Meal planning for people with diabetes

Originally Published: January 25, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 22, 2007
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Dear Alice,

My brother was recently diagnosed with Diabetes. I was wondering where I could get a copy of a good diabetic diet so I can fix good nutritious food for him when he comes to my house, which is often. I should probably go on this diet, too, since I am overweight, too. Can you help me?

— Not Too Skinny Minnie

Dear Not Too Skinny Minnie,

Your brother is lucky to have such a caring sibling. You can best help your brother by learning more about diabetes, if you're not in the know already. Type II, or adult-onset, diabetes is a metabolic disorder. It is caused either by the body's inability to use its insulin, or the body's inability to make enough insulin. Overall dietary recommendations for diabetes are similar to those for the general healthy population: eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains, with moderate amounts of lean proteins and non-fat or low-fat dairy, and small amounts of fats and oils, mostly from monounsaturated sources, such as olive and canola oils.

The specifics of diabetic meal planning need to be designed with your brother's individual needs in mind. This is where a Registered Dietitian specializing in diabetes comes in. S/he can educate your brother about the portion sizes, meal composition, and timing of meals or snacks. Meal plans are custom-designed based on patients' tastes, preferences, and lifestyle. They must meet the patients' diabetes goals and nutritional requirements. You may ask your brother if you could accompany him to a session with a dietitian so that you can better understand his needs. Sometimes a second pair of ears can help! If he is a student at Columbia, he can make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian by calling x4-2284 or logging on to Open Communicator.

Here are some basics about healthy eating for people with diabetes:

  • A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is recommended because people with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than the general population.
  • Starches (e.g., potatoes, breads, pasta) are fine to eat in the proper amounts as outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid (6 - 11 servings a day). The healthiest choices are ones that contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber, such as whole grains.
  • Carbohydrates need to be spread out throughout the day, not eaten all at once at one large meal.
  • Many factors can influence one's blood glucose levels, including the size of a meal, the fat or fiber content, eating slowly, and the amount and type of medication taken, if any.
Keeping oneself within a healthy weight range can help control blood glucose levels. Exercise also helps the body's cells to recognize insulin more readily, and is important in controlling blood glucose levels as well. In the beginning, a newly diagnosed person with diabetes may need to check his or her blood glucose levels often, to become familiar with how specific foods affect him or her. Your brother's health care provider needs to discuss appropriate goals in terms of blood glucose control, cholesterol levels, body weight, and any other indicators s/he feels are important.

For a good overview of diabetic nutrition, check out the following web sites: A diagnosis of diabetes may leave someone feeling a little down in the dumps. Working together to learn new recipes and make cooking fun may be just what your brother needs to get a successful start on his new diet. With you at his side, your brother can create a diet that is healthy and enjoyable. 
Alice