What is a "Diabetic Diet"?
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
The term “diabetic diet” is thrown around a lot, but what does it even mean? What foods are allowed? What foods aren’t allowed? How many carbohydrates does it have? Do you have to get rid of your favorite foods? So many questions!
To be clear, there is no actual definition for a “diabetic diet”. Your diet should be tailored to your goals, diabetes management regimen, and personal and cultural preferences.
I tell my clients with diabetes to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrates. There is no need to follow a carbohydrate-free or very low carbohydrate diet; this should actually be discouraged. Carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source and many foods that contain them are very nutritious. However, if you eat too many carbs at one time, your blood sugars might go way too high. Eating a moderate amount of them consistently throughout the day is key.
If you are overweight or obese and interested in weight loss, your diet plan should help support that. Losing just 7% of your bodyweight can help improve insulin sensitivity as well as overall health. This means you either have to decrease your calorie intake, increase exercise, or preferably both.
A healthy diet should include vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and low-fat dairy products. Choose foods higher in fiber as it slows down digestion which makes you feel fuller longer and blunts blood sugar spikes. This means you should be choosing whole grain products over their white counterparts.
In terms of what foods to avoid when you have diabetes, common sense can go a long way. Goodies like cookies, cakes, candies, pies and ice cream should be consumed in moderation. Make sure to limit portion sizes when having these foods. Beverages that contain sugar such as soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea and fruit juice (even the 100% natural stuff) should be eliminated if possible. Liquids digest very quickly, so they can spike your blood sugars pretty fast, hence why they are good to use if hypoglycemia occurs. Having large portions of carbohydrates at one time, like eating a whole plate of spaghetti or having multiple starches with dinner should also be avoided as this may raise blood too much.
If you’re looking for more specific guidelines, meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and/or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. We can help you come up with goals for how many carbohydrates you should have at meals and snacks. The American Diabetes Association recommends 45-60g of carbohydrates at meals as a good place to start. I find that many of my clients that are sedentary or older often need less than this, while others can have more.
Remember that you shouldn’t be following a “diet” at all. Make lifestyle changes that you can stick with for good. If you follow a very strict or complicated diet plan, you may see great initial results, but they can be hard to stick to in the long term. Set achievable goals and stick to them!