Diabetes Mellitus


Diabetes and a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is one of the single most effective ways of preventing and managing diabetes. There is no one diet that is right for everyone, and in fact many of the diet regimens you hear about may not be the healthiest choice for you.  Below we will cover some of the basic principle of eating healthy. For those with diabetes, always remembers to discuss specific diet recommendations for preventing diabetes, losing weight, or controlling blood glucose with your doctor.

The Food Pyramid

The term “balanced diet” means eating adequate amounts of different types of foods to acquire all of the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy while not eating excess amounts of any one type.  The classic food pyramid and the more current Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Eating Pyramid (shown below) provide the basis of a balanced diet based on research of the body’s nutritional requirements, the harmful effects of certain foods consumed in excess, and the protective effects of others.

Total caloric intake is another important consideration. The calorie is a measure of the amount of energy in a serving of food that can be used and/or stored by the body. The human body has a basic energy requirement which is dependent on size (larger body = more energy required for sustenance), level of activity (exercise requires more energy), and need for growth (children and adolescents need extra energy to grow; adults may need extra energy to fight off infections when sick or to heal after an injury). Taking all of these factors into consideration, a target level of caloric intake per day should be selected. All commercially available foods list the calorie content per serving in the nutritional information. With this data, you should be able to plan a series of meals which will provide food from the various food groups (as outlined in the pyramid) while providing the appropriate caloric intake (not too little, not too much).

Caloric requirements and food group servings recommendations
from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Calories per day Body and activity profile Daily servings by food group
1200 – 1600
  • A small woman who exercises
  • A small/medium woman who wants to lose weight
  • A medium woman who does not exercise much
  • 6 starches
  • 3 vegetables
  • 2 fruits
  • 2 milk/yogurt
  • 2 meat/substitute up to 3 fats
1600 – 2000
  • A large woman who wants to lose weight
  • A small man at a healthy weight
  • A medium man who does not exercise muchA medium/large man who wants to lose weight
  • 8 starches
  • 4 vegetables
  • 3 fruits
  • 2 milk/yogurt
  • 2 meat/substitute up to 4 fats
2000 – 2400
  • A medium/large man with a high level of exercise / physical activity
  • A large man at a healthy weightA large woman with a high level of exercise / physical activity
  • 11 starches
  • 4 vegetables
  • 3 fruits
  • 2 milk/yogurt
  • 2 meat/substitute up to 5 fats

Finally, the diabetic patient who has particular difficulty controlling blood glucose levels (especially those on insulin or who require frequent home glucose checks), may need a stricter eating schedule.  Each meal and snack should be consumed at the same time each day and should consist of the same total caloric content and specific food group break-down.  This will make blood glucose levels more predictable, easier to treat with insulin or other drugs, and easier to monitor consistently.  If a diabetic patient on insulin skips a meal or eats a smaller meal than usual, the level of medication which was dosed for that meal may cause the blood sugar to fall to dangerously low levels.  Likewise, if the meal is larger than normal, the carbohydrate load will overwhelm the regular dose of medication.  The NIH website at http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/eating_ez/ provides some useful tips and tools for maintaining a regular eating schedule.

For more information on healthy eating, read the Trusty Guide to Healthy Eating. And, if you'd like some great, healthy recipes to help control and manage diabetes, go on to the next page.

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