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What type of diabetes diet is suggested for people with diabetes mellitus?

For some people with diabetes mellitus, a healthy diet and weight loss is enough to keep glucose levels in the blood normal. Most doctors suggest the diet described below for people with diabetes mellitus. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and you should consult your doctor to see what type of diet is most appropriate for your needs.

The proper diet is critical to diabetes treatment. It can help someone with diabetes: (1) Achieve and maintain desirable weight. Many people with diabetes can control their blood glucose by losing weight and keeping it off. (2) Maintain normal blood glucose levels. (3) Prevent heart and blood vessel diseases, conditions that tend to occur in people with diabetes.

The guidelines for diabetes diet planning include the following:

  • Many experts, including the American Diabetes Association, recommend that 50 to 60 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates, 12 to 20 percent from protein, and no more than 30 percent from fat.
  • Spacing meals throughout the day, instead of eating heavy meals once or twice a day, can help a person avoid extremely high or low blood glucose levels.
  • With few exceptions, the best way to lose weight is gradually: one or two pounds a week. Strict diets must never be undertaken without the supervision of a doctor.
  • People with diabetes have twice the risk of developing heart disease as those without diabetes, and high blood cholesterol levels raise the risk of heart disease. Losing weight and reducing intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, in favor of unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, can help lower blood cholesterol. For example, meats and dairy products are major sources of saturated fats, which should be avoided; most vegetable oils are high in unsaturated fats, which are fine in limited amounts; and olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fat, the healthiest type of fat. Liver and other organ meats and egg yolks are particularly high in cholesterol. A doctor or nutritionist can advise someone on this aspect of diet.
  • Studies show that foods with fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, peas, beans, and whole-grain breads and cereals may help lower blood glucose. However, it seems that a person must eat much more fiber than the average American now consumes to get this benefit. A doctor or nutritionist can advise someone about adding fiber to a diet.
  • Exchange lists are useful in planning a diabetes diet. They place foods with similar nutrients and calories into groups. With the help of a nutritionist, the person plans the number of servings from each exchange list that he or she should eat throughout the day. Diets that use exchange lists offer more choices than preprinted diets. More information on exchange lists is available from nutritionists and from the American Diabetes Association.

The following is a list of parts of the diet for people with diabetes mellitus:

  • Alcohol: Too much alcohol can lower glucose levels and cause weight gain. This is why alcohol needs to be consumed in moderation, if it is to be consumed at all. You should talk with your doctor to find out what levels are appropriate for you, since this depends on your body weight.
  • Alternative sweeteners: There is no evidence to date that it is a problem for people with diabetes to use alternative sweeteners.
  • Calories: People with diabetes mellitus need to take in enough calories to maintain a normal body weight.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are a group of substances present in food (such as sugar) that provides the body with energy. By controlling the level of carbohydrates that are consumed, major changes in glucose levels in the blood can be avoided. This is because glucose is found in carbohydrates. For people with diabetes mellitus, between 45% and 50% of their daily calories should come from carbohydrates. However, this number will vary from person to person depending on the amount of fats and proteins they consume. The diet should be high in complex carbohydrates, which are found in foods such as rice and pasta.
  • People with diabetes mellitus should be consistent in the percentage of carbohydrates that are eaten each day. Refined sugars (such as sucrose) may be consumed in modest amounts, depending on the person's body weight and rate of metabolism. The rate of metabolism is the speed in which the body proceeds with chemical reactions involved in distributing nutrients in the blood after food is broken down and digested. Refined sugars are those that are purified before they are used for food.
  • Dietary fiber: People with diabetes mellitus should consume up to 40 grams of dietary fiber a day. A gram is a very small unit of weight. For people who consume low amounts of calories, they should have 25 grams of dietary fiber for every 1000 calories.
  • Fat: Usually, fat intake should be less than or equal to 30% of total calories, but it may be as high as 40%. Fats from animals should be especially limited. Of the 30% of calories from fat, 6% to 8% should be polyunsaturated fats, 10% should be saturated fats, and monosaturated fats should make up the rest. Cholestorol should be less than 300 milligrams per day. Cholestorol is a waxy, fatty substance found only in animal tissues. Saturated means to be filled up with something. In the case of fats, saturated refers to how much hydrogen (a kind of element) is contained in it. Saturated fats are filled with hydrogen and are the most harmful to eat. Monosaturated fat has only one gap in it where there is no hydrogen. Polyunsaturated fat has many gaps in it where there is no hydrogen and comes mainly from plants. The levels of fats that should be consumed for a person with diabetes mellitus will differ depending on the amount of fat in their blood and in the rest of their body.
  • Proteins: People with diabetes mellitus usually need to have twice the levels of protein than the average person. About 12% to 30% of total calories should come from protein. For people with kidney disease, consuming too much protein should be avoided.
  • Salt: People with diabetes mellitus should have less than or equal to 3000 milligrams per day. A milligram is one thousandth of a gram. People with special conditions such as high blood pressure may need to have less sodium in their diet.
  • Vitamin and minirals: There is no evidence to date that people with diabetes need more vitamins or minerals than people without diabetes mellitus.

More information on diabetes mellitus

What is diabetes mellitus? - Diabetes mellitus is a a condition characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from the body's inability to use blood glucose for energy. Diabetes mellitus can result in coma. Over time, complications can include nerve injury, blindness, kidney failure, and premature atherosclerosis with all of its complications.
What causes diabetes mellitus? - Diabetes mellitus is a disorder caused by insufficient production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas, or insensitivity of cells to the effects of insulin. Insulin is responsible for the absorption of glucose into cells for their energy needs and into the liver and fat cells for storage.
What is insulin? - Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. In addition to helping glucose enter the cells, insulin is also important in tightly regulating the level of glucose in the blood.
What types of diabetes mellitus are there? - There are four main types of diabetes mellitus. They are type 1 diabetes mellitus, type 2 diabetes mellitus, type 3, and Gestational diabetes mellitus (type 4).
What is type 1 diabetes? - Formerly known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a life-long condition in which the pancreas stops making insulin. Type 1 diabetes develops most often in young people but can appear in adults.
What is type 2 diabetes? - Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes mellitus. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but either do not make enough insulin or their bodies do not use the insulin they make. Type 2, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, typically occurs after the age of 40 years.
What're signs and symptoms of diabetes mellitus? - Type 2 diabetes almost always has a slow onset (often years). Early symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are often polyuria (frequent urination) and polydipsia (increased thirst, and consequent increased fluid intake).
What is diabetes insipidus? - Diabetes insipidus (DI) is a disease characterized by excretion of large amounts of severely diluted urine, which cannot be reduced when fluid intake is reduced.
What is diabetic coma? - Diabetic coma is a medical emergency in which a person with diabetes is unconscious because the blood glucose level is too low or too high. Patients with diabetes mellitus type 1 are especially prone to this condition.
What are the complications of diabetes mellitus? - Many people with diabetes mellitus eventually develop complications. A very common short-term complication of diabetes mellitus is hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar levels).
How to diagnose diabetes mellitus? - The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is usually prompted by recent symptoms of excessive urination (polyuria) and excessive thirst (polydipsia), often accompanied by weight loss. The diagnosis of other types of diabetes is made in many other ways.
Diagnosis protocol for diabetes - People over age 45 should be tested for diabetes. If the first blood glucose test is normal, they should be re-tested every three years. A diagnosis of diabetes is made when any three of these tests is positive, followed by a second positive test on a different day.
What is the treatment for diabetes? - Diabetes is a chronic disease with no cure, but it can almost always be managed effectively. Nowadays, the goal for diabetics is to avoid or minimize chronic diabetic complications, as well as to avoid acute problems of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia.
What type of diabetes diet is suggested? - For some people with diabetes mellitus, a healthy diet and weight loss is enough to keep glucose levels in the blood normal.
What medications are available for diabetes? - Oral diabetes medicines, or oral hypoglycemics, can lower blood glucose in people who have diabetes, but are able to make some insulin. Six FDA-approved oral diabetes medications are now on the market.
How to prevent diabetes? - Diabetes prevention is proven, possible, and powerful. Studies show that people at high risk for type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight.
What should a child diabetes do every day? - To control diabetes and prevent complications, blood glucose levels must be as close to a "normal" range as safely possible. Families should work with a health care provider to help set a child's or teen's targets for blood glucose levels.
Smoking and diabetes - There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that smoking is an independent risk factor for diabetes and that among people with diabetes, smoking aggravates the risk of serious disease and premature death.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005