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Meal Planning Tips for Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. If you are someone who suffers from diabetes, you know that it is important to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range. One way to keep on track is to develop a meal plan – a guide for when, what, and how much you eat, while also considering your goals, taste preferences, lifestyles, and medications.

family having a holiday meal

Four important factors relating to food will affect your blood sugar levels in different ways:

  1. Carbs

  2. Protein

  3. Fat

  4. Fiber

1. Keep Track of Your Carbs

Help keep your blood sugar levels in your target range by keeping track of your carbs and setting a limit on how many you eat each meal. Reach out to your doctor or dietician to come up with the right number of carbs for your needs. There is no “one size fits all” answer. The number of carbs you can eat depends on your age, weight, activity level, and more.

There are 3 types of carbs:

  1. Sugars: natural sugar found in fruits and milk or added sugar found in soda and sweets

  2. Starches: wheats, oats, other grains, starchy vegetables, peas, & more

  3. Fiber: the part of plant foods that is not digested, but helps you stay healthy

On average, you should aim to get about half of your calories from carbs if you are diabetic. Try to eat the same amount of carbs each meal to keep your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day.

An alternative to the way you manage your carbs is using the glycemic indexexternal icon (GI). Low GI foods are digested more slowly and do not have a big impact on your blood sugar levels. These also help your body stay full longer. Low GI foods are things like beans, milk, brown rice, etc. High GI foods are digested and absorbed faster, so you will be hungry faster. These have a bigger impact on your blood sugar levels. High GI foods are things like bread, watermelon, mashed potatoes, etc.

2. The Plate Method

The plate method is a way to make sure you get enough non-starchy veggies and lean protein, while limiting the higher carb foods that may raise your blood sugar. This method uses a 9-inch dinner plate. Fill half of it with a non-starchy veggie like broccoli, cauliflower, or salad. Then, fill a quarter of the plate with a lean protein like chicken, turkey, or tofu. Lastly, fill the remaining quarter with a grain or starchy food like potatoes, rice, or pasta – OR skip this all together and just fill half your plate with the non-starchy veggies.

3. Portion Size

Portion size is not always the same as serving size. Portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat, while serving size is a specific amount of food recommended to eat. In today’s world, restaurant portions are a lot bigger than they used to be. One plate can be 3 or 4 servings and there are studies that show people tend to eat more food when they are served more food. This is why it’s important to control portion size when managing your blood sugar.

A general rule of thumb is if you are eating out, immediately box up half of your meal to go. When you are at home, measure your snacks instead of eating straight out of the bag or box. At dinner, dish out one serving per plate, reducing any temptation to return for seconds.

Check out this guide to help get on track with your portion sizes:

portion size graphic
  1. 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry - palm of hand (no fingers)

  2. 1 ounce of meat or cheese – thumb (tip to base)

  3. 1 cup or 1 medium fruit - fist

  4. 1–2 ounces of nuts or pretzels - cupped hand

  5. 1 tablespoon - thumb tip (tip to 1st joint)

  6. 1 teaspoon - fingertip (tip to 1st joint)

4. Ask for Help

Planning your meals can be a daunting task, especially when you are trying to make one that fits your health needs, budget, schedule, and taste preferences. Ask your doctor for help or reach out to a dietician to create a healthy meal plan that is right for you!

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