I wish I had a quarter for every time I hear - My so & so (fill
in the blank) said I can't eat bread or anything white because it
turns to sugar!" Well guess what?
**Everything you eat contributes to sugar (AKA glucose).**
It's supposed to. The purpose of food is to give you energy &
nutrients so your body can function. Glucose or "sugar" is your
body's energy. Without it, you wouldn't survive. Giving up bread &
pasta won't do anything magical except make you feel depressed &
deprived. The trick to planning meals for diabetes is balance &
I might as well tell you right from the beginning - I don't believe
in "forbidden" foods. Being told you can't have something just
makes you want it more. It's human nature. I saw this when my son
was a child. If I put 100 toys in the room & pointed to one & said
"You can play with any of them except that one." Guess which one he
wanted? Yep - the one that's "forbidden". Well, you're no
different. No one wants to be told they can't have something - food
What exactly is a well-balanced meal plan for someone with
With all the different opinions out there, you're probably
confused. I can't say I blame you. There are so many contradictions
to muddle through. One says a high protein is best. Another says
high carbohydrate. Another one says you can't mix foodstuffs
because they won't digest! Oh boy! It's no wonder you're
Believe it or not, eating well for diabetes is not very different
than eating for a healthy lifestyle. I truly believe (OR I have
always told my clients) that the diagnosis of diabetes is really
just a kick in the pants encouraging you to live a healthful
lifestyle. Diabetes or not, everyone should eat a well-balanced,
nutritious menu, participate in exercise on a regular basis &
manage their stress. Having diabetes is nothing but a strong
motivator to get you on the road to wellness.
Fact: everything you eat contributes to sugar or glucose because
food has calories & calories provide energy. Remember this simple
Food = calories = energy = glucose = "sugar"
Looking at this in more logical terms:
"The more calories you eat at a meal, the higher your blood sugar
will usually be after the meal.
How Quickly Foods Turn to Blood Sugar
When you have diabetes, it's a good idea to realize that different
foods turn to sugar at different rates. This is based on "the
glycemic index" - a technique that compares how quickly different
foods effect blood glucose. The higher the glycemic index, the
faster the food increases your blood sugar.
For example, table sugar & jelly beans have a much higher glycemic
index than brown rice or quinoa. Your blood sugar would increase
much more quickly after eating a handful of jelly beans than it
would after eating a cup of brown rice or quinoa.
The key to planning meals is to choose foods which turn to glucose
more slowly & to eat a small amount of food from each food group at
each meal. The foods which are absorbed more slowly will help slow
the digestion of foods which would normally be absorbed more
However, it is also a good idea to avoid as much simple sugar as
possible, since these foods (ie: gum drops, pancake syrup & fruit
juice) are absorbed very quickly & cause a very big rise in your
This doesn't mean you can never have candy again. It's all a matter
of give & take. If you really want a piece of candy & your overall
goal is to have the best blood sugar control possible, you must be
willing to give up something from another meal to compensate.
Rates of Food Absorption
1. Simple carbohydrates: Pure sugar foods (ie: table sugar, honey,
agave, pancake syrup & jelly beans), fruit juice & fat free dairy
products (ie: skim milk & fat free yogurt). Mind you, skim milk is
still healthier for you than whole milk but because skim milk has a
minimal amount of fat to help slow the breakdown, it is absorbed
more quickly than whole milk.
2. Complex carbohydrates: Whole grain bread, potatoes, pasta, rice,
legumes & vegetables.
3. Protein: Poultry, seafood, pork & beef. Low fat, lean proteins,
such as turkey breast, seafood & egg whites are absorbed more
quickly than higher fat choices, such as filet mignon & prime rib.
However, the lean proteins are healthier for you, since they have
less saturated fat.
Rule of thumb: "The higher the fat content of the food, the slower
4. Fat: Butter, margarine, mayonnaise, ghee, & salad dressings.
Condiments which are basically fat contain 100 calories per
tablespoon! That means you consume 100 extra calories per
tablespoon when you add these items to your meals. (A tablespoon is
as big as a coffee creamer; not the large spoon in the silverware
Now not all fat is bad. In fact, adding some healthy fats to
your meals will help to slow the breakdown of the carbohydrates in
your meal leading to less of a spike in your blood sugar after
eating. The healthy fats are nuts/nut butters, avocado, olives &
the oils from these. Now these are still calorie dense but they
don't seem to increase cholesterol in the same way as the saturated
One personal suggestion to help you manage your blood sugar: do not
drink fruit juice - unless you're having a low blood sugar
reaction! That's right! I suggest that you avoid ALL fruit
Why? Because drinking juice is the same as drinking a regular soda.
Both are absorbed very quickly & cause a big spike in your blood
sugar. It's much better to eat the fruit. At least then you'll
acknowledge you're eating something & the fiber in fruit will help
slow the breakdown. If you have been drinking juice with your
morning medication, switch to water, unsweetened ice tea or a
sugar-free drink like Crystal Light.
Not only will you prevent a sudden spike in your blood sugar -
you'll save excess calories, too. :-)
Bottom Line on Absorption of Foods for Controlling Blood
For some reason, when people drink something, they often ignore the
calories in the drink. A small 4 oz. glass of juice has the same
calories as a serving of fruit but whole fruit will be digested
more slowly. This is because it takes longer to eat it & has more
fiber than juice - fiber helps slow digestion. So go ahead & enjoy
2 to 3 pieces of fruit throughout the day.
Fat free dairy products, such as skim milk & fat free yogurt, are
also absorbed fairly quickly but their protein content helps lessen
the spike. It is fine to have at 2 servings from this group every
day. Dairy foods are the best source of calcium & vitamin D, which
will help you maintain bone health & prevent osteoporosis.
A good rule of thumb for absorption rates is: "The lower the fat
content, the faster the foods is absorbed." This does not in any
way, shape or form mean that I am suggesting you go on a high fat
kick. I am merely trying to explain food absorption in the easiest
way I know how.
The trick to planning a meal is to make it "well-balanced." This
means having foods from the different food groups at the same time.
When you do this, the combination of foods will give a slower rise
to your blood sugar.
Think of the colors blue & red. When you use each color separately,
you get 2 distinct colors. When you combine them, the overall
effect is purple. The same is true with food.
If you eat an orange & a chicken breast separately, they will
effect your blood sugar differently - the orange will cause your
glucose level to rise much faster than the chicken breast. Then
eaten together, the protein & fat in the chicken slows the
absorption of the sugar in the orange.
The result: a slower, smaller rise in blood sugar.