Diabetic Diets or Not?



My first encounters with diabetic diets came from my grandmother. Our large extended family spent many Sundays in her huge kitchen for the family meal.

Grandma spent the entire day preparing homemade tomato sauce which simmered on the stove from early morning until evening. The final product of red velvet sauce was served over fresh pasta with side dishes of pork hocks, sausage, and homemade meatballs. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese was passed around the tables (at least two tables to fit the family) along with homemade bread and a large bowl of salad. Our salads were a meal in themselves, tossed with an oil and vinegar dressing.

The entire family enjoyed the feast–well that is most of us. Not my grandmother. I distinctly remember that most of her meals consisted of a bowl filled with a horrid looking combination of greens and plain meats.


My grandmother was a diabetic.

Later encounters with diabetic diets came from teaching patients in the home setting from pre printed ADA diet charts. It was a world of-weigh your food- meal plans. I’m thinking there were probably either a lot of non compliant diabetics at that time or most diabetics didn’t eat out much.

Today those rigid meal plans are gone.

The words healthy and lifestyle have replaced the word diet.

The single most important thing is to decide what is the most realistic way for you to manage your diabetes.

  • Start with a foundation of nutritional education
  • Choose what works for your lifestyle.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by fears.
  • Consistency in when and what you eat will help to maintain your blood glucose levels.

A healthy diet consists of:

Carbohydrates =45 to 65 % of daily calories

Protein= 15 to 20% of daily calories

Fats 20 to 35% of daily calories

Nutritious eating involves thought and planning. It requires reading labels. This may be overwhelming at first, but the benefits are long reaching.

Much of healthy eating is based on the new food pyramid:

  • orange — grains
  • green — vegetables
  • red — fruits
  • yellow — fats and oils
  • blue — milk and dairy products
  • purple — meat, beans, fish, and nuts

The recommendations of the new food pyramid are for everyone, not just diabetics.

mypyramid_4c.jpg

Many diabetics and their families have found a combination of the food pyramid and monitoring carbohydrates through the glycemic index is a plan that works for them.

The American Diabetic Association in conjunction with The American Dietetic Association provides information on the diabetic exchange system. This plan involves dividing foods into group types (carbohydrate group, meat and meat substitute group and fat group) and knowing how many of each group you should have each day. One serving of a group is an exchange. While this system is more rigid it provides structure for people who need boundaries based on their needs. A dietitian may suggest you begin this plan by weighing and measuring until you become familiar with portions.


Personally I know I am a terrible food planner and being able to use a list to pick and choose exchanges would be a perfect solution for me. The ADA also provides handy lists for eating out which are available on their site.


Monitoring the glycemic index of foods is a plan that many prefer. This system ranks foods, and especially carbohydrate foods on how they affect your blood glucose. It is a more complicated plan but many people find it a usual tool.

Today’s diabetic nutritional planning has come a long way. If only my grandmother knew how to create a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle of eating for herself. If she were here today I would suggest a serving of whole wheat pasta with sauce, light on the Parmesan, served with a nicely baked, lean turkey meatball. A side of spring greens with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, tossed in light extra virgin olive oil and vinegar would round out the meal. Oh and skip the bread if you want dessert later–a cup of strawberries and blueberries topped with a spoonful of non dairy whipped topping.

Dinner is ready!

Battling Books:

The Official Pocket Guide to Diabetic Exchanges by American Diabetic Association (2004)

New Glucose Revolution: The Authoritative Guide to the Glycemic Index by Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller, Thomas M.S. Wolever, Kaye Foster-Powell, and Stephen Colagiuri (2006)

The Diabetes Food and Nutrition Bible: A Complete Guide to Planning, Shopping, Cooking and Eating by Hope S. Warshaw and Nancy S. Hughes (2001)

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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