Good news! There is no single “diabetes diet” you have to stick to. The same foods that are good for you are good for everyone else.

With diabetes, though, you do have to track how many carbohydrates you get each day. Carbs affect your blood sugar more than fats or protein. (Still, most people with diabetes have to watch how much fat and protein they get, too.)

Make smart food choices to help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Ask your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a diabetes educator for advice on exactly what you need.

They may recommend that you start using the glycemic index. It ranks how different foods affect blood sugar. Foods at the top of the glycemic index send your blood sugar higher than those lower down on the index.

You can also use these three tips to eat right:

  1. Make your plate colorful. That’s an easy way to make sure you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and lean protein.
  2. Watch your calories. Your age, gender, and activity level affect how many calories you need to gain, lose, or maintain your weight.
  3. Go for fiber. You get fiber from plant foods: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Studies suggest that people with type 2 diabetes who eat a high-fiber diet can improve their blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

How Much Can You Eat?

Check serving sizes — they may be smaller than you think. Eat only the amount of food in your diabetes meal plan. Extra calories lead to extra fat and pounds.

In people with type 2 diabetes, extra fat means your body doesn’t respond as well to insulin.

Do not skip meals. Eat meals and snacks at regular times every day. If you take a diabetes drug, eat your meals and take your medicine at the same times each day.

What Is the TLC Diet for Diabetes?

If you have high cholesterol as well as diabetes, your doctor will probably recommend the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) plan.

The goal is to lower your cholesterol level, drop extra weight, and become more active. That helps prevent heart disease, which is more common in people with diabetes.

What Is the TLC Diet for Diabetes? continued…

On the TLC diet, you will:

  • Limit fat to 25%-35% of total daily calories.
  • Get no more than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat, 10% or less from polyunsaturated fats, and up to 20% from monounsaturated fats (like plant oils or nuts).
  • Keep carbs to 50% to 60% of your daily calories.
  • Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber per day.
  • Allow 15% to 20% of your daily calories for protein.
  • Cap cholesterol at less than 200 milligrams per day.

You’ll also need to get more exercise and keep up with your medical treatment.

Can You Have Sugar?

You might have heard that people with diabetes shouldn’t have any table sugar. While some health care professionals say that, others take a more forgiving view.

Most experts now say that small amounts of sugar are fine, as long as they’re part of an overall healthy meal plan. Table sugar does not raise your blood sugar any more than starches do, which are found in many foods.

Remember that sugar is a carb. Substitute, don’t add: When you eat a sugary food, such as cookies, cake, or candy, substitute them for another carb or starch (for example, potatoes) that you would have eaten that day. Ultimately, the total grams of carbohydrates matter more than the source of the sugar.

Make sure you account for this in your carbohydrate budget for the day. Adjust your medications if you add sugars to your meals. If you take insulin, tweak your insulin dose for the added carbohydrates so you can maintain blood sugar control as much as possible. Check your blood sugar after eating sugary foods.

Read food labels so you know how much sugar or carbs are in the things you eat and drink. Also, check on how many calories and how much fat are in a serving.

Other Sweeteners

You can add artificial sweeteners to your food and to drinks without adding more carbs.

Items with artificial sweeteners or “sugar-free” foods are not necessarily zero-carbohydrate foods, though. Many have carbs, so check the food label. As long as you’re aware of the carbs, you can adjust your meal or medication to maintain blood sugar control.

Some artificial sweeteners — such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol — have some calories and do slightly raise blood sugar levels.

If you eat too much of any artificial sweetener, you can get gas and diarrhea, the American Diabetes Association notes.

Stevia is another option. It’s not an artificial sweetener, and it has no calories.

What About Alcohol?

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to drink alcohol. If they say yes, only drink occasionally, and only when your blood sugar level is well-controlled. Remember, most wine and mixed drinks have sugar, and alcohol also has a lot of calories.

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