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If you or someone you know has diabetes, then you know that eating well is perhaps one of the most important things you can do. But, the dietary challenges that come with diabetes can be frustrating. Many people with diabetes approach eating healthy from the standpoint of avoiding foods that aren't good for them. Eating well shouldn't be about avoidance, it should be about making good choices and enjoying the foods we love with control.
Your body changes most of the food you eat into blood sugar (or glucose), which supplies you with the energy you need. When you have diabetes, your body has a hard time turning blood sugar into energy. As a result, more of the sugar stays in your blood. Many of your favorite foods probably contain carbohydrates, which break down directly into blood sugar. Foods rich in carbohydrates include sweets, potatoes, pastas, fruit and fruit juice, milk and yogurt.
"Wait a minute," you say. "I thought things like fruit and yogurt were good for me?"
Yes, even food that is good for you can present problems for people with diabetes if one eats too much of it. It is the total amount of carbohydrates you eat, not necessarily the source, that matters. The recommended amount of carbohydrates for each regular meal is between 45 and 60 grams. To put this into perspective, one small apple has 15 grams of carbohydrates, as does a single slice of whole wheat or white bread. A single corn tortilla and a cup of macaroni each has 30 grams. And, a cup of canned fruit contains an entire meal's worth of carbohydrates.
It's a good idea to get most of your carbohydrates from foods that also bring something else with health benefits to the party. For instance, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other substances that help protect the body from disease. Some foods, like apples, oats, citrus fruits, carrots and barley, contain carbohydrates, but also contain a certain type of fiber that slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream. On the other hand, carbohydrate-rich items like sweets, chips, crackers and fried foods also can contain lots of fat and offer very little else in terms of nutrition.
To get your carbohydrates under control, try the plate method. Basically, at each meal, look at your empty plate and mentally divide it into two halves. Fill one half of the plate with vegetables that are low in starch, such as leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli and cucumber. Next, take the other half of the plate and mentally divide it in half again. Fill one of the remaining sections with protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish or dairy products (remember, the lower the fat, the better). Fill the final section of the plate (no more than one-quarter of your meal) with starchy foods, such as breads, pasta, corn or potatoes. If you're in the mood for sweets, make them part of your meal, not in addition to it. Use dessert as your starch portion, and add a little time for extra exercise to help your body handle it.
Most importantly, take care of your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar, take your medications as prescribed and exercise regularly. Talk to your health care professionals about your condition and voice your opinions about what is important to you. Carry out your normal activities and do the things that are important to you, though be mindful that you may have to find new ways to do things.
No matter your age or current health, a well-balanced eating plan will give you more energy and endurance to carry out your daily activities. Eating right also helps you feel better and reduces your risk for certain health problems.