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Advantages & Disadvantages of Diabetic Diets

By Jill Corleone, RDN, LD

Almost 26 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Education Program. Diabetes is a chronic illness characterized by high blood sugars. If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to other diseases such as heart or kidney disease, as well as an early death. Diet plays an important role in the treatment of diabetes. While there are a number of advantages to following a diabetic diet, there may be a few disadvantages for some people. Consult your doctor or dietitian to help you with your diabetic meal plan.

Advantage: Help With Blood Sugar Control

The primary goal in diabetes management is getting your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Your doctor can help you determine your blood sugar goals, but in general, those numbers range from 90 to 130 milligrams per deciliter before meals and less than 180 milligrams per deciliter two hours after a meal. The carbohydrates you eat affect your blood sugar. A diabetic diet helps you control the amount of carbohydrates you eat each day and at each meal for better blood sugar management. Good blood sugar control may reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications.

Advantage: Good for Weight Management

The diabetic diet is a healthy diet in general. The diet encourages you to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy. The diet also encourages portion control and eating meals regularly. These healthy diet principles are the same recommendations given to someone who wants to lose weight. If you're overweight or obese and have diabetes, losing as little as 10 pounds can help improve blood sugar.

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Disadvantage: Too Rigid

The diabetic diet recommends you eat the same amount of food around the same time every day. Being consistent with the amount and timing of your meals aids in blood sugar control. Some people may have a hard time sticking to a rigid meal schedule. For example, if you are an emergency room nurse, you may have a difficult time eating meals at specified times. Additionally, not being able to eat the right amount of food at specified times can affect how your medication works, causing high or low blood sugars.

Disadvantage: Too Complicated

While there is no one diabetic diet, there are two meal planning tools -- the exchange list and carbohydrate counting -- used to help people with diabetes eat better. The exchange list divides foods into groups based on similarities in nutritional content, and you are allowed a certain number of servings from each food group based on calorie needs and food preferences. Carbohydrate counting requires you count the number of carbs you eat at each meal and snack, sticking to a specific amount determined by your doctor or dietitian. Both plans require careful counting and measuring of what you eat. Some people may find either of these meal planning tools too complicated to follow.

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