Updates to Diabetes and Meal Planning: How Pork Fits on Your Plate
Author: Renee Korczak Ph.D., RDN, CSSD, LD
Diabetes is a long-lasting autoimmune condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Normally, when food is eaten, sugar (glucose) is broken down and released into your bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar naturally goes up and signals your pancreas to release the hormone called insulin. Insulin then works by allowing the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy. If you have diabetes, your body either does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes. When insulin is not available or cells stop responding to the normal action of insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, persistent high blood sugar levels can lead to complications of diabetes including nerve damage, blurred vision/vision loss, kidney problems and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
While diabetes manifests in several different forms, Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), is the most common form. Symptoms for T2DM often develop over several years and can go for a long time without being noticed. For example, the most recent statistics from the National Diabetes Report described that currently, 37.3 million people have diabetes (about 11% of the population). Of this amount, an alarming 8.5 million people are undiagnosed (about 23% of the population).
It is important to recognize symptoms of diabetes and talk to your healthcare provider. Some symptoms to pay attention to are increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, and frequent infections. Being aware of your risk factors for T2DM is also helpful so you can act and help reduce your risk. These risk factors include being overweight, age 45 or older, have a parent or another immediate relative with T2DM, are physically active <3 times per week, or have ever had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
While medication maybe indicated and should be discussed with your healthcare provider, a huge part of managing T2DM is developing a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutrient-rich diet and physical activity. Since individuals come in different shapes and sizes, it is important to understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing diabetes. However, one key to feeling good lies within the food you eat. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help work with you 1:1 to determine an eating plan that fits into your lifestyle and includes foods you like.
Here are some tips to help you get started in managing your diet and T2DM
Eat your macronutrients and know the amount you need will vary from day to day and that is ok
- All macronutrients including carbs, protein, and fat are required in your diet, even if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. The individual amounts and percentages you require will vary from day to day based on your physical activity and that is why working with an RDN can better help you plan your meals and snacks.
There is no “diabetes” diet
- All foods can fit into a balanced eating plan. A recent scientific consensus report confirms that finding a balanced eating plan that works for your lifestyle and treatment goals is key.
- If you did not already know, weight loss and modest weight loss (5% of your current body weight) can help improve your blood sugars and symptoms in diabetes. Speak with your healthcare provider about ways to start an exercise plan if you have not already. If you are already active, choose physical activities that are enjoyable to you to ensure the most success in staying active.
Include lean and high-quality sources of protein on your plate
- It should be no surprise that protein can help you feel fuller longer and high-quality sources of protein offer all the essential amino acids your body requires daily. While a limited body of research exists on the effects of protein intake on outcomes tied to diabetes, other research suggests protein intake may offer beneficial effects for T2DM. This includes improvements in post-prandial glucose response, decrease in body weight, and reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol when consuming a higher-protein, lower calorie diet.
Try the Diabetes Plate Method for general guidance on food groups and portions to include in your meals and snacks
- The Diabetes Plate, developed by the American Diabetes Association, provides visual guidance on what your plate might look like for individual meals and snacks. Some key messages are to fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, etc. and include one quarter of your plate with lean protein foods such as pork tenderloin, a center cut pork chop and other various lean animal or plant sources. Finally, the plate encourages filling one quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods such as whole grains and choosing water or a low-calorie drink.
Here is what a sample plate could look like following the diabetes plate method:
- Three ounces roasted pork tenderloin
- ¼ cup quinoa tossed with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and diced fresh herbs of your choice
- One cup mixed roasted veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini)
- One cup unsweetened iced tea
Remember that finding a personalized and balanced plate can take some planning and the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Work together to find a combination of foods that are enjoyable and nutrient-dense to help manage your blood sugar. Lean pork is an example of a protein source that can fit on the diabetes plate. Enjoy!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report website. https://www.cdc.ogv/diabetes/data/statistics-report/index.html. Accessed April 7, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Insulin Resistance. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/insulin-resistance. Accessed April 24, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Recipes and Nutrition. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition. Accessed April 25, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. The Diabetes Plate Method. https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/articles/what-is-the-diabetes-plate-method.html#:~:text=The%20Diabetes%20Plate%20Method%20is,you%20need%20is%20a%20plate! Accessed April 25, 2022.
Layman DK, et al. Protein in optimal health: heart disease and diabetes. AJCN 2008; 87 (S1): 1571S-1575S.
Gannon et al. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with Type 2 Diabetes. AJCN 2003; 78: 734-741.