One of the most frustrating things for people recently diagnosed with diabetes is meal planning. The days of eating whatever you want whenever you want are over. Now you have to count carbs, make sure you are eating enough fiber, and in general pay attention to what you are putting in your body. While it may seem overwhelming at first, the good news is that once you learn the basics of diabetic meal planning, it is a simple and painless process.
One thing that has helped many diabetics transition from mindless eating to the conscious planning needed for a successful diabetic meal plan is knowing how the body uses the macronutrients found in the food you eat. Ultimately, nearly everything you eat is broken down into sugar molecules that your body uses as energy. The speed with which those sugar molecules enter the bloodstream is vital information to the diabetic. So, how does your body use the nutrients you put into it?
- Simple Sugars – Large amounts of simple sugars are found in foods such as fruit, sweets, and drinks (alcohol, soda, and fruit juices). The sugars found in these types of foods enter the bloodstream almost immediately, and can cause huge spikes in your blood sugar levels.
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the next to be absorbed into the blood stream and are typically what Type 1 diabetics use to determine their insulin dosage. Sugar from carbohydrate consumption begins entering the bloodstream one to two hours after ingestion. Carbohydrates are an essential part of any diet, but diabetics must monitor their consumption of carbs closely so that a spike in blood sugar does not occur an hour or two after consuming the foods.
- Protein – Protein, found in foods such as meat and dairy products, takes about four hours to enter the bloodstream. Protein is an important part of a diabetic’s diet.
- Fat – Fat takes six to eight hours to breakdown and enter the bloodstream. The major worry with fat has more to do with maintaining a healthy weight than it does with blood sugar levels.
As you can probably see, the types of foods you eat will have a large impact on your blood sugar levels.
So What Is The Plan?
The goal of the diabetic diet is to eat balanced and portion controlled meals. Ideally, your diet will include a wide-range of foods to ensure you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. By sticking to a balanced diet, diabetics are able to maintain a relatively constant blood glucose level throughout the day. Your ideal diet will consist of five to six smaller meals throughout the day, usually eating them every two to three hours. The small and frequent meals help to keep your digestive system active and your blood sugar regulated. By carefully timing and planning meals, diabetics improve their chances of maintaining an acceptable level of blood sugar and are more successful in managing their diabetes.
Planning meals is a pain for diabetics, especially those new to the illness. However, by being aware of how macronutrients are absorbed in the body, choosing appropriate foods to include with your meals becomes easier. Remember no foods are off-limits to diabetics, but there are smart choices and not-so-smart choices. Take the time to develop a diabetic meal plan and do your best to stick to it. When you do veer from your plan, and we all do at some point, keep in mind the basics of how your body uses food for energy and you will have all of the information you need to make a decision that gives you a break from your routine without throwing your system into sugar shock.