Get a free weekly newsletter with recipe!

Healthy Diabetes Diet Basics

A diabetes diet is not only useful for diabetes patients (or those diagnosed with pre-diabetes), but is a great way for anyone, regardless of their health condition, to establish healthy eating habits that will help them lose weight, lower cholesterol, and increase energy.

For people with diabetes, keeping a tight control of their carbohydrate consumption is important because of all the major food elements—including fats and proteins— carbs have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels. But avoiding excess fats and carbs is a key for anyone looking to lose weight and being a nutritional balance to their daily diet.

Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder of The Center for Medical Weight Loss, a network of physicians specializing in weight loss, says the key to treating and reversing  diabetes is through smart, personalized diet and exercise plans. In many cases, diabetes can be completely reversed as a result of an effective medical weight loss plan. Dr. Kaplan states, “By simply by improving your diet, you may no longer need to take insulin or other diabetes medication.”

So what does a diabetic diet plan entail? Dr. Kaplan has put together an outline of diabetes diet basic concepts:

Understanding the glycemic index

The glycemic index is a system that rates foods based on how they influence blood glucose levels. The main goal for someone on a diabetes diet is to maintain a steady, moderate blood sugar level, and avoid drastic spikes and drops. Carbohydrates, sugars, and starches are common culprits in causing extreme fluctuations in blood glucose. As a result, foods that are high in carbs and sugars have a higher glycemic index rating. People whose diets are made up of low glycemic index foods tend to have not only lower blood sugar levels, but overall lower fat levels in the body.

Diabetes weight loss physicians work with patients to design individualized, low glycemic diet plans to help treat diabetes or to help prevent full-blown diabetes in those who have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

Physicians can also make sure that a patient’s insulin doses or other medications are adjusted to adapt to the person’s lower weight. The diabetes diet will significantly lower blood sugar levels, and if a patient’s medication regimen continues at its current strength, blood sugar could plummet to dangerous levels.  This is one important reason why people who lose weight to reduce diabetes should be under the supervision of a physician.

Should carbs and sugars be cut out completely?

Absolutely not. Dr. Kaplan explains, “Almost all patients on a diabetes diet can still enjoy all he foods they love—as long as they do so in moderation, and continuously monitor their blood glucose levels to avoids spikes and drops.”

Limited amounts of sugar are okay to incorporate into an overall balanced diabetes diet plan. Keep in mind that sugars do not necessarily raise blood glucose levels any more than starches or carbs with an equivalent caloric value. Sugar is just one kind of carb, and ALL carb intake should be closely watched and strictly distributed. If patients do add extra sugar to a given meal, they should make sure to cut out carbs from another meal to compensate, or to adjust their medication dose. Sugar adds fat, so for people who want to lose weight, avoiding excess sugar is highly recommended.

Is it okay to drink alcohol on the diabetes diet?

Patients with diabetes should always closely monitor their alcohol intake. Alcohol is actually broken down by the body in much the same way as fat is, and has a high calorie content. Your physician can advise you if your blood sugar levels are controlled enough to allow limited alcohol consumption.

Is the TLC diet good for diabetes patients?

The so-called “TLC diet” strictly proportions different kinds of food in a patient’s daily meal consumption for the purpose not only of losing weight, but of lowering cholesterol. No matter what diet a patient is on, the TLC principles are good to incorporate any weight loss plan: Patients should check the labels of all the foods they eat to precisely determine how many carbs, fats, and proteins they are taking in, and increase physical activity.

On the TLC diet, out of the total calories consumed:

  • 35% or less should be fat calories
  • 7% or less should be saturated fats
  • 10% or more should be polyunsaturated fats
  • 20% or more should be monounsaturated fats (vegetable oil, nuts)
  • 50-60% should be carbs
  • 15-20% should be protein

Keys to a Successful Diabetes Diet Plan

  • Food variety: A balanced daily diet is key: include fruits, vegetables, proteins (meat, fish, poultry), nuts, dairy, and grains.
  • Fiber is good: High fiber foods like whole grain breads and fruit will not only work to lower blood glucose levels, but cholesterol levels as well. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
  • Regular, proportioned meals: Establish a good blood sugar rhythm by eating at least three meals a day, with several snacks in between, at the same time every day. This is particularly critical for women with gestational diabetes. Remember—NEVER skip meals! Also make sure portion sizes are conducive to your weight loss goals: If you need to lose weight, make sure your meals contain on average 500 calories less per serving than they do now. Depending on whether a patient’s goal is to lose weight or maintain a current weight, an individual CMWL doctor can structure a daily meal plan that meets a patient’s weight loss needs while controlling blood glucose.
  • Cut down on fats: People with diabetes can lower their risk for heart disease and stroke by lowering their cholesterol levels, and a great way to lower cholesterol is to cut down on consumption of saturated fats.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, when used as a replacement for sugar, can help keep glucose levels steady, and keep caloric intake down. Keep in mind, however, that many foods that are “sugar free” still have calories and as such can still influence blood sugar levels. It is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women cut saccharine completely out of their diets.

If you have questions about diabetes diets or want to reduce your insulin intake, The Center for Medical Weight Loss is the largest network of non-surgical weight loss physicians in the US, with over 450 locations nationwide.  To find out if there is a center in your area, enter your zip code in the box above.  Find out if the CMWL approach can help you lose weight, feel healthier, and even reverse your diabetic condition. Special introductory offers may be available for first time visits.