The Diabetic’s Food Pyramid

One of the most important things a diabetic can do is eat a diet of healthy foods.

Following The USDA Food Pyramid for Healthy Eating, a diabetic can do well eating a certain amount of what are called EXCHANGES.

Exchanges are basically a way of counting food servings. You need to eat a certain combination and a number of food exchanges to get the right nutrition for your body. You can’t, as a diabetic, just eat all of one exchange group and none of another. That will not work to properly help your body get the nutrition it needs. In addition, the quality of the food your body intakes plays a major role in keeping your diabetes under control.

The Food Exchanges needed for your meal plan.

Starches:
Breads, tortillas, rolls, cereals and grains, starchy vegetables such as beans, rice, potatoes.
1 starch exchange equals: 15 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein, 0-1 gram of fat, 80 calories.

Vegetables:
All other vegetables that do not fall into the starchy category.
1 vegetable exchange equals: 5 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 25 calories.

Milk/Dairy:
Milk, yogurt, sugar-free cocoa. Cheese does not qualify in this category.
1 milk exchange equals: 12 grams of carbohydrate, 8 grams of protein, 0-8 grams of fat, 90-150 calories.

Fruit:
Fresh fruit of all kinds, fruit juices (which are not good for diabetics because of the fruit concentration) and dried fruit.
1 fruit exchange equals:15 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber, 60 calories.

Meat/meat substitutes:
Meat and meat substitutes are divided into several groups:
Very Lean Meat: Cheese, skinless white meat chicken and turkey, some fish, tuna canned in water, etc.
Lean Meat: Lean beef, lean pork, lamb, some poultry (dark meat), some fish, some cheeses, some processed meats, etc.
Medium Fat Meat: Most beef, top loin of pork, veal, ground lamb, some cheeses, tofu, eggs, sausages with 5 or less grams of fat, etc.
High Fat Meat: Spareribs, American, Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese, processed sandwich meats, hot dogs, bacon, chorizo, etc.
Lean Meat plus two fat exchanges: Peanut butter, and hot dogs.
1 meat exchange equals: 0 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams protein, 0-8 grams of fat, 35-100 calories.

Fats and oils:
Fats and oils are divided into several groups:
Monosaturated fats, such as canola oil, olives, nuts, sesame seeds, etc.
Polyunsaturated fats, such as reduced fat margarine, mayonnaise, creamers, etc.
Saturated fats, such as bacon/bacon grease, butter, coconut, cream cheese, etc.
1 fat exchange equals: 0 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 45 calories.

There is also a list of free foods, foods that basically do not fit into the exchange system such as coffee, tea, diet soda, etc.

You’ll notice I do not give the exchange amounts for each group. The reason for that is that every diabetic is different; your dietary needs are not necessarily your neighbor’s. The amount of medication you take, the amount of weight you need to lose, the amount of control over your blood sugar you have all have to be taken into account to set up a proper and livable diet. Also note that certain foods can raise blood sugar and lower blood sugar; it’s different for each diabetic. For example, rice dramatically raises my blood sugar; for other diabetics, they have no reaction to rice, but certainly do to pasta, or potatoes. Yogurt and raw onions (but not together, please) are two foods that help to lower my blood sugar. It’s different for each diabetic.

Only your physician and/or dietitian can determine the amount of exchanges you need for each group. Ask for a diet, and inquire as to the best way to help you maintain your sugars via diet.

A word of warning regarding condiments: Please, please read labels, especially on catsup, condiments and “special sauces.” Some of these have a staggering amount of sodium and sugar in them. One well-known fast food chain was found (about twenty years ago) to have put a massive amount of sugar in it’s “secret sauce”: a whopping 75% sugar! The best thing to do, that I have found, is to order a sandwich dry unless I know precisely what I’m getting in it. I also tend to take my own diabetic food (such as syrups and preserves) when I eat out. A small container of Equal tablets proved invaluable on my travels in Europe where sugar substitutes were scarce.

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