Diabetes Meal Plan Priorities
Can you give me a meal plan? What should I eat? What about potatoes? Can I eat fruit?
When I first meet with someone who is newly diagnosed with diabetes, there is so much to sift through. They feel lost and overwhelmed, to say the least. I get it. We receive mixed messages from health professionals, friends, family, social media and celebrities. Who are we supposed to believe?
Since each person is unique in their taste preferences, financial situation, living situation and religious beliefs – It’s nearly impossible to give a blanket recommendation for diabetes management through food. A variety of eating patterns have been shown to help manage diabetes. Getting started can be the hardest part.
Diabetes Meal Plan Basics
Let’s work through the basics of eating with diabetes. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.
- First, think macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates break down into sugar and will raise blood sugar. Yes, high-fiber and whole food choices are much better and may slow the rise of blood sugar. However, they will still impact it. Protein, improves satiety and is essential for building muscle, but doesn’t have a major blood sugar impact. Unless there is a breading or sauce included. Then there is fat, which doesn’t directly raise blood sugar. However, high fat meals may keep blood sugar higher for longer, when paired with carbohydrates.
- Next, look at your current eating pattern. Write down the foods you eat on paper or track in an app. Take a good look at your food and beverages. Are you mindlessly snacking? Is your fancy coffee adding 400 calories? Are you getting 2.5 cups of vegetables per day? If you are honest with your food tracking, it can show you areas that need improvement.
- Finally, start small! It’s ok if you can’t immediately overhaul your current plan. Plus, it can feel overwhelming to make changes for family meals, time spent cooking and grocery shopping all at once. Work with your Certified Diabetes Education and Support Specialist (CDCES) to find small changes that result in positive health changes. Most clients are surprised to learn how many foods they can include and still manage their diabetes.
How to Easily Get Started
- Swap your drinks. Try to limit or eliminate soda, juice, lemonade and flavored drinks that likely contain added sugar that will spike blood sugar.
- Eat more whole foods instead of trying to find sugar-free or diet food items. Whole foods have naturally occurring nutrients to help support your health. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts into your daily routine.
- Prioritize protein. Lots of options including: meat, beans, nuts, nut butter, cheese, eggs or Greek yogurt. Protein should be incorporated with each meal to help stabilize blood sugar and keep you full.
Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. She is the diabetes education program coordinator at CHI Health and sees patients at the Millard Clinic. She works with patients to identify root causes to health conditions and make changes to improve overall health. Ellen’s passion is to help others develop lifestyle habits that allow them to feel their best.