Controlling Calories with a Diabetic-Friendly Diet

By Alan L. Rubin, Cait James

The three most important factors in diet for people with diabetes are moderation, moderation, moderation. If you’re overweight or obese, which is true of most people with type 2 diabetes and a lot of people with type 1 diabetes who are on intensive insulin treatment (four shots of insulin daily), weight loss will make a huge difference in your blood glucose levels.

To successfully lose weight, you need to control your total calories. You must burn up the same amount of calories you take in by mouth, or you will gain weight. To lose weight, you need to burn up more calories than you eat. Sounds simple, eh! And it doesn’t matter where the calories come from. Studies that compare diets low in fats, proteins, or carbohydrates result in the same weight loss after a year.

As you reduce your portions, reduce your intake of added sugars, fats, and alcohol. These items contain no nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and are simply sources of empty calories.

If you are predisposed to have diabetes because, for example, your parents both had diabetes, you can prevent it by maintaining a healthy weight. If you already have diabetes, you can minimize its impact by losing weight and keeping it off.

Do you need a highly complicated formula to figure out how to moderate your food intake? No! It’s as simple as looking at the portions you currently eat and cutting them in half. At home, where you control the amount of food on your plate, you can start with a small portion, so you may not need to reduce it by half.

However, in restaurants, where more and more people are eating their meals, especially the fast-food restaurants, the rule of eating half may not be strong enough. There you may need to eat only a third of the portion. You may need to apply the same portion control when you eat at someone else’s home.

Use these tips to help you visualize portion sizes:

  • An ounce of meat is the size of a pack of matches.

  • Three ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards.

  • A medium fruit is the size of a tennis ball.

  • A medium potato is the size of a computer mouse.

  • A medium bagel is the size of a hockey puck.

  • An ounce of cheese is the size of a domino.

  • A cup of fruit is the size of a baseball.

  • A cup of broccoli is the size of a light bulb.

You don’t need to take in many extra calories over time to gain weight. Just 100 extra kilocalories on a daily basis results in a weight gain of 12 pounds in a year. An extra glass of wine is that many kilocalories. On the other hand, if you reduce your daily intake by 100 kilocalories, you can lose those 12 pounds over a year.

Look at a few examples of the portion sizes provided today compared to 20 years ago. The table shows the kilocalories in the portions of 20 years ago and today and how much exercise you have to do to burn up the extra kilocalories so you don’t gain weight.

Consequences of Today’s Larger Portions
Food Kilocalories 20 years ago Kilocalories today Exercise to burn the difference
Bagel 140 350 50 minutes raking leaves
Cheeseburger 333 590 90 minutes lifting weights
French fries 210 610 80 minutes walking
Turkey sandwich 320 820 85 minutes biking
Coffee 45 350 70 minutes walking
Chicken Caesar salad 390 790 80 minutes walking
Popcorn 270 630 75 minutes of water aerobics
Chocolate chip cookie 55 275 75 minutes washing the car