The Ultimate Guide for Meal Planning for Diabetes

The idea that our lives and diet can be ruled by the whims of a new health issue hardly ever crosses our mind as we go about our daily lives. It is precisely for this reason that when the diagnosis sneaks up on us, it can appear extremely overwhelming, foreign, and quite scary. Diabetes can be all three of those things at first, and it is only human to be apprehensive of these new alterations. However, with the right tools and information provided in this article, you should be able to break down those obstacles and soar through life just like you once did. Not to mention, our tasty, diabetic-friendly recipes will have you excited to start on this new journey of meal planning for diabetes anyway!

It is important to remember you are not alone in this battle. In the United States alone, 1.5 million people are diagnosed with diabetes every single year. (1) That comes to about 34.2 million individuals living with diabetes in the country. This number is only expected to continually rise every subsequent year. Keep in mind that you are not sorting through this new life on your own but instead imagine all the support stemming from the other individuals who are in the same situation. As you read through our helpful tips and tricks, keep reminding yourself of your own personal strength and the power of those in a similar situation cheering for you. 

While it may be best to eventually meet with a dietician who can help you create a unique diet plant crafted especially for your needs, you can still make some immediate changes to help kickstart your new lifestyle. As you probably already know, your diet plays an enormous role in controlling your blood sugar levels. What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat all factor into maintaining your health with diabetes. We know, it seems like a lot but you will quickly get the hang of it. 

The goal here is to learn about meal planning for diabetes in a way that will nourish your body yet still offer some amazing flavors, right? Well, you have come to the right blog for just that! Ease your stress and learn exactly how you can traverse this new world of cooking by discovering the foods you should focus on, those you should avoid, and peruse a weekly meal-plan jam-packed with mouth-watering recipes.

A Day In the Life With Diabetes

Let’s start off with the basics and go through exactly what day may look like for you now. Unfortunately, you can no longer grab those chips out of the pantry for a quick midnight snack or chow down on an entire bar of dark chocolate either. Instead, you absolutely have to focus on your diet. Three meals a day is a must for maintaining a healthy lifestyle with diabetes.

Keeping your blood glucose levels stable, also known as blood sugar, involves a steady intake of healthy foods into your body to properly nourish it. If you get hungry, you don’t have to wait for the next meal. You are free to incorporate snacks into your day as long as you stay around your calories limit. Always make sure to listen to your body above all else. If you feel your blood sugar is low, then don’t limit yourself as you start meal planning for diabetes. Staying in tune with your body’s needs is the best thing you can do for yourself and health. 

According to the American Diabetes Organization, a low carbohydrate diet is one of the best ways to achieve a healthy lifestyle with diabetes. (2) This is because the body digests carbs and breaks them down into glucose. In turn, your blood sugar level will rise as well. 

There are other foods that rapidly increase a person’s blood glucose levels and this can be determined by their glycemic index. Foods with a higher glycemic index will cause your blood sugar to spike and those with lower numbers will keep you relatively stable. You may want to become familiar with the foods and their respective index numbers. This way your meal planning for diabetes can become even smoother as you balance out what to eat throughout the day. We recommend using Harvard’s glycemic index resource covering 60+ foods. (3)

low glycemic index foods
Typically, those diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes are recommended to follow a meal plan totaling between 1,500 to 1,800 calories. This will help you lose and maintain a healthy weight, which is a huge factor for diabetes. The correct balance of carbohydrates, fiber, proteins, and healthy fats will ensure you are in tip-top shape. However, everyone’s calorie limit will vary depending on respective needs including daily exercise and activity, gender, etc. Make sure to double check with your doctor before dedicating yourself to a specific amount. 

On top of planning out your meals (which will become second nature in no time), you also will have to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A quick, 30-minute aerobic exercise every day will help you easily achieve this goal! In summary, the CDC recommends about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This can include going for a nice morning or evening walk, whichever you prefer. Exercise does not have to be boring either. Swimming or going for a bike ride are both considered moderate exercise as well! However, before you set off you should make sure to check your blood sugar levels. If they are below 100 mg/dL, that is too low and you may need to fuel up before setting out. On the flip side, if your blood sugar is resting above 240 mg/dL, you should avoid exercise until it returns to normal. (4)  

The Best Diabetes Foods List

1. Fatty Fish

If you are on the search for a filling and tasty protein, then look no further. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel are all great choices for a diabetic-friendly meal. You can’t go wrong with any from the list due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. 

Your heart will stay healthy if you keep these in mind as you are meal planning for diabetes. This is especially important to keep in mind because those diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease or suffer from a stroke.

2. Fiber-Rich Foods

high fiber foods
The amazing thing about fiber is that it does not cause your blood sugar to spike! In fact, fiber even helps control your levels by slowing the absorption of glucose derived from carbohydrates. Fiber is all parts of foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. You will really want to look for soluble fiber because it can help slow down the absorption of sugar! However, insoluble fiber is great as well. 

A couple fiber-packed foods you can choose from include: 

  • Lentils 
  • Beans 
  • Artichoke 
  • Popcorn 
  • Avocado 
  • Peas
  • Berries 
  • Oatmeal 

In general, lots of fruits and veggies will do wonders. You should always choose fresh over canned when possible. Canned foods typically have high levels of sodium, which should be avoided. If you are a fan of artichokes, they are luckily jam-packed in fiber. Check out our four simple methods to cook a tasty artichoke.

3. Healthy Carbs

diabetes meal planning foods
When it comes to carbs, the less processed, the better. This means you should be focused on carbohydrates sourced from delicious and fresh whole foods. 

According to the American  Diabetes Association, you will want to really put your energy into incorporating non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc), cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans. Next, you can indulge in the fruit-derived carbs occasionally. These come from all the fruits ranging from apples, blueberries, strawberries. It is because their sugar is natural rather than processed. 

Don’t fret too much, the ADA also says you can still eat pasta, rice, and bread in small amounts. Just try to get whole grain/wheat instead!

4. Healthy Fats

healthy fats
Even though most would assume that fats should be cut out in a healthier lifestyle, they actually provide a ton of benefits. Fats help us store energy, promote cell growth, and help our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins. The key is incorporating the good fats. This means that when choosing dairy products, you should always go for the low-fat options.

Out of the four different types, you will want to focus on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 

    • Monounsaturated fats are shown to lower your LDL cholesterol and promote heart health. Some sources include avocados, nuts, olive oil, and nut butters. 
    • Polyunsaturated fats function the same way and also include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 
    • Some invaluable sources of omega-3 are fatty fish, flax seeds, canola oil, and chia seeds.
    • For omega-6, try out some tofu, eggs, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.

Foods to Avoid for Diabetes

unhealthy diabetes food
Equally important as knowing the foods you should be eating, you also need to be aware of the ones you need to limit. We know that reducing certain types of food can be difficult. However, with all the amazing recipes you will learn, you won’t be missing them for long. Without these harmful foods, your body will be energized and in its best possible state! So, let’s get right into it! 

1. Sodium

Since those with type 2 diabetes are four times more likely to develop heart disease, the American Diabetes Association recommends a limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This is, in fact, no different from the general population. Sodium can raise blood pressure if consumed in excess, so it is important to keep an eye on how much salt you are adding to your dishes. 

2. Processed Carbohydrates 

Packaged snacks are filled with carbs that are fast releasing. These cause sudden blood sugar spikes which can be dangerous for a person with diabetes. 

This means you should greatly reduce the amount of white bread, pasta, and rice you cook with. These foods are high in processed carbs and low in fiber. 

3. Refined Sugar 

Refined sugars are another food you have to add to your “do not eat” list. These are the processed, added sugars that are hidden in many baked goods, sweetened juices/jams, and packaged snacks. These sugars have a direct impact on your liver and can cause indirect weight gain. 

According to the American Heart Association, women should have only 24 grams while men can have 36 grams per day. 

4. Unhealthy Fats

These guys are the counterparts to what we listed above.  You absolutely must avoid both saturated and trans fats while meal planning for diabetes. Saturated fats will increase your cholesterol and subsequently, your risk for heart disease. Some foods with saturated fats include lard, ground beef, butter, poultry skin, and high-fat dairy products (ice cream, sour cream, 2% milk). Surprisingly, coconut oil should also be limited due to its content of saturated fats. 

Trans fats are created when a liquid fat is made into a solid fat. These are even more damaging than saturated fats and should be avoided as much as possible. These include processed snacks such as crackers and chips. It also means traditional baked goods such as muffins, cakes, and cookies made with hydrogenated oils. You should also swap your margarine for olive oil instead. Of course, fast food must be limited too.

The Plate Method

Now that you know the foods you should be eating, it is time to learn how to properly portion your meals. When starting out, we recommend trying the plate method. You should quickly get the hang of meal planning for diabetes with this trick in no time. Simply grab a 9-inch sized plate. You will want to fill ½ of the plate with any non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of the plate should contain lean protein, and the final ¼ of the plate can be any non-processed carbohydrates. Make sure to have some water with every meal as well. It is truly that easy!

Tasty and Time-saving Diabetes Weekly Menus

 If you are still unsure about what a week in meals should look like, give a glance at any of the resources listed below. You can mix and match all the meals listed below and create a meal plan for the week that suits your personal taste. Following these guides can help provide structure and reduce stress before you start creating your own meal plans! Prepping the food beforehand will also save you loads of time. 

It is Time to Jump Into This New Life!

Now that you have learned the foods to eat, the ones to avoid, and how to properly plate them, it is time you begin putting this information in practice. Don’t hesitate and don’t be worried. Instead, start crafting some delicious recipes that will nurture your body properly. View this change in life as a new opportunity that has opened a whole new avenue of foods and flavors for you to experiment with. Most importantly, remember that you have the support of everyone here at Cook & Culture and all the others diagnosed with diabetes. 

Be sure to share this article with anyone you know who may be in a similar situation and could use some extra guidance with meal planning for diabetes.

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Olivia deGregory

Written by Emilee Petkus