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Managing Diabetes: Diabetes Meal Planning

  Meal planning and blood glucose levels

As you know from earlier chapters, if you have diabetes your most important goal is keeping blood glucose levels in healthy ranges. To do that, you have to balance two very important lifestyle factors: what you eat and physical activity.

Meal planning lets you take control of your blood glucose while eating healthy, good-tasting foods. By planning your meals, you can help avoid foods that will upset your blood glucose control.

Your first step in meal planning is to make an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD). A registered dietitian is a professional who is trained in medical nutrition therapy.

Your RD will explain the basics of diabetes meal planning and will work with you to design a meal plan that suits your preferences. You’ll learn what, how much and when to eat, how foods affect blood glucose levels, what’s best to order in restaurants and how to include your favorite foods in your diet. You’ll also learn what meal planning method is best for you.

People with diabetes can choose between several different methods of meal planning. Your dietitian will help you select the best method for you. Here are a few of the meal planning methods that are available.

Exchange lists
In the exchange lists method of meal planning, foods are classified into different groups. Foods within a particular group will all have the same general effect on your blood glucose level. When using the exchange list method, if you don’t want a particular food in a group, you can substitute or exchange it for something else in the same food group. Exchange lists let you choose between many different foods while keeping your blood glucose under control.

Carbohydrate counting
The carbohydrate counting method of meal planning is also useful for people with diabetes. Carbohydrates are especially important to people with diabetes because they have the biggest impact on blood glucose levels. When you eat a food containing carbohydrates, 100 percent of that carbohydrate is converted to glucose. For this reason, it’s very important to know how much carbohydrate your food contains, and to balance your intake throughout the day.

Too much carbohydrate in a meal or snack can send your blood glucose levels soaring. Too little, and your blood glucose can fall too low. To help people measure the amount of carbohydrate in their food, dietitians use a simple but effective system. An item of food, at a given portion size, contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. This is defined as one “carbohydrate choice.” Carbohydrates include foods in the starch (breads, cereals, beans, grains, pasta etc.), fruit, vegetable and milk groups.

For example, many people with diabetes may include three or four carbohydrate choices in each meal. If a person’s meal plan includes between-meal snacks, each snack may also contain one or two carbohydrate choices. You and your dietitian will work together to decide exactly what carbohydrate intake is right for you.

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