Meet with a Dietitian to Make a Diabetic Meal Plan
Many people are surprised to find out that there is no one meal plan or “diabetes diet” that is recommended for all people with diabetes. Your meal plan should be individualized for you. If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll want to meet with a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to develop your personalized meal plan. If you don’t have a dietitian, your doctor can give you a referral. You might think you can make a meal plan on your own, but the help of an RD or RDN will make the process so much easier. He or she can answer any questions you have about healthy eating with diabetes.
A registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is a person who is professionally trained to educate people on food, nutrition, and weight management. Some dietitians are also certified diabetes educators (CDEs), which means they’re specifically trained to work with people with diabetes on all topics related to diabetes management. A CDE can be an excellent resource for you as you begin your journey with diabetes. Your dietitian doesn’t have to be a CDE, but finding a dietitian who has experience with diabetes management and nutrition will be helpful.
Your dietitian will work with you to create a meal plan that’s best for you. This means that he or she will help you
- Select a meal planning approach that fits your lifestyle, diabetes goals, and eating habits.
- Determine how many calories and grams or servings of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you should aim to eat each day to meet your diabetes goals.
- Figure out when, how often, and how much you need to eat.
Is eating three square meals a day right for you? Or will you need a snack or two between meals? Will counting calories and carbohydrates be effective for you? Or should you focus more on portion-control techniques? Your dietitian can help you with these questions and many more.
The meal plan you create with your dietitian should also take into account your lifestyle, food preferences, and culture. If you’re a vegetarian or if you can’t eat certain foods for religious reasons, for example, your meal plan needs to reflect that. If you’ll be cooking most of your meals for your family or you work late and don’t usually have time to cook, your dietitian can help you find foods and recipes to meet your needs. Because so many different elements go into creating a meal plan, the input of an RD or RDN is helpful.
When working with your dietitian, take advantage of the wonderful resource at your disposal and ask questions. In addition to helping you develop an individualized meal plan, your dietitian can teach you the basics of diabetes nutrition, give you tips on shopping and eating out, and even help you make some of your favorite recipes healthier. Embrace the process and take the opportunity to learn more about your body and diabetes.
Ultimately, an effective meal plan is all about balance. It should balance the foods you eat with any diabetes medications you take (including insulin) and your physical activity level to keep your blood glucose levels within a normal range. At the same time, it should help you meet your diabetes goals and still allow you to enjoy your food. A dietitian can help you achieve this kind of balance.
When you work with an RD or RDN, he or she may suggest a few different meal-planning methods for you to consider. No one meal-planning approach works for all people with diabetes. Everyone is different, and there are several meal-planning strategies to explore. Understanding the different options can help you decide, with the help of your dietitian, which of these options suits your needs. Here are the most common meal-planning methods:
- Portion control: This meal-planning method focuses on weighing and measuring foods and estimating portion sizes to ensure that you’re eating the correct amount of food. It may be used in conjunction with other meal-planning methods.
- The plate method: This easy meal-planning technique uses a plate divided into sections to teach you the correct types and amounts of foods to enjoy at each meal. It promotes portion control and well-balanced meals.
- Carbohydrate counting: In simplest terms, this meal-planning method refers to tracking the amount of carbohydrate you eat. There is a basic and an advanced version of carbohydrate counting. The version you use will depend on your needs and diabetes goals. Generally speaking, people with diabetes who use insulin practice advanced carbohydrate counting.
- Diabetes food choices/exchanges: This meal planning system shows the number of food “choices” that people with diabetes should eat at each meal and snack based on the American Diabetes Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ publication Choose Your Foods: Food Lists for Diabetes. The food lists in this guide group together foods that have the about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories. This approach to meal planning makes choosing between food options and navigating serving sizes even easier.
- Diabetes-friendly eating patterns: Even though there is no specific “diabetes diet” that works for everyone with diabetes, several healthy-eating patterns work well for people with type 2 diabetes. These eating patterns include the Mediterranean-style eating plan, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, plant-based (vegetarian/vegan) eating patterns, and low-carbohydrate and low-fat eating patterns. These healthy eating patterns focus more on high-quality, nutrient-dense foods than they do on specific nutrients.
There is no one perfect meal plan for people with diabetes, and the American Diabetes Association does not recommend a specific distribution of carbohydrate, protein, and fat for everyone with diabetes. An effective meal plan should be tailored to fit your needs and goals.