What is a diabetes diet? Simply put, it is a heart-healthy plan that involves eating nutritious foods and having regular mealtimes. Known medically as “medical nutrition therapy” or MNT, a diet for diabetes focuses on nutrient-rich foods that are low in fat and calories. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a diabetic diet is the best way to eat for nearly everyone. Diabetic recipes fit easily into most meal plans. A heart-healthy diet does not have to be strict or rigid to be effective. Many people can eat the foods they enjoy as long as they modify their eating patterns.
People who live with diabetes benefit from a doctor-recommended meal plan that is guided by a dietitian. Medical nutrition therapy helps diabetics manage their blood sugar and weight. When people eat too many calories, their bodies respond with an unfavorable rise in blood sugar or glucose.
High blood glucose can lead to severe health complications if it is not managed properly. A dangerously high level is known as hyperglycemia. If left unchecked, hyperglycemia can cause heart problems, kidney failure, nerve damage and other chronic illnesses.
By making a few dietary adjustments and tracking overall meal patterns, diabetics can keep their blood glucose in a safe range. Weight loss can make it easier to manage their condition. A diabetic diet is quite effective for weight management. It provides an organized, nutritious way to meet most weight loss goals.
With medical nutrition therapy, quality is more important than quantity. A registered dietitian can help diabetics develop a safe eating plan with the healthiest foods. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that a diabetes diet takes numerous factors into account: weight, medications, health conditions, health goals, preferences, lifestyle and more.
Heart-healthy eating limits high-sugar or high-carbohydrate foods. It focuses on low-fat, low-calorie foods as well. The diet limits salt and alcohol consumption. People who follow this plan eat smaller meals spread throughout the day.
Diabetics can make the most of their calories with nutritious foods that contain healthy carbohydrates, dietary fiber and “good” fats. Those who think they must eliminate carbohydrates altogether are following a myth, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A heart healthy diet puts the spotlight on healthy fruits and vegetables, beans and other legumes, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Dietary fiber controls blood sugar and lowers the risk of heart disease. The term “fiber” refers to the parts of plant foods that the body cannot digest or absorb. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are fiber-rich foods. Nuts, wheat bran and whole-wheat flour are other high-fiber choices.
Fish is a good alternative to high-fat meats. Cod, halibut and tuna are generally healthier than red meat and poultry. Herring, mackerel and salmon are notable for their omega-3 fatty acids, which lower blood fat and promote heart health. A diabetic diet includes a other “good” fats as well. Avocados, olives, almonds and walnuts lower blood cholesterol levels. They are high in calories, however, so most diets limit their intake.
Diabetics have an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. These health conditions result from clogged or hardened arteries, which the diabetic condition greatly impacts. Certain foods can work against a heart-healthy diet. They contain unhealthy saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Saturated fats are found in high-fat dairy products and animal proteins such as bacon, hot dogs and sausage. Processed foods like margarine, shortening, baked goods and snack foods contain unhealthy trans fats. Many animal proteins and dairy products also contain cholesterol; egg yolks, organ meats and shellfish are three examples.
A diabetic diet calls for very little of these problem-causing food ingredients. It also aims for less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium or salt per day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many diabetics can modify their current diets by educating themselves and reading labels.
Creating a heart-healthy diet plan involves different approaches. With a doctor’s recommendation and a dietitian’s help, a diabetic can create a healthy way of eating that keeps blood sugar in check. Some people take one approach, while others use a combination of methods.
Since carbohydrates break down into glucose, they have a huge effect on blood sugar. Many diabetics count carbohydrates, especially if they take insulin or diabetes medications. Keeping track of carbohydrate intake, food portions and serving size can help people manage their condition.
Some dietitians recommend an exchange system for diabetics. This eating plan groups foods into categories such as carbohydrates, fats and meats. An “exchange” refers to a serving in these groups. Each serving has about the same effect on blood glucose. Diabetics who follow this diet plan can exchange or trade one serving for another.
Some diabetics use the glycemic index to choose their foods, particularly carbohydrates. High glycemic foods are generally associated with higher blood sugar levels. However, low glycemic foods may not be healthy since they tend to be higher in fat. A dietitian can work with a diabetic patient to create an appropriate diet using the glycemic index.
Adopting a heart-healthy diabetes diet is the best way to manage blood glucose and reduce diabetes-related health problems. This way of eating is also effective for weight loss. Because it features fruits, vegetables, fiber and other nutritious foods, the diabetic diet guards against heart disease and cancer. It may also preserve bone mass.
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