The main goal of a diabetic meal plan is to keep your blood sugar levels within the ideal target range. Because everyone’s lifestyle and preferences are unique, from activity, taste preferences, and diet patterns, it is best to plan for typical balanced meals to prevent extreme highs and lows. Eating the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal is one of the simplest approaches to assure this happens.
The Diabetic Diet
By following a diabetes meal plan you are giving yourself a greater chance at avoiding the devastating complications of diabetes from not managing your blood sugar. The best diabetic meal plan should take a few specific factors into account. By planning ahead for what you will eat each day you are taking control of your own health and being your own advocate. Some key factors in a diabetic meal plan include adequate fiber to manage blood sugar, limiting consumption of processed carbs, and the proper balance of carb intake with activity and insulin use.
Foods to Eat
When planning a diabetic meal plan make sure all your calories are adding to your health and not taking away from it. To do so there are certain nutrient-rich foods you should include like the following:
Healthy Carbohydrates – fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and legumes.
Good Fats – heart-healthy fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon. Avocados, nuts, and plant oils like olive, peanut, and canola oil.
Fiber-Rich Foods – Many of the healthy carbs like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains will contain adequate fiber to help the body efficiently digest blood sugar levels.
- Brussel Sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Split Peas
- Cooked Black Beans
- Cooked Edamame
- Cooked Lima Beans
- Baked Beans
- Chia seeds
Fats & Others
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Canola Oil
Nuts and seeds are added to just about any recipe possible and legumes are a primary source of plant-based protein. Whole grains are essential for fiber and to complete the amino acid makeup of many plant-based meals including brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and other whole-grain foods. The Mediterranean diet’s heart health benefits should be predominantly accredited to the fiber from a focus on whole grains.
Foods to Avoid
The food you leave out of your diabetic meal plan is just as important as the food and food-types you allow in. There are two specific nutrients that are important to be aware of when making a diabetes meal plan aside from carbohydrates. Because diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease the type of fat and amount of sodium you take in is important.
Trans Fat – This type of fat is primarily in processed snack foods, margarine, shortening, and baked goods/pastries. This fat was developed to help lower fat intake but has since been strongly connected to heart disease.
Saturated Fat – Foods like high-fat animal products, high-fat dairy, and some plant oils like coconut should be avoided on a diabetes meal plan. Specifically, butter, processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and most beef should be left off or limited.
Cholesterol – A diabetes meal plan should aim for 200 mg or less of cholesterol a day. Cholesterol is found in foods like high-fat dairy, egg yolks, high-fat animal sources, liver, and organ meats.
Sodium – This mineral can increase one’s risk of hypertension and heart disease making it important to aim for 2,300 mg a day or less.
- Red Meat
- Egg Yolks
- Organ Meats
- Processed Meat
- White bread
- White pasta
Fats & Others
- Trans fat
- Refined oil
- Maple Syrup
- Agave Nectar
- Salty Crackers
Ideal diabetes meal plans will meet the needs of a variety of individuals with diabetes. The two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2, will need to follow different diabetes meal plans. Those needing to lose weight or restrict their calories should also be considered by offering a meal plan at around 1200 calories, and those who eat a vegetarian diet should also have a diabetes meal plan to follow.
Type 2 Diabetes meal plan – A type 2 diabetes meal plan should include complex carbs like whole wheat foods, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, legumes, and vegetables. However, it is important to note that processed carbs should be avoided like white bread, pasta, and baked goods that will cause rapid glucose spikes. A steady supply of lean and low fat proteins will have little impact on blood sugar and should be included in a type 2 diabetes meal plan.
Diabetic 1200 calories meal plan – Some diabetes patients may require weight loss or calorie restriction for various reasons. A diabetic 1200 calorie meal plan may range from 1200 calories to 1600 calories depending on the day but should offer 3 meals and 2 snacks from high fiber, low fat, low glycemic index foods.
Vegetarian diabetic meal plan – Diabetes meal plans should be available for those who follow special diets, like vegetarian dieters. This meal plan will simply lack animal foods and items sourced from animals, like eggs or dairy. However, for vegan dieters, they can replace eggs and dairy with tofu and green leafy vegetables high in calcium.
Type 1 diabetes meal plan – The food included in a diabetes meal plan for those with type 1 diabetes is as important as meal timing for them. Those following this meal plan should include low-glycemic index foods like complex carbs and avoid simple carbs, trans fat, and sodas.
What to Drink
The right drink choices can help manage your diabetes as well as potentially cause harmful side effects. Beverages that are ideal to drink include water, unsweetened teas or coffee, sugar-free sports drinks, tomato juice, and sugar-free carbonated beverages.
This is a method offered by the American Diabetes Association to help make meal planning simple and effective in managing blood sugar. In short, it relies on increasing vegetable intake by filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. A quarter of the plate is then reserved for lean protein with the remaining quarter being whole-grain carbs like brown rice or starchy vegetables. Adding healthy fats to the plate in small amounts and a serving of fruit throughout the day is also recommended.
It is important to understand the difference between a portion and serving sizes because they are not always the same. Portion size refers to the amount of food you eat at once and a serving is a specific amount of food the nutrition label references for calories and nutrient content. When eating a meal at a restaurant, it is almost always more than one portion in size. For those following a diabetic meal plan, it is best to take half the meal home for later.
Diabetic Diet Meal Plan
Our Registered Dietician has created a 16-page full week of meals for the ideal Diabetic Diet meal plan, including:
- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, & Snacks for each day of the 7-Day meal plan
- Full Macronutrients for each day of the week including calories, protein, fats, and carbs
- Diabetic Diet recipes
- Shopping List
Moderate Blood Sugar
By following a diabetes meal plan most individuals can control their blood sugar levels quite well. Having a plan in place and knowing when and what you will eat can prevent last-minute decisions where poor choices are typically made.
Even for those not following the diabetic 1200 calorie meal plan weight loss is almost certain by following a diabetes meal plan. This is because the plans decrease bad fat, almost completely remove refined carbs, and amps up the nutrient density of meals. These characteristics will naturally lead to weight loss, even if just moderate amounts this can improve overall health.
Those with uncontrolled diabetes and blood sugar place a lot of stress on their kidneys. This is primarily due to the increase in ketones in the blood of those not controlling the number of carbs they take in; excess ketones being processed by the kidneys can cause damage and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Following a diabetes meal plan ensures moderate carbohydrate intake rather than the two extremes.
By integrating a diabetic meal plan you are personally taking control of your health and being your own advocate. Following a meal plan is one of the best ways to keep your blood glucose under control and avoid unnecessary, life-altering diabetes complications. Following a diabetes meal plan does not have to be restrictive, but can be modified, within reason, to meet the needs of individuals based on food preferences and calorie needs. Utilizing portion control and meal timing are important factors in creating and following a diabetic meal plan. Your healthcare provider or dietitian are great resources in creating a meal plan to meet your unique needs.
Trista K. Best, RD
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in Public Health for 10 years focusing on nutrition and health promotion. As a Dietitian she seeks to provide her clients with the skills necessary to take control over their health, one decision at a time.