Our bodies metabolize food into glucose so that cells can use it for energy. A person with diabetes must be aware of how specific foods affect blood sugars in order to achieve good control. Understanding the food pyramid, nutrition labels, and perhaps learning a diabetic exchange diet can help you eat well and avoid complications from diabetes.
When I was in school, the terminology for healthy eating was described as “The Basic Four.” Today, kids are taught about the food pyramid. Foods such as grains, pasta, breads, and rice are in the group at the foundation of the food pyramid and, with 6 to 11 servings daily, should comprise the base for a healthy diet.
Moving higher up the pyramid you’ll find vegetables with 3 to 5 servings and fruit with 2 to 4 servings. A healthful diet will also contain 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese and also 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, or nuts. Keeping these serving numbers in mind for each grouping can make a healthful diet easier to plan.
What’s an Exchange Diet?
In an exchange diet, foods that are similar are grouped together. Serving sizes are well defined so that each will have the same amount of carbohydrate, fat, and protein as any other. Foods can be “exchanged” or traded with others in a category while still meeting the desired overall goals. Exchanges can be applied to most any eating situation and may make it easier to follow a prescribed diet. For example, if a nutrition plan calls for one starch exchange a person could choose ½ cup of cooked pasta, OR one slice of bread, OR a small (3 oz.) baked potato.
Today’s packaged foods are required to have labels with nutrition facts listed. These nutrition labels are a big help in maintaining good nutrition, particularly with a diabetic diet. Knowing how much of a particular nutrient is in a food allows you to translate an item into exchanges and follow a diabetic exchange diet, count carbohydrates, and maintain a healthy diet.