Everyone needs to eat a certain number of calories to survive. Eat more than you need and you gain weight; eat less (or burn more) than you need and you lose weight. It sounds simple, but how many calories do you really need?
Calorie needs depend on gender, age, height, activity level, current weight, and the number of calories your body burns at rest.
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How many calories do you currently eat per day? For a few days, keep track of everything you eat and drink, weigh and measure the amounts of foods you eat, look at food labels, look up the calorie and nutrient counts of restaurant foods, and record the calories and other nutrients of concern, such as fat and carbs. Are you eating more calories than you need?
Talk to a diabetes educator or registered dietitian to figure out the amounts of calories and carbs that are right for you.
One way to think about your caloric intake is to imagine it like a "budget" where you "spend" your calories on food. The important thing is to spend your calories on food choices that will invest in your well being, not on items that will bankrupt your long-term health. In other words, fill your calorie requirements with nutrient-rich foods rather than nutrient-poor foods.
Invest in your health by:
Try to eat a variety of foods from each food group, because no single food group can meet all of your vitamin and mineral requirements. Also, there are no special "diabetic" foods you need to buy or a "diabetic diet" you need to follow. A healthful eating plan that includes all of the major food groups is what's important. So strive for a mix in your day.
While you don't need to follow a "diabetic diet," it will be easier to manage your blood glucose if you eat similar amounts of carbohydrate at your meals from day to day. Carbohydrates, one of the three nutrients that provide calories from food, have the greatest impact on your blood glucose, particularly after eating. But that doesn't mean you should restrict foods that contain carbohydrates. You need the energy, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that these foods contain.
Carbohydrates are the body's main and preferred source of glucose. Your cells need glucose for energy. Your body needs an ample amount of carbs to do its work.
Carbs can be found in many foods, including:
There are no (or very few) carbs in these foods:
The second-most-asked question after "What do I eat with diabetes?" is "How many grams of carbohydrate should I eat a day?" As with the number of calories you need, the amount of carbohydrate you need depends on gender, weight, age, activity level, weight goals, and lipid levels. However, the American Diabetes Association offers a rough estimate you can use as a starting point. Talk to a registered dietitian for a personalized carb amount.
Carbs per Day Estimate
To lose weight:
To maintain weight:
For active people:
Note that one carb serving is 15 g of carbohydrates. So, if you eat a bag of potato chips with 30 g of carbohydrates, that is two carb servings.
It's important to watch portion sizes when you eat to help you lose or control weight. Because portion sizes vary depending on where you're eating and even the dishware you use, it can be tricky to know exactly how much you're eating at any given time. One thing that can help is to have a visual reference.
Some people use a food scale, measuring cups and spoons, and even their hands to gauge portion sizes. One method that helps with eyeballing portions as well as meal planning is the plate method. It's relatively easy to use; all you need is a plate that's 9 inches across. Then follow these simple guidelines.
Nonstarchy vegetables take up 1/2 of the plate. Nonstarchy vegetables include:
Lean protein takes up 1/4 of the plate. Items with protein include:
Grains or starchy vegetables take up 1/4 of the plate. Grains and starchy vegetables include:
A medium-size piece of fresh fruit (about the size of a baseball) or 1/2 cup of canned or packaged fruit in its own juice can also be included.
Noncaloric beverages, such as water or unsweetened iced tea, are good choices for low-carb drinks.
As a person with diabetes, you may find it easier to control your blood sugar levels if you eat on a regular schedule. To keep glucose and weight under control, it’s best to not skip meals. Try to eat every 4-5 hours. For breakfast, try to eat within 1-2 hours after getting up.
It can be a challenge to eat healthfully at every meal, every day. Try your best to make healthy choices where and when you can. Take heart in knowing that no one is perfect—everyone has an off day now and again. It's important to keep trying and not be too hard on yourself. Having a positive attitude can help keep you motivated and feeling well.
One thing that can be extra helpful in keeping you on track is to make your own meals. Try not to dine out more than three times a week. Making your own meals increases your awareness of the foods you eat, is more practical to control portion sizes, and is easier to cook with healthful ingredients. Plus, it costs less!
Food—sugar, carbs, fiber, protein—is not your enemy. With the help of a wide variety of tasty, carb-friendly recipes and quick tips to help you eat more healthfully, you can take control of your diabetes with every bite.