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So often, when I diagnose a patient with diabetes, they leave my office in pure confusion. They are afraid to eat anything. What can they eat, how much? The questions can be overwhelming and endless. So, my goal with this blog is to demystify the diabetic diet. Here are some smart steps to follow, if you have diabetes. They are great too, if you are looking to lose weight or become healthier.

1) The Plate Method (if you follow this step, you are on your way)

The most basic meal-planning tool is the “plate method.” It’s pretty simple: Fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, peppers, and snow peas; fill a quarter of your plate with lean meat, such as fish or chicken breast; and cover the final quarter of your plate with carbs, including grains or starchy veggies like corn and potatoes. On the side, you can also have a serving of low-fat dairy (like skim milk or low-fat yogurt) or soymilk and a serving of fruit, such as an apple or a half cup of berries. You can still add a small amount of fat to the meal.

2) How To Count Carbs

On average, you can have between 40-60 carbohydrates per meal. Talk with your doctor about exactly how many carbohydrates are right for you. Most of the carbohydrates we eat come from three food groups: starch, fruit and milk. Vegetables also contain some carbohydrates, but foods in the meat and fat groups contain very little carbohydrates. This list shows the average amount of carbohydrates in each food group per serving:

  Carbohydrate Grams   Carbohydrate Grams
Starch 15 Vegetable 5
Fruit 15 Meat 0
Milk 12 Fat 0

To make things easy, many people begin carbohydrate counting by rounding the carbohydrate values of milk up to 15. In other words, one serving of starch, fruit or milk all contains 15 grams of carbohydrates or one carbohydrate serving. Three servings of vegetable also contain 15 grams. One or two servings of vegetables do not need to be counted. Each meal and snack will contain a total number of grams of carbohydrates.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you with carb counting; below are a few to consider:

· Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning (Joslin Diabetes Center)

· Choose Your Foods: Exchange Lists for Diabetes (American Diabetes Association)

· Complete Guide to Carb Counting (American Diabetes Association)

· The Calorie King Calorie Fat & Carbohydrate Counter (Alan Borushek)

· The Diabetes Carbohydrate & Fat Gram Guide (Lea Ann Holzmeister)

3) Portion Control:

There’s an overarching message that everyone—not just those with diabetes—should keep in mind: Portion control is key. Restaurants in particular can pack two or three servings onto one jumbo plate. But despite what they may have you believe, the recommended serving of meat is only 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards. A serving of pasta or rice should be the size of a clenched fist. A baked potato should be about the size of your computer mouse. A cup of veggies is the size of a baseball, a 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter is equivalent to a Ping-Pong ball, and an ounce of cheese is the size of four dice. “It’s a bit of a learning process,” says Smithson. “You’ll get to a point where you know what a serving size is. In the beginning, you may need to look it up.”

  • 1 cup steamed green beans or 1 cup low-fat yogurt is the size of a baseball
  • 1 cup brown rice is the size of a light bulb
  • 2 to 3 oz. grilled salmon is the size of a deck of cards
  • 1 oz. dried fruit is the size of a golf ball

4) A

Sample Day:

½ cup cooked oatmeal
¾ cup blueberries
1 whole egg and 1 egg white, scrambled
1 cup (8 oz.) 1% milk
(Men: Add a cup more cooked oatmeal)
Total Carbs
Women: 40 grams
Men: 55 grams
2 slices light whole wheat bread
2 oz. turkey
1 slice reduced-fat Swiss cheese
4 oz. apple
1 cup (6 oz.) nonfat yogurt
1 cup baby carrots
2 Tbsp. light ranch dressing
Caffeine-free diet soda
(Men: Add ¾ oz. tiny pretzels)
Total Carbs
Women: 45 grams
Men: 60 grams
3 oz. broiled pork chop
2/3 cup brown rice
¼ cup brown gravy
½ cup steamed green beans
1 cup salad
1 Tbsp. Italian dressing
1½ cup light or no-sugar-added
ice cream
Decaf unsweetened iced tea
(Men: Add 1/3 cup more rice)
Total Carbs
Women: 60 grams
Men: 75 grams
½ cup sliced peaches in light syrup
¼ cup 1% cottage cheese
Total Carbs
15 grams

5) And Finally – Find An Expert

I always encourage and offer my patients a referral to a registered dietician or diabetes educator. I definitely don’t know all there is to know about diabetes, so seek out a professional. Many hospitals hold monthly or even weekly group diabetes education classes. Check with your health care provider or call your local hospital.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It takes time, to get used to this lifestyle change. But again, it can save your life, and your limbs, and your eyes, and your heart and your…. You get the picture?