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On the Road to Healthy Eating

Having diabetes does not mean having to shop for special foods or preparing individual meals. You and the whole family can benefit from this healthy way of eating! Fill your plates with colourful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, small amounts of lean meat and low fat milk and dairy, and eat fish, beans and lentils more often. To keep hearts working well and waistlines manageable, focus on variety and moderation. You don’t have to sacrifice the great taste of food because you have diabetes. All foods fit! Meet with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator to develop a meal plan that will fit yours and your family’s lifestyle and will help you feel your best.

The most important tip for healthy eating is to use the Beyond the Basics® guide developed by the Canadian Diabetes Association, to help you create a meal plan with lots of variety and choice. Learn to use this as a tool to help you eat healthy. As you can see from the chart, the food groups Grains and Starches, Fruits and Milk and Alternatives all provide 15 grams of carbohydrate (carb) per portion. This is counted as one Carb choice. Practice carb counting with the help of a Dietitian or Diabetes Educator. Not only can this help manage blood glucose, but it allows more flexibility with food choices since you can mix and match carbohydrate-rich foods.

Beyond the Basics®: Meal Planning for Healthy Eating, Diabetes prevention and Management


How are food groups organized?

    1. All food groups containing carbohydrates (CHO) provide approximately 15 g available CHO. 15 g is counted as one CHO choice.
    2. Multicultural foods reflect the diverse cultures and cuisines in Canada.
    3. People with diabetes are encouraged to choose a variety of foods from all food groups.
    4. Names of food groups reflect the foods they contain. Foods have been placed in groups according to their most common usage e.g.  potatoes in Grains & Starches, soy beverages in Milk & Alternatives.
    5. It is recommended foods that are lower in fat, higher in fibre, and/or have a lower GI value, be chosen more often.  
    6. ‘Other Choices’ includes a variety of sweet and snack foods.
    7. ‘Extras’ includes coffee, tea, diet soda, spices, vinegar, mustard and condiments that contain few calories and carbohydrates.
Food Groups Nutrients Calories Examples
Grains & Starches
(grains, bread, pasta, potatoes, corn and rice)
15 g carb
3 g protein
0 g fat
  • 1 tortilla (6 inch)
  • 1/3 cup mashed plantain
  • 1/2 cup of couscous

(fresh, frozen or canned)

15 g carb
1 g protein
0 g fat
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup canned fruit in juice

Milk & Alternatives
(milk, soy milk, yogurt)

15 g carb
8 g protein
variable fat
Skim – 90
1% - 110
2% - 130
Whole – 140
  • 1 cup milk or low fat soymilk
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup 1% chocolate milk
Other Choices
(sweet foods and snacks)
15 g carb
variable fat & protein
See Nutrition
Facts Panel
  • 3 cups air popped popcorn
  • 3 arrowroot cookies
  • 1 tablespoon jam

(fresh, frozen or canned)

<5 g carb **
2 g protein
0 g fat
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • 1 cup peas

Meat & Alternatives
(meat, poultry, fish, legumes, cheese, tofu)

0 g carb
7 g protein
3-5 g fat
  • 1 ounce light cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

(oil, butter, margarine, nuts, seeds)

0 g carb
0 g protein
5 g fat
  • 1 slice crisp bacon
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
(herbs, spices, sugar-free drinks, condiments)
<5 g carb ** <20
  • Garlic
  • Mustard
  • Vinegar

Adapted from: Beyond the Basics ®: Meal Planning For Healthy Eating, Diabetes Prevention and Management by Canadian DIabetes Association © 2005

** less than 5 g carb is considered free

Beyond the Basics: Tips

  • Set realistic goals for healthy eating with your Registered Dietitian or Diabetes Educator.
  • Limit intake of saturated & trans fat; these fats are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Use food labels, the most accurate source of nutrition information to estimate the size of a carbohydrate choice.
  • Choose low GI foods where possible.
  • 6 – 11 g CHO can be counted as 1/2 CHO choice.
  • Common household measures e.g. 1/2 cup, 125 mL are used to identify portion sizes.

Get friendly with fibre

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies have difficulty digesting. Because of this, foods that are high in fibre can help manage blood glucose levels. Fibre is also very filling. Eating a high fibre meal can keep you satisfied longer, which is great when you are watching your weight! Excellent high fibre choices are legumes (beans and lentils), cold and hot cereals made with bran, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Aim for 25-30 grams of fibre everyday.

Learn the Glycemic Index (GI)

The GI is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI (55 or less) raise blood glucose levels more slowly than foods with a higher GI. Low GI foods may also help control cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease and curb your appetite. Some low GI foods are pumpernickel, whole wheat and rye breads, oatmeal, sweet potato, lentils and beans. Medium GI foods are brown rice, couscous, popcorn and digestive biscuits. Aim to eat one low GI food at every meal.

Be aware of what you are eating

Avoid temptation! That muffin with your morning coffee or that sugary afternoon pick-me-up can quickly raise your blood glucose while slowly increasing your waistline. Save your indulgences for special occasions! When you have a long day ahead of you, plan to bring healthy snacks (like vegetable sticks or cheese and high fibre crackers) and pack a lunch the night before. Remember, with moderation and portion control, all foods can fit into a Beyond the Basics® meal plan.

Learn how to read labels

Are you ever confused about foods that say they are “low-fat”, “fat-free”, “high in fibre” or “sugar-free”? Learning to read the Nutrition Facts Panel on a product can provide you with a lot of important information. For instance, foods that are “low-fat” may still be high in sugar. So, pay close attention to serving size, calories, fat, carbohydrates, sugars and fibre as these details can help you make good choices. For more information on label reading visit latest on labels or the CDA’s Healthy Eating is in Store for You website.

What’s the difference between a Portion Size and a Serving Size?

The serving size is what’s listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Serving size is also how Health Canada provides Food Guide recommendations and is the amount of food used for listing the information given in the Nutrition Facts Panel. The portion size is the amount of food that you actually put on your plate. This may be more or less than what the recommended serving size is. Be aware of portion sizes when plating meals because calories, carbohydrates and fat can really add up! Always adjust nutrition information to the portion size you are eating.

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