Quick Facts to Know About Eating and Diabetes

Where Do I Start?

When you're diagnosed with diabetes, everything you eat becomes important. If you have Type 1 diabetes, gaining good control means balancing what you eat with the correct amount of insulin to help use the glucose in your blood. A dietitian or certified diabetes educator (CDE) can help you figure out how much insulin you need.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, oral medications help you use the insulin you already produce more effectively, to keep blood glucose levels in a normal range. Both kinds of diabetes require a plan of food, exercise, weight control and medication.

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. Here are some basics that may help you on your way.

What's a Healthy Weight?

Try to maintain a normal body weight. Many doctors use the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a guide for determining your ideal weight. Your BMI is calculated from your weight and height and puts more focus on body fat instead of just weight. The formula, for those who like math, is "body mass index = mass (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters) squared". For those of us who would rather live without math, many free BMI calculators are available online. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has one that is easy to use.

A BMI of 20-25 is considered normal. 26-29.9 is overweight, 30-39.9 is obese and 40 or more, morbidly obese.

How Many Carbs Should I Eat?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends keeping your carbs at 55% to 65% of your daily intake. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) advises between 55% to 60%. Both organizations state that even though carbs directly affect blood sugar, they are not the enemy. They contain many nutrients that your body needs. Carbs are what your body uses for energy by breaking down into glucose.

In diabetes, the body can't use the glucose for energy because it needs insulin to move the glucose to the cells. In type 1 diabetes, no insulin is produced by the body. That's why people with diabetes need to take insulin. If someone has type 2, they might produce their own insulin, but it isn't effective enough to move the glucose from the blood to the cells. Oral medications help their insulin work better.

According to the ADA, fat should make up 25% to 30% of your diet and protein intake should be approximately 11% to 18%. Less emphasis on fatty animal protein and more on lean types of protein such as egg whites, white meat chicken and turkey, and soy products help to keep cholesterol levels down.

What's the Deal with Fiber?

Fiber is an important part of eating for diabetes. Even though fiber is considered a carbohydrate it doesn't raise blood glucose levels, and increased fiber intake has been shown to actually decrease glucose levels in people with diabetes.

The recommended amount of fiber varies but all sources agree that 25 grams should be the minimum grams of fiber in a day. A large-scale analysis of medical research, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition recommends a range of 25 to 50 grams per day.

Many people don't eat enough fiber. Increasing your consumption of high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, oats and other whole grains, brown rice, lentils and beans, fruits, vegetables and nuts can help you reach your goal. If you're increasing your fiber intake, remember to drink at least 8 glasses of water throughout the day, to help keep things moving.

What's the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index rates carbs by how much they raise blood glucose. Carbs like candy, sugar, cake and cookies have a high glycemic index, while whole-grains have a lower glycemic index.

The glycemic index can help when trying to figure out which carbs are the best for you. Since all carbohydrates don't affect blood glucose levels the same way, knowing which carbs have a lower glycemic index can help you plan your meals more effectively.

You can get glycemic index charts from your dietician, from books, or free from on-line sources such as the University of Sydney, Australia sponsored website, "Home of the Glycemic Index". This site has a database that shows the glycemic index for many foods and offers information about using the glycemic index for rating your carbs.

"NEJM Study Shows Fiber's Great Benefits in Type 2 Diabetes." Joslin Diabetes Center. May 2000. Joslin Diabetes Center. 7 Jan 2007.

"Carbohydrate and Fiber Recommendations for People With Diabetes." American Diabetes Association (ADA). 7 Jan 2007.

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