Ask the Registered Dietitian Archives
Here is an archive nutrition and food-related questions and answers.
- What do you recommend when it comes to white rice for people with type 2 diabetes?
- What is a good amount of carbohydrate for my dad to have at each meal? He does manual labor and is on his feet all day.
- Any assistance regarding what foods are good versus bad and how to plan meals for type 2?
- Why are sugars separate from carbohydrates on the nutrition label?
- What kind of bread is low in carbs?
- Is green coffee bean extract safe for people with diabetes?
- Is coconut water good for people with diabetes?
- I like to enjoy a glass of merlot each evening before dinner. Does it contain sugar or carbs?
- How may grams are equal one carb serving? And how may carbohydrates are you allowed to have in a day if you have type 2 diabetes?
- Can I try the South Beach Diet if I have diabetes?
- Where can I find a diabetes diet plan for my husband?
- What should be my carbohydrate limit daily to maintain control of my glucose levels?
- What are the right carbohydrates for someone with diabetes to eat?
- Is there any food that would bring a person's blood sugar back down?
- Is spaghetti squash high in carbs?
What do you recommend when it comes to white rice for people with type 2 diabetes (i.e. proper portion size, frequency and alternatives)? This is a concern for my Hispanic patients.
It’s obviously very important to take cultural preferences into account when helping patients with meal planning for their diabetes. Rice is a staple food in Hispanic culture, and it wouldn’t be fair to ask one of these patients stop eating rice all together.
The good news – having diabetes doesn’t mean that your patients have to give up high carbohydrate foods like rice. People with diabetes can still enjoy rice and other staple foods like beans, corn, and tortillas in small portions.
It’s important to teach them how to make these foods fit with their meal plan. For example, if their carb limit for lunch is 45 grams of carbohydrate, they can choose to get some of those carbs from a serving of rice.
Below is a list of serving sizes that have approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate:
- 1/3 cup rice (white or brown)
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1, 6-inch tortilla (flour or corn)
- ½ cup corn
- ½ cup beans
You will probably find that most of these patients prefer to eat white rice, which is a refined grain. We recommend that people with diabetes choose whole grain foods most of the time because they provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains. Both brown and wild rice are whole grains and make great substitutes for white rice.
If a patient is hesitant to stop eating white rice, it may help to start by asking them to start by substituting in brown rice just a few times each week. Brown and white rice have the same amount of carbs in a serving, which makes it an easy switch!
Other whole grains to encourage are:
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Whole wheat flour
- Whole oats/oatmeal
- Whole grain corn/corn meal
- Brown rice
- Whole rye
- Whole grain barley
- Wild rice
- Buckwheat flour
Be sure to tell your patients to look for products that list whole wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient when buying foods like bread, crackers, or tortillas.
My dad was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He weighs 270 pounds and is 6 feet 3 inches tall. He does manual labor and is on his feet all day and carrying heavy things. What is a good amount of carbohydrate for him to have at each meal?
This is a very common question among people with diabetes. If he hasn't already, your dad should work with his healthcare provider to set some diabetes goals. Goals might include losing weight, improving his A1C, lowering his blood pressure and/or lowering cholesterol levels.
Once his goals are set, he can then work with his provider to set up a meal plan that aims to achieve those goals. This plan should also account for his preferences and lifestyle. The plan should include how many carbohydrates to have at each meal and whether or not to include snacks. His provider may suggest using the diabetes plate method to plan meals or they may suggest carbohydrate counting. A registered dietitian (RD) can be especially helpful when learning about meal plannign for diabetes.
For those with type 2 diabetes who haven’t set up an individualized meal plan, we suggest including about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal to start. However, some people may need more and some people may need less. It sounds like your father is very active, so if he has type 2 diabetes, he would probably want to shoot for the higher end of that recommendation. He may actually need more than that, so encourage him to see his provider soon!
My husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol. I'm struggling with what to make for his meals. Any assistance regarding what foods are good versus bad?
One of the simplest methods you can use to plan diabetes-friendly meals is the Plate Method, which we also call “Create your Plate”. This method is helpful for controlling portion sizes. Once you get used to smaller portions on your plate, you can work toward filling each section of the plate with healthier options. Here are the basics:
- Divide your plate in half down the middle.Then on one side, cut it again so you will have 3 sections on your plate.
- Fill the largest section with non-starchy vegetables such as:
- spinach, carrots, lettuce, greens, cabbage, bok choy
- green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes,
- vegetable juice, salsa, onion, cucumber, beets, okra,
- mushrooms, peppers, turnip
- whole grain breads, such as whole wheat or rye
- whole grain, high-fiber cereal
- cooked cereal such as oatmeal, grits, hominy, or cream of wheat
- rice, pasta, dal, tortillas
- cooked beans and peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas
- potatoes, green peas, corn, lima beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash
- low-fat crackers and snack chips, pretzels, and fat-free popcorn
- chicken or turkey without the skin
- fish such as tuna, salmon, cod, or catfish
- other seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, or mussels
- lean cuts of beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
- tofu, eggs, low-fat cheese
You may also be interested in our free meal planning resource Recipes for Healthy Living. All it takes is a quick sign-up and you’ll receive a new set of diabetes-friendly recipes, a one-day meal plan, and cooking tips each month. Recipes for Healthy Living may be especially helpful for finding healthy meal ideas that are diabetes-friendly.
Since your husband has high cholesterol, he should also work on lowering the amount of trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in his diet. He can do this by choosing from the healthy choices listed above. He should also become familiar with the different types of fat and the foods that we get them from. A few foods that contain unhealthy fats to watch out for are highly processed meats, highly processed snack foods, fried foods, chocolate, cream, butter, full-fat dairy products, and poultry with the skin.
In addition to changing his eating habits, he should refrain from smoking and increase his activity level. Losing weight if he is overweight can also help.
I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I understand that sugars are a carbohydrate. I was told to aim for 150 grams of carbohydrate per day. However, when I go to read the nutrition label, the sugars are listed separately. Do I just subtract the grams of sugar from the total carb grams for the day?
When you look at a nutrition label, you’ll notice that the grams of total carbohydrate are bolded. That number includes all types of carbohydrate: starches, sugars, dietary fiber, and sugar alcohols. Since almost all types of carbohydrate raise blood glucose, we recommend using the grams of total carbohydrate listed when counting carbohydrates.
The sugars are listed out on the label but there is no need to subtract the grams of sugar. Sugars will raise blood glucose but they are already accounted for in the total carbohydrate grams.
What kind of bread is low in carbs?
There are a few breads out there that are very low in carbohydrates, but even breads that claim they are low-carb on the package will have some carbohydrates. Most bread is made primarily made with either wheat flour and/or rye flour. Both wheat and rye are grains that contain starch, a type of carbohydrate that can raise blood glucose.
The amount of carbohydrate in one slice of bread can vary greatly. The carbohydrate content depends on the size of a slice and the ingredients used to make the bread. Always check the grams of total carbohydrate and the serving size listed on the nutrition label to determine how it will fit with your meal plan.
When picking out bread at the grocery store, we suggest buying one that is made mostly with whole grains. That means the first ingredient on the ingredient list should be either whole wheat flour or whole rye flour. Packages that say 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat on the package are great choices.
There are some breads out there that claim to be low in carbohydrates on the package. These are a fine choice, but you should still check the nutrition facts for the total grams of carbohydrate when meal planning. If you can’t find low carbohydrate bread in the store, you can also try popular items that tend to be lower in carbohdyrates like whole wheat sandwich thins or low-carb tortillas.
Is green coffee bean extract safe for people with diabetes?
There is a lot of talk about green coffee extract in the media right now, especially since Dr. Oz featured this supplement on his show several months ago. This supplement is usually marketed as a fat-burning weight loss pill and is made from unroasted coffee beans. Remember that because it is a supplement, it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is not an FDA-approved weight loss medication.
Furthermore, only a handful of small, short-term studies have looked at green coffee bean extract. Currently, there is not enough research to know its long-term effects or acute side effects when taken with specific medications. We do not recommend it as a means for weight loss or for controlling blood glucose for people with diabetes.
It may sound less glamorous, but the best way to control blood glucose is through controlled carbohydrate intake, regular physical activity, stress management, and taking any medications as prescribed by your health care provider. To learn more, the following information from diabetes.org may be helpful:
Is coconut water good for people with diabetes?
Coconut water is gaining popularity quickly. This beverage is touted as being great for hydration and also for its high potassium content. However, coconut water does provide some calories and can provide a significant amount of carbohydrates. ZICO, one well-known brand of coconut water, has 60 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate in their standard 14-ounce bottle.
Research has shown that calories consumed from liquids do not give the same full feeling as calories consumed from solid food. So, we recommend choosing beverages that are carbohydrate and calorie-free as much as possible. Water and other zero-calorie drinks (especially those without caffeine) are also perfectly acceptable choices for hydration. Water, unsweetened teas, coffee, and diet drinks do not add extra calories to the diet and also do not contribute to a rise in blood glucose.
We recommend avoiding sugary drinks like regular soda, fruit punch, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sweet tea, etc. These will raise blood glucose and can provide several hundred calories in just one serving!
Coconut water does not quite fall into the sugary beverage category if it is pure coconut water and does not contain added sugars. However, it is important to note its calorie and carbohdyrate content. It may not be the best drink for every day, but you can choose it sometimes if you prefer it to other beverages. Just be sure that you drink it in moderation and count it in your meal plan.
I like to enjoy a glass of merlot each evening before dinner. Does it contain sugar or carbs?
According to the Exchange Lists for Diabetes, a 5-ounce glass of dry red or white wine does not need to be counted as a source of carbohydrate in your meal plan. Five ounces is just a little more than a half cup. Sweet dessert wines do have a significant amount of carbohydrates, however, and should be estimated at about 15 grams of carbohydrate per 3.5-ounce glass.
If you choose to drink alcohol, the American Diabetes Association recommends women have no more than 1 drink per day and men have no more than 2 drinks per day. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine (not dessert wine), or 1-1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Having one glass of wine in the evening is fine to do. However, we recommend that you avoid drinking on an empty stomach if you have diabetes. For people with diabetes, hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can be a reaction from drinking alcohol when you haven’t eaten anything. This is especially problematic for people taking medications and insulin.
So, it’s a good idea to have something to eat when you decide to have some wine. Have a snack with your wine or wait until dinner is served and have it with your meal.
Though your merlot does not need to be counted in your meal plan as a source of carbohydrate, you should know that all alcoholic drinks will provide some extra calories to your diet. A glass of wine typically has about 100 calories. To avoid taking in a lot of extra calories, it’s important to watch portion size when drinking and to follow the recommendation above.
How may grams are equal one carb serving? And how may carbohydrates are you allowed to have in a day if you have type 2 diabetes?
When carbohydrate counting for diabetes, you will find that carbs can be counted two different ways: as the grams of carbohydrate (i.e. the grams of total carbohydrate listed on the nutrition label) or by the number of carbohydrate servings.
One serving of carbohydrates (which may also be referred to as a "carbohydrate choice") is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate. So, 30 grams of carbohydrate is equal to 2 servings, 45 grams of carbohydrate is equal to 3 servings, and so on. Using carb servings or choices is just a way to simplify the process of estimation. The way you want to count carbs is really a personal choice, so use what works best for you!
If you have diabetes, we recommend following a meal plan that will help you meet your diabetes goals. First, you’ll need to work with your healthcare provider to set these goals, which might include losing weight, improving your A1C, lowering your blood pressure and/or lowering cholesterol levels.
Once your goals are set, work with your provider to set up a meal plan that takes your preferences into account and can help you achieve those goals. Discuss how many carbohydrates to include at each meal and whether or not to include snacks. Your provider may suggest using the diabetes plate method to start or they may have you try carbohydrate counting. A registered dietitian (RD) or certified diabetes educator (CDE) can be especially helpful when you are first learning to plan meals.
Since it sounds like you haven’t set up an individualized meal plan yet, we suggest including about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal to start. (This is equal to 3-4 carbohydrate servings.) If you follow that recommendation, you would be eating a total of about 135-180 grams of carbohydrate throughout the day.
It is important to spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day and to keep it as consistent as possible from day to day. Remember, some people may need more and some people may need less carbs than the recommendation above, so talk to your healthcare team about setting a plan soon!
Can I try the South Beach Diet if I have diabetes?
We encourage people with diabetes to follow a balanced meal plan that focuses on eating a variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, low-fat diary, and lean protein. If you are on insulin, it’s also very important to balance the activity you do and the food you eat with the proper insulin dose.
The South Beach Diet is divided up into three phases, with the first phase lasting two weeks. Those first two weeks require a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates. Only a few very low-carbohydrate non-starchy vegetables are allowed, along with lean meats, nuts, eggs, tofu, low-fat cheese.
The carbohydrate restriction involved in this first phase could be potentially dangerous, especially if you are prone to low blood glucose reactions or if you are on insulin. Eventually, some carbohydrate foods are added back into the diet during the second phase, and the third phase is maintenance of these eating habits.
Restrictive diets and low-carb diets are not necessarily the answer for diabetes. Cutting out entire food groups may cause you to miss out on important nutrients like certain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It is best to focus on making lasting lifestyle changes that you can stick with instead of “dieting”. Often, dieting is associated with making short-term changes to the way you eat.
The best type of meal plan will be one that you can follow long-term and will help you meet your health goals. The answer may not be to follow a highly-publicized diet like South Beach, but to find the right balance for you while including healthy carbohydrate foods and physical activity. You can work with your doctor, a certified diabetes educator, and/or a dietitian to set goals and to build a plan.
If you are overweight, losing just 10-15 pounds can help you improve your blood glucose and can also bring down your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When it comes to weight loss, you don’t have to lose it all at once. Slow, gradual weight loss (1/2 pound – 2 pounds per week) is safer and more effective.
It is best to set a few small goals and then add more as you go. Make a realistic achievable plan and take it slowly. Find out what works for you, and choose changes that you can stick with! Visit our Weight Loss section for more information.
I am seeking a diabetes diet plan for my husband. He needs to work on portion control and we need some different meal plan options. Can you point me in the right direction?
A good place to start with meal planning is the Diabetes Plate Method. It doesn’t require any special books and there is no counting involved. It’s also something you can use anywhere – whether you are eating at your own house, at a family gathering, or at a restaurant.
For a lot of people, portion size is a big issue. The Plate Method helps with portion control and focuses on filling your plate with more non-starchy vegetables. It also helps control portions of starchy foods and meats.
All it takes is 5 simple steps:
- Imagine drawing a line down the middle of a 9-inch dinner plate. Then on one side, cut it again so you will have 3 sections on your plate.
- Fill the largest section with non-starchy vegetables like salad, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes.
- Now in one of the smaller sections, put starchy foods such as corn, noodles, rice, or potatoes. If you fill this section with a grain-based food (like bread, pasta, rice, etc.), choose a whole grain option.
- The other small section is for meat or a meat substitute. Choose lean meats as often as possible. Even though you don’t eat most fish, there are still many lean protein options.
- Add an 8 ounce (1 cup) glass of low-fat milk and one small piece of fruit or ½ cup of fruit salad and you’ve got a great meal! (If you don’t drink milk, you can add an extra piece of fruit, light yogurt, or a small whole wheat roll.)
Another resource that can help you plan healthy meals is Recipes for Healthy Living. This is our free online nutrition resource. You can sign up today and you’ll receive a set of new recipes, a sample meal plan, and dozens of healthy eating tips each month. Our recipes are diabetes-friendly, but they can also be enjoyed by the whole family.
I have type 2 diabetes. What should be my carbohydrate limit daily to maintain control of my glucose levels?
This is a very common question among people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, we recommend following a meal plan that will help you meet your diabetes goals. First, you’ll need to work with your healthcare provider to set these goals, which might include losing weight, improving your A1C, lowering your blood pressure and/or lowering cholesterol levels.
Once your goals are set, work with them to set up a meal plan that takes your preferences into account and can help you achieve those goals. Discuss how many carbohydrates to include at each meal and whether or not to include snacks. Your provider may suggest using the diabetes plate method to start or they may have you try carbohydrate counting. A registered dietitian (RD) or certified diabetes educator (CDE) can be especially helpful when you are first learning to plan meals.
Since it sounds like you haven’t set up an individualized meal plan yet, we suggest including about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal to start. If you follow that recommendation, you would be eating a total of about 135-180 grams of carbohydrate per day. It is also important to spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day and try to keep it as consistent as possible from day to day. Remember, some people may need more and some people may need less than the recommendation above, so talk to your healthcare team about setting a plan soon!
What are the right carbohydrates for someone with diabetes to eat? I need to know so I can cook meals for my boyfriend.
Though any food that contains carbohydrate will raise blood glucose, it is still important for people with diabetes to have some carbohydrates to fuel their body and their brain. We recommend choosing healthier sources of carbohydrate in small portions.
Healthy sources of carbohydrate include:
- Whole grains (like 100% whole wheat bread, oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc.)
- Fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned without added sugars)
- Starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, green peas and pumpkin)
- Beans and Legumes (like dried beans, canned beans that have been drained and rinsed, or lentils)
- Low-fat dairy products (like 1% or skim milk and non-fat yogurt)
These sources of carbohydrate are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are much more nutritious than other high-carbohydrate foods such as cookies, cakes, pastries, chips, and refined grains like white bread.
For those with diabetes, it’s still very important to watch portion sizes, even when you choose healthy carbohydrates. To learn more about the different food groups and tips for carbohydrate counting, visit the What Can I Eat? section of our site.
If you are looking for healthy, diabetes-friendly recipes, you may want to sign up for our free online resource Recipes for Healthy Living. When you sign up, we’ll send you a new set of diabetes-friendly recipes, a sample meal plan, and other healthy eating tips each month!
Is there any food that would bring a person's blood sugar back down?
There is no “magic” food or drink that you can have to bring blood glucose down when it is high. To keep your blood glucose levels on target, you need to take any insulin and/or medications according to your doctor’s instructions. Medications and insulin work in your body to bring blood glucose down after eating.
Following your diabetes meal plan can also help keep blood glucose levels from getting too high. If you haven’t talked with your doctor about a meal plan that’s right for you, I would recommend starting with something we call the diabetes plate method. This meal planning method focuses on portion control and making healthy food choices. It is a quick way to keep the amount of carbohydrate you eat consistent and to keep portion sizes in check. If high blood glucose levels are still a problem, your healthcare team can help you adjust your medications or meal plan.
When you have diabetes, exercise can help lower blood glucose. This is as close to a magic bullet as we have. However, if you’re blood glucose is elevated and there are ketones present in your urine, you should postpone exercise. This is primarily an issue for people with type 1 diabetes.
Is spaghetti squash high in carbs?
Though most types of winter squash are considered starchy vegetables (butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.) , spaghetti squash is classified as a non-starchy vegetable. One-half cup of cooked spaghetti squash has about 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate. It also provides vitamin C, B vitamins, and fiber. It’s extremely low in fat and sodium, and has no cholesterol – so it’s a great choice! The best part? Right now spaghetti squash is in season, so it’s easy to find in stores and is cheaper now than other times of the year.
If you use the Plate Method to plan meals, spaghetti squash would go with other non-starchy veggies like spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli in the large half section of your plate. A lot of people like to use it as a lower carbohydrate substitute for pasta. After baking it, you can lightly sauté it with other non-starchy vegetables and fresh herbs or just eat it with some spaghetti sauce.
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