2 hours after eating it. It is ranked from 0 to 100, being pure glucose positioned at number 100. (6)

Foods can be classified into three categories depending on their glycemic index: (6, 7)

  • Low (score of 55 or less)
  • Medium (score between 56 and 69)
  • High (score of 70 or more)

Therefore, when choosing between two types of foods that are considered “healthy,” you should get the food with the lowest glycemic index possible. It has been proved that following a low glycemic index diet is more beneficial to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, as opposed to those that follow a high glycemic index diet. (8)

Some of the foods that are considered to have a high glycemic index include:

  • Sugary pastries and beverages
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Potatoes (especially instant mashed and white potatoes)

On the other hand, some low glycemic index foods are:

  • Green vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Almost all fruits

Glycemic Index Is Important, So Is Food Quality

Keep in mind that when choosing a low over a high glycemic index food, you should consider other factors such as the fat or the sodium (salt) content of foods.

For instance, some breakfast cereals may have a lower glycemic index when compared to watermelon, but this does not mean that the cereal is necessarily healthier. (7)

Therefore, you should inform yourself of food quality when following a low glycemic index diet. Not all high glycemic index foods are unhealthy, just as not all low glycemic index foods are completely healthy.

What Foods To Avoid When Having Diabetes

Overall, people with diabetes should avoid consuming foods that can easily induce rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Additionally, they should avoid processed foods and those high in unhealthy substances like unhealthy fats, salt, preservatives, artificial dyes, artificial flavors, and other additives.

Foods that you need to avoid or limit include:

  • Refined sugar;
  • Refined wheat flour;
  • White bread;
  • White rice;
  • White pasta;
  • Breakfast cereals;
  • Pastries;
  • Cookies;
  • Cakes;
  • Candies;
  • Dried fruits;
  • Sugary beverages (juice, soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks);
  • Processed meats (ham, bacon, salami, pepperoni, beef jerky, etc.);
  • Margarine;
  • Shortening;
  • Lard;
  • Palm oil;
  • Fried foods;

Diets That Are Suitable For People With Diabetes

Fortunately, several diets are available and are suitable for people with diabetes. The most important thing is to find one that fits your needs and to which you can adhere for the long term.

Always check with your doctor and nutritionist before starting a new diet. Some options you may want to consider include:

DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is perfect for people with diabetes who also have hypertension (high blood pressure).

Besides successfully controlling blood sugar levels, this diet also helps lower cholesterol levels and other biomarkers associated with heart disease. This is because it encourages the intake of fish, poultry, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and non-fat dairy products while limiting foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. (9, 10)

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is focused on an all-natural approach that takes the Paleolithic Period (also known as the Old Stone Age) as a baseline for what our ancestors might have eaten around 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago. (11)

The logic behind the paleo diet is that humans’ genes might not have evolved enough to adapt to modern diets based on processed foods, refined products, wheat, grains, legumes, and dairy. Those were not available to humans back then and are believed to contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the present.

Therefore, to prevent and manage these health issues, the paleo diet (also called the Stone Age diet, Paleolithic diet, caveman diet, and hunter-gatherer diet) encourages the intake of lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, excluding foods that were made available after the Paleolithic Period, when farming began. (12)

Foods that cannot be consumed while following the paleo diet include grains, legumes, dairy and its derivates, and all processed foods.

Keto Diet

The keto diet, also called the ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, normal-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that forces your body to use stored fat instead of sugar as its primary energy source.

This diet was first used as a treatment for children who suffered from epilepsy. However, in recent years, it has been gaining acceptance as an adequate diet for people with obesity and diabetes. (13)

While the benefits and risks of this diet have been controversial, under medical supervision, the keto diet can be used to achieve rapid weight loss and stable blood sugar levels safely. Furthermore, in some cases, a dose reduction or even complete cessation of the drugs used to treat diabetes may be accomplished. (13, 14)

Although we strongly recommend you consult with your doctor before attempting to start this diet, you can check out these articles to see if it may be a good option for you:

Keto Diet For Diabetes 

7 Day Keto Diet Meal Plan for Diabetes

Also, if you are not really interested in eating red meat, you can still follow a pescatarian keto diet. Check it out here:

Day Pescatarian Keto Meal Plan

3 Budget Friendly Pescatarian Keto Recipes

Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

As its name states, a vegetarian diet means avoiding the intake of any type of meat or seafood. A vegan diet also restricts all animal by-products, including milk, cheese, and eggs. You can read more about the difference in our article: What is The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

It has been demonstrated that vegetarians and vegans can achieve greater control of blood sugar levels when compared to diabetics who follow a standard diet. (15, 16)

Other Types Of Diet

There are other types of diets you can follow to keep your blood sugar levels under control. The most important thing is to find one that adjusts to your lifestyle and that you can maintain for the long term.

If you are not interested in any of the diets mentioned above, or if you have additional dietary requirements (such as having to restrict your salt intake), check out the following diet plan options that may fit your needs:

Meal Plans For People With Diabetes

Still don’t know what to eat every day? or which diet would be best for you? Don’t worry. You can check these meal plans we prepared for you according to your daily caloric requirements:

Remember to always check with a doctor and nutritionist before starting any new meal plan.

Snack And Breakfast Options For People With Diabetes

Maybe your biggest struggle is when breakfast and snack time arrive because you either don’t have the time or just don’t know what to eat.

Or maybe you are tired of eating the same stuff every day. In any case, we are here to help you figure it out. Take a look into these healthy breakfast and snack options that are safe for diabetics:

Current Version
July 29, 2023
Written By
Krystie Linares
July 29, 2023
Fact Checked By
Franco Cuevas, MD
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