If you receive a diagnosis of diabetes, you will undoubtedly need to make a few changes to your lifestyle. You may be advised to adjust your diet, for one thing. This doesn't mean that you have to give up all sweets, deny yourself delicious flavours, or pass up invitations to dine out with friends or to share meals with your family.

But when you have diabetes, food does have a direct and powerful impact on how you feel, affecting your blood glucose levels, your weight, and your risk for diabetes complications.

Here are a few tips for healthy eating when you have diabetes:

Get to know Canada's Food Guide

When you have diabetes, it is important to plan healthy, balanced meals and snacks. Food guides, like the one provided by Health Canada, can be a big help.

A food guide provides a visual sampling of the most nutritious foods across different food groups and tells you how many daily servings you need to eat from each group. Especially helpful will be a food guide's section detailing the kinds and amounts of carbohydrates you should eat.

Be careful about carbohydrates

You consume carbohydrates when you eat foods containing sugars, starches, or fibre. And because of the way the body digests carbohydrates, these foods can have a direct impact on your blood glucose levels.

When you eat something containing simple sugars - like candy or pop - the carbohydrates are quickly converted into glucose and can cause your blood glucose level to spike. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested more slowly, leaving you feeling fuller and more satisfied and less prone to fluctuations in your blood glucose levels. You can find complex carbs in starchy vegetables, whole-grain bread and cereal, and legumes.

Your health care provider might advise you to "count your carbs." Carbohydrate counting is a method for calculating the amount of carbs you consume when you eat certain kinds of food. While it is more often recommended for those on insulin, practicing carb counting can help anyone plan balanced meals and control blood glucose levels.

Trim the fat

When you have diabetes, you are already at an elevated risk of heart disease. Eating too much fat boosts this risk even higher.

Many sources of protein are derived from animal products that can be high in fat. Select lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry and fish. Trim off visible fat, avoid the deep-fryer, and opt to broil, grill, or barbeque meats instead. When shopping for dairy, stick to low-fat or non-fat items and use less butter when cooking.

Keep an eye on portion size

Portion size is how much food you put on your plate to eat with each meal or snack, and we could all stand to eat smaller portions now and then! But if you are on a dietitian- or physician-recommended meal plan, you may have specific portion size instructions to follow.

A gram scale or other types of food tools (measuring cups and spoons, measured or divided bowls and plates, portion control sheets) can make it easier to measure out your portions. A less precise but more natural way to plan your meals with portion size in mind is to try the plate-sectioning technique: Imagine your plate split into four equal parts, like slices of a pie. Fill one-fourth of the plate with carbohydrates and grains (rice, pasta, potatoes) and another one-fourth with lean protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu). The rest of the plate belongs to vegetables of the non-starchy variety. Add a glass of low-fat milk and a piece of fruit to complete this balanced meal.

Note: It is important to understand that portion size differs from "serving size," which is a reference amount on a food label that corresponds to the food's nutrient information.

Be consistent

A consistent meal-and-snack schedule is like a safety net for people living with diabetes. When planning nutritious meals and snacks, keep in mind that what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat certain foods during the day are all important factors to consider. Consistency may help to keep blood glucose levels under better control.

Ask for help

Should the pursuit of nutrition prove too much to handle, reach out for help. Ask your health care provider to recommend a registered dietitian, who can work with you to create a diet plan that suits your health needs and your lifestyle.

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