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Meal Plans for Diabetes Management


Updated June 15, 2014

The Three Major Diabetes Food Plans:

There are three main food plans that people with diabetes use to manage their eating -- the exchange plan, the counting carbs plan, and the continuous carbohydrate plan. Why do you need a food plan? Using a food plan helps you keep track of your food intake, and eating close to the same amount of carbs, proteins and fats everyday helps you figure out how your body reacts to food. Knowing how foods affect your blood sugar gives you the tools to maintain better control. Keeping track of carbohydrates is something that people with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes should do.

Before You Start:

Carbohydrates are the most important part of the food you eat. They directly affect your blood glucose almost immediately after you eat them. All three plans detailed below help you keep your carbs in balance. For each of the plans, 15 grams of carbohydrate equals one carb choice. How do you know what 15 grams of carbs is? It's not always easy. First, set up an appointment with a dietitian, if you can. Also, most food labels list nutrition facts like carbs. There are also books, and online resources to help you figure it all out.

Exchange Meal Plan:

This plan divides food into six categories: starches, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and fats. The serving sizes listed have similar amounts of calories, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. There is a food list to help you see what category your food falls into. It's called the exchange plan because it offers you the flexibility to trade one food on the list for a similar food. For example: exchanging 3/4 cup of cold cereal for a half of an English muffin. Exchange food lists are available from your dietitian. They can also be found in books, or online.

  • The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Food Exchange List

Counting Carbohydrates Food Plan:

Counting carbohydrates is a more flexible plan. It only keeps track of your carbs. Carbs affect blood glucose levels quickly. Insulin works with the carbs and breaks them down for energy. You adjust your dose according to the amount of carbs you are going to eat at that meal. The units of insulin per grams of carbs is figured out by your doctor or dietitian based on your body's response to carbs. This requires careful tracking and blood glucose testing to see how carbs affect your blood sugar.

Several websites provide free tools for tracking your daily intake.

Constant Carbohydrate Food Plan:

This plan is the simplest to use and is the choice for many when they are first starting out. You only need to keep track of the carbohydrates in your diet. A dietitian or your doctor will help you establish how many carbs you should eat everyday. Usually insulin or other diabetes medication doses also remain constant. You keep the number of carb choices the same at each meal. Try to keep your daily eating and exercise routine the same.

Summing It Up:

No matter which plan you use, remember to check blood glucose levels often and write down the numbers and also how many carbs you have eaten that day. Good record keeping will give you and your doctor an accurate picture of how effective your food plan and medication schedule are. And that helps you maintain good control and keep your numbers in a good range for you.


Clark RD, LD, Amanda, Stephanie Kovarick, RD, LD, CDE, Melissa Voigt, BA, and Joy Hayes, MS, RD, LD, CDE. "Using the MyPyramid.gov Website as a Tool for Diabetes Self-Management Education." Diabetes Spectrum 2006 19:122-126. 11 Jan. 2006.

"Carbohydrates and Diabetes." The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center. 18 Mar 2002. Cleveland Clinic. 11 Jan 2007.

"Meal Plans and Diabetes." Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Apr 2005. Kids Health. 11 Jan 2007.

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