Diabetic Diet: Foods That Raise Your Blood Sugar Levels

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Type 2 Diabetes Warning Signs

Diabetic diet definition and facts

  • There is no single diabetes diet, meal plan, or diet that is diabetes-friendly that can serve as a correct meal plan for all patients with diabetes (type 2, gestational, or type 1 diabetes).
  • Glycemic index, carbohydrate counting, the MyPlate method, and the TLC diet plan are all methods for determining healthy eating habits for diabetes management.
  • The exact type and times of meals on a diabetic meal plan depend upon a person's age and gender, how much exercise you get and your activity level, and the need to gain, lose, or maintain optimal weight.
  • Table sugar and alcohol are acceptable in moderation for many patients with diabetes.
  • Most diabetic meal plans allow the person with diabetes to eat  the same foods as the rest of the family, with attention to portion size and timing of meals and snacks.
  • Eating a high-fiber diet can help improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Glycemic index is a way to classify carbohydrates in terms of the amount that they raise blood sugar. High glycemic index foods raise blood sugar more than lower index foods.
  • Some patients with type 2 use supplements as complementary medicine to treat their disease. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of supplements in treating the disease.

What is a diabetic diet?

A diabetes meal plan (diabetes diet) is a nutritional guide for people with diabetes that helps them decide when to consume meals and snacks as well as what type of foods to eat. There is no one predetermined diabetes diet that works for all people with diabetes. The goal of any diabetic meal plan is to achieve and maintain good control over the disease, including control of blood glucose and blood lipid levels as well as to maintaining a healthy weight and good nutrition.

Health care professionals and nutritionists can offer advice to help you create the best meal plan to manage your diabetes. Nutritionists can help you find recipes and cooking tips to help with meal planning and preparation.

Are there diabetic diet guidelines?

There is no single diabetic diet that is appropriate for all people with type 2, gestational, or type 1 diabetes just as there is no single medication regimen that is appropriate for everyone with this disease. Dietary choices depends upon many factors including your age and gender, overall exercise and activity level, any medications you may be taking (including insulin or others), and whether or not you are trying to lose weight, among other factors.

Some meal planning tools and guidelines include:

  • The plate method (MyPlate)
  • Glycemic index
  • Counting carbohydrates

Most doctors and health care professionals agree that patients with diabetes can eat most of the same foods and meals as the rest of the family with some added attention to timing of meals and portion sizes. As in any healthy diet, it is best to consume a variety of foods. There are numerous recipes and apps if you need ideas for healthy foods to eat.

Healthy eating includes eating a wide variety of foods including:

  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Non-fat dairy products
  • Beans
  • Lean meats, poultry, and fish

One example of a diabetic meal plan for people who also have elevated cholesterol levels is known as the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) plan. This meal plan is designed to help you manage your disease and by lowering your cholesterol level and helping you lose weight. The TLC diet is defined as follows:

  • Limit fat to 25%-35% of total daily calories, getting no more than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat, 10% or less from polyunsaturated fats, and up to 20% from monounsaturated fats (like plant oils or nuts).
  • Carbohydrates should account for no more than 50%-60% of your daily calories.
  • Try to eat 20-30 grams of fiber each day.
  • Allow 15%-20% of your daily calories for protein.
  • Limit cholesterol to 200 milligrams per day.

Quick GuideDiabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating

Diabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating
Diabetes testing

Diabetes

What are diabetes symptoms?

  • The early symptoms of untreated diabetes are related to elevated blood sugar levels, and loss of glucose in the urine. High amounts of glucose in the urine can cause increased urine output and lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes increased thirst and water consumption.
  • The inability of insulin to perform normally has effects on protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, that is, one that encourages storage of fat and protein.

How many carbs, fats, and proteins can I eat on a healthy diabetic meal plan?

The number of carbohydrates (carbs), fats, and proteins in your plan will depend upon the ideal number of calories you should consume each day. Your age, gender, the amount of exercise you get, and your activity level affect the number of calories you need to eat in order to gain, lose, or maintain a healthy weight.

A high-fiber diet has been shown to improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Fiber can be found in many foods, especially whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and fruits.

Can I have sugar on a diabetic meal plan?

Most doctors and other medical or health care professional believe that people on a diabetic diet can have small amounts of sugar, so long as they are part of a healthy and balanced nutrition strategy. Table sugar does not raise blood glucose more than starches.

Can I have alcohol on a diabetic diet?

It may be OK for some people with diabetes to drink alcohol in moderation. It is best to drink alcohol when your blood sugar levels are under good control, and it is important to remember that wine and mixed drinks contain sugar, and alcohol has a lot of calories. Your doctor or health care professional can tell you if alcohol can be a safe part of your meal plan.

What foods raise blood sugar levels?

The extent to which carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels is known as their glycemic index. High glycemic index foods raise glucose levels faster and to a greater degree than low glycemic index foods.

High glycemic index foods include:

  • White bread, bagels
  • Short-grain white rice
  • Corn flakes or puffed rice cereal
  • Russet potatoes
  • Saltine crackers, pretzels, rice cakes
  • Pumpkin
  • Melons
  • Pineapple
  • Popcorn

What foods help maintain good blood sugar levels?

These foods can fill you up without dramatic rises in blood glucose levels, for example:

  • 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
  • Rolled or steel-cut oatmeal
  • Converted rice, barley, bulgur
  • Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
  • Many fruits
  • Non-starchy vegetables (these contain fewer carbohydrates than starchy vegetables)

Proteins and fiber can also help you feel full without raising blood sugar levels as much as carbohydrates.

REFERENCE: American Diabetes Association. "Diabetes Meal Plans and a Healthy Diet." Updated: Jul 01, 2015.
<a href="http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/diabetes-meal-plans-and-a-healthy-diet.html>

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Reviewed on 3/22/2017
References
REFERENCE: American Diabetes Association. "Diabetes Meal Plans and a Healthy Diet." Updated: Jul 01, 2015.
<a href="http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/diabetes-meal-plans-and-a-healthy-diet.html>

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