Proteins are used as replacement parts in the body. They are not used for energy unless there are not enough carbohydrates and fats present.

Eating protein is an important part of any healthy diet. However, many Americans eat more protein than they need. People who have kidney problems or nephropathy may be advised to limit the amount of protein they eat.

Meat, poultry, milk products, and eggs are all good sources of high-quality protein, but they also come with cholesterol and saturated fat. Select low-fat milk products and lean cuts of meat and poultry. Seafood is a good source of protein, and most kinds of seafood are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than meat and contain valuable omega-3 fats.

You can also find protein in legumes, grains, and vegetables.

Nuts are laden with fat, but most nuts do not contain saturated fat (coconut is an exception). Vegetables, grains, and legumes are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and have other nutrients as well. (Cholesterol is only found in animal products.)

For example, a 1/3 cup serving of cooked kidney beans has 3 grams of protein. So does 1/2 cup of corn. Both of these contain 15 grams of carbohydrate and count as 1 carbohydrate choice or 1 starch exchange.  One-half cup of cooked nonstarchy vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, or zucchini, gives you 5 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of protein and counts as 1 vegetable exchange.

“When I found out I had type 2 diabetes, I said ‘no’ to sugar. No more sugar in my tea; no more cakes, cookies, or pies; and no more jelly on my toast. I even switched from my favorite brand of peanut butter because it had sugar in it.”

These efforts have most likely made for a healthier meal plan. But you probably didn’t have to go to such extreme measures.

Sugar has long had a bad reputation, especially among people with diabetes. People used to think that eating sugar would cause blood glucose levels to rise much more rapidly than eating other types of carbohydrates, such as bread or potatoes. So although bread and potatoes were okay to eat, pure sugar or sugar-laden treats were considered taboo.

It turns out that sugar’s bad rap is not entirely deserved. Researchers are now finding that the extent to which blood glucose rises after eating carbohydrates is due to both the total amount of carbohydrate (all sources) and the type of carbohydrate. What also seems to matter in how quickly your blood glucose levels rise is the other foods you eat in combination with carbohydrates and how the food is cooked. Foods that include fat are digested much more slowly.

Foods that contain sugar can be part of your diabetes meal plan.

You need to account for the calories and carbohydrate content of the sugar you eat, and often note the effects on your overall blood glucose levels. But you still need to count sugar as a carbohydrate, and it has little nutritional value. If you include lots of sugary items in your diet, you won’t be able to eat as much of the nutrient-rich carbohydrates such as grains and cereals that your body needs to keep you healthy.

Your dietitian can help you learn how to count sugar in your meal plan. For example, if you plan on having a piece of cake for dessert, you might want to skip the roll you normally have at dinnertime. Your dietitian or provider can also help you decide whether you need to adjust your insulin dose to deal with extra carbohydrates in your meal plan.

Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robert M. Anderson, EdD
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Shereen Arent, JD
National Director of Legal Advocacy
American Diabetes Association

American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes

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