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Patient education: Diabetes and diet (The Basics)

Patient education: Diabetes and diet (The Basics)

Why is diet important in diabetes? — Diet is important because it is part of diabetes treatment. Many people need to change what they eat and how much they eat to help treat their diabetes. It is important for people to treat their diabetes so that they:

Keep their blood sugar at or near a normal level

Prevent long-term problems, such as heart or kidney problems, that can happen in people with diabetes

Changing your diet can also help treat obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These conditions can affect people with diabetes and can lead to future problems, such as heart attacks or strokes.

Who will work with me to change my diet? — Your doctor or nurse will work with you to make a food plan to change your diet. They might also recommend that you work with a "dietitian." A dietitian is an expert on food and eating.

Do I need to eat at the same times every day? — When and how often you should eat depends, in part, on the diabetes medicines you take. For example:

People who take about the same amount of insulin at the same time each day (called a "fixed regimen") should eat meals at the same times. This is also true for people who take pills that increase insulin levels, such as sulfonylureas. Eating meals at the same time every day helps prevent low blood sugar.

People who adjust the dose and timing of their insulin each day (called a "flexible regimen") do not always have to eat meals at the same time. That's because they can time their insulin dose for before they plan to eat, and also adjust the dose for how much they plan to eat.

People who take medicines that don't usually cause low blood sugar, such as metformin, don't have to eat meals at the same time every day.

What do I need to think about when planning what to eat? — Our bodies break down the food we eat into small pieces called carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

When planning what to eat, people with diabetes need to think about:

Carbohydrates (or "carbs") – Carbohydrates, which are sugars that our bodies use for energy, can raise a person's blood sugar level. Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian will tell you how many carbohydrates you should eat at each meal or snack. Foods that have carbohydrates include:

Bread, pasta, and rice

Vegetables and fruits

Dairy foods

Foods and drinks with added sugar

It is best to get your carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk. It is best to avoid drinks with added sugar, like soda, juices, and sports drinks.

Protein – Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian will tell you how much protein you should eat each day. It is best to eat lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nuts, and seeds.

Fats – The type of fat you eat is more important than the amount of fat. "Saturated" and "trans" fats can increase your risk for heart problems, like a heart attack.

Foods that have saturated fats include meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream.

Foods that have trans fats include processed food with "partially hydrogenated oils" on the ingredient list. This may include fried foods, store bought cookies, muffins, pies, and cakes.

"Monounsaturated" and "polyunsaturated" fats are better for you. Foods with these types of fat include fish, avocado, olive oil, and nuts.

Calories – People need to eat a certain amount of calories each day to keep their weight the same. People who are overweight and want to lose weight need to eat fewer calories each day.

Fiber – Eating foods with a lot of fiber can help control a person's blood sugar level. Foods that have a lot of fiber include apples, green beans, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, oatmeal, and whole grains.

Salt – People who have high blood pressure should not eat foods that contain a lot of salt (also called sodium). People with high blood pressure should also eat healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.

Alcohol – Having more than 1 drink (for women) or 2 drinks (for men) a day can raise blood sugar levels. Also, drinks that have fruit juice or soda in them can raise blood sugar levels.

What can I do if I need to lose weight? — If you need to lose weight, you can:

Exercise – Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, most days of the week. Even gentle exercise, like walking, is good for your health. Some people with diabetes need to change their medicine dose before they exercise. They might also need to check their blood sugar levels before and after exercising.

Eat fewer calories – Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian can tell you how many calories you should eat each day in order to lose weight.

If you are worried about your weight, size, or shape, talk with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian. They can help you make changes to improve your health.

Can I eat the same foods as my family? — Yes. You do not need to eat special foods if you have diabetes. You and your family can eat the same foods. Changing your diet is mostly about eating healthy foods and not eating too much.

What are the other parts of diabetes treatment? — Besides changing your diet, the other parts of diabetes treatment are:

Exercise

Medicines

Some people with diabetes need to learn how to match their diet and exercise with their medicine dose. For example, people who use insulin might need to choose the dose of insulin they give themselves. To choose their dose, they need to think about:

What they plan to eat at the next meal

How much exercise they plan to do

What their blood sugar level is

If the diet and exercise do not match the medicine dose, a person's blood sugar level can get too low or too high. Blood sugar levels that are too low or too high can cause problems.

More on this topic

Patient education: Type 1 diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Type 2 diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Using insulin (The Basics)
Patient education: Treatment for type 2 diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Low blood sugar in people with diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Weight loss treatments (The Basics)
Patient education: Carb counting for children with diabetes (The Basics)

Patient education: Type 1 diabetes and diet (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Type 2 diabetes and diet (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Type 2 diabetes: Insulin treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Type 2 diabetes: Alcohol, exercise, and medical care (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) in people with diabetes (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure, diet, and weight (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High cholesterol and lipids (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Low-sodium diet (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic kidney disease (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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