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Meal Planning

The importance of meal planning in diabetes management:

Blood sugar levels can be controlled to a certain extent with proper diet, exercise, and healthy weight maintenance. A healthy lifestyle can also help control or lower blood pressure and control blood fats, thus reducing the risk for heart disease.

Proper meal planning should include spacing out smaller meals throughout the day to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Eating a big meal only once or twice a day can cause extreme high or low blood sugar levels. In addition, if the exercise regimen is changed, changes should be made to the diet accordingly, to maintain weight control and to control blood sugar levels.

What is the healthy food pyramid?

Whether you do or do not have diabetes, following the food pyramid guidelines is beneficial to your health. The food guide pyramid can help you eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food pyramid to guide you in selecting foods.

Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children, USDA
Click Image to Enlarge

The Food Pyramid is divided into six colored bands representing the five food groups plus oils:

  • Orange represents grains: Make half the grains consumed each day whole grains. Whole-grain foods include oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. Check the food label on processed foods - the words “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before the specific grain in the product.
  • Green represents vegetables: Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green- and orange-colored kinds, legumes (peas and beans), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables.
  • Red represents fruits: Focus on fruits. Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.
  • Yellow represents oils: Know the limits on fats, sugars, and salt (sodium). Make most of your fat sources from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening, and lard, as well as foods that contain these.
  • Blue represents milk: Get your calcium-rich foods. Milk and milk products contain calcium and vitamin D, both important ingredients in building and maintaining bone tissue. Use low-fat or fat-free milk after the age of two years. However, during the first year of life, infants should be fed breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Whole cow’s milk may be introduced after an infant’s first birthday, but lower-fat or skim milk should not be used until the child is at least two years old.
  • Purple represents meat and beans:  Go lean on protein. Choose low fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine - choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Activity is also represented on the pyramid by the steps and the person climbing them, as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the Food Pyramid and 2005 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the Food Pyramid is designed for persons over the age of two who do not have chronic health conditions.

Although the Food Pyramid promotes health, including the prevention of diabetes and its complications, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends individualized meal plans for persons with diabetes. Persons with diabetes should consult their physicians and registered dietitians (RD) for guidance with meal planning and physical activity.

The number of servings from each food grouping may differ for a person with diabetes, based on his/her recommended treatment plan, diabetic goals, calorie intake, and lifestyle. There are many tools available to help you follow a diabetes meal plan, including the food pyramid, exchange lists, and carbohydrate counting. Always consult your physician or registered (RD) for dietary recommendations and daily physical exercise requirements for your situation.

Grains Grains provide the body with energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Although filled with carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels quickly, grains are essential to a healthy diet. Grains are divided into two subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Examples of grains include:
  • bread
  • oatmeal
  • pasta
  • cereal
  • rice
  • cornmeal
Vegetables Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals essential to the body. Some vegetables also contain fiber. Because they are low in calories when eaten raw or cooked, persons with diabetes are encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables. However, persons with diabetes still need to count carbohydrates when they eat vegetables, because even non-starchy vegetables contain some carbohydrates.
Fruits Fruit can provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. How and when to eat fruit or drink fruit juices for a person with diabetes is very specific to that individual. Certain fruits can affect blood sugar levels, and a person may need to experiment with various fruits to determine how fruit affects his/her body through regular blood sugar level monitoring.
Milk and yogurt Fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt provide energy, protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Fat-free milk or yogurts also are good foods to treat low blood sugar levels, since they contain the same amount of carbohydrates as one serving of fruit or starch.
Protein Foods that contain protein help build muscles and body tissue, in addition to providing vitamins and minerals. Due to the increased risk of heart disease in persons with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people cut down on animal protein foods. Animal protein foods such as meats, whole milk products, and high-fat cheeses contain saturated fat. Other examples of protein foods include poultry, eggs, fish, and tofu.
Fats and oils The total fat and oil intake should be based on the individual's cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and lifestyle. Some examples of "healthier" fats and oils (lower in saturated fats and cholesterol and more monounsaturated fats) include olive oil, olives, nuts, canola oil, and avocado.
Sugary foods Because diabetes is associated with glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, some people think sugar should be avoided in their diet. However, table sugar and other sugars in a person's diet do not increase blood glucose levels any faster than carbohydrates, according to the American Diabetes Association.

How much sugar a person with diabetes can consume depends on that person's individual diabetes treatment and nutritional plan, and how well his/her blood sugar levels and blood fats are controlled. Always consult your physician for more specific recommendations.

There are many tools available to help you follow a diabetes meal plan, including the Food Pyramid, exchange lists, and carbohydrate counting. Always consult your physician or registered dietitian (RD) for dietary recommendations and daily physical exercise requirements for your situation.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Diabetes

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