The importance of meal planning in diabetes management
Blood sugar levels can be controlled to a certain extent with proper diet, exercise,
and healthy weight maintenance. A healthy lifestyle can also help control or lower
blood pressure and control blood fats. This reduces the risk for heart disease.
Proper meal planning should include spacing out smaller meals throughout the day to
maintain steady blood sugar levels. Eating a big meal only once or twice a day can
cause extreme high or low blood sugar levels. In addition, if the exercise regimen
is changed, changes should be made to the diet accordingly, to maintain weight control
and to control blood sugar levels.
What is the My Plate plan?
Whether you do or do not have diabetes, following the MyPlate guidelines is beneficial
to your health. The MyPlate plan can help you eat a variety of foods while encouraging
the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services have prepared the following food plate to guide you in selecting foods.
The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional
intake of the following:
Grains. Make half the grains consumed each day whole grains. Whole-grain foods include oatmeal,
whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. Check the food
label on processed foods—the words “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before
the specific grain in the product.
Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green- and orange-colored
kinds, legumes (peas and beans), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Healthier
choices include buying fresh, low-sodium, or no-salt added canned versions, or plain,
frozen vegetables that have no added sauces or seasonings.
Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh,
canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed.
Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group.
Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine—choose
more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as nut oils, contain essential nutrients
and can be included in the diet. Others, such as animal fats, are solid and should
Exercise and every day physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary
To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your age, sex, and physical
activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed
for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.
Although the MyPlate plan promotes health, including the prevention of diabetes and
its complications, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends individualized
meal plans for people with diabetes. People with diabetes should talk with their health
care providers and registered dietitians (RD) for guidance with meal planning and
The number of servings from each food grouping may differ for a person with diabetes,
based on his or her recommended treatment plan, diabetic goals, calorie intake, and
lifestyle. There are many tools available to help you follow a diabetes meal plan,
including ChooseMyPlate.gov, exchange lists, and carbohydrate counting. Always talk
with your health care provider or RD for dietary recommendations and daily physical
exercise requirements for your situation.
Grains provide the body with energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Although filled
with carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels quickly, grains are essential to
a healthy diet. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains.
Examples of grains include:
Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals essential to the body. Many vegetables also
contain fiber. Because they are low in calories when eaten raw or cooked, people with
diabetes are encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables. However, people with diabetes
may still need to count carbohydrates when they eat vegetables, because even nonstarchy
vegetables contain some carbohydrates.
Fruit can provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. How and when to eat fruit
or drink fruit juices for a person with diabetes is very specific to that individual.
Certain fruits can affect blood sugar levels. A person may need to experiment with
various fruits to determine how fruit affects his or her body through regular blood
sugar level monitoring.
Milk and yogurt
Fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt provide energy, protein, calcium, vitamins, and
minerals. Fat-free milk or yogurts also are good foods to treat low blood sugar levels,
since they contain the same amount of carbohydrates as 1 serving of fruit or starch.
Foods that contain protein help build muscles and body tissue, in addition to providing
vitamins and minerals. Due to the increased risk of heart disease in people with diabetes,
the ADA recommends that people cut down on animal protein foods. Animal protein foods,
like meats, whole milk products, and high-fat cheeses contain saturated fat. Other
examples of protein foods include poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and tofu.
Fats and oils
The total fat and oil intake should be based on the individual's cholesterol levels,
blood sugar control, and lifestyle. Some examples of "healthier" fats and oils (lower
in saturated fats and cholesterol and higher in monounsaturated fats) include olive
oil, olives, nuts, canola oil, and avocado.
Because diabetes is associated with glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, some people
think sugar should be completely avoided in their diet. However, table sugar and other
sugars in a person's diet do not increase blood glucose levels any higher than other
carbohydrates, according to the ADA.
How much sugar a person with diabetes can consume depends on that person's individual
diabetes treatment and nutritional plan, and how well his or her blood sugar levels
and blood fats are controlled. Always talk with your health care provider or registered
dietitian for more specific recommendations.