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January 20, 2002

Meal Planning, Food and Diet

Question from Singapore:

My 50 year old mother has mild diabetes with higher blood glucose levels detected during her periodic check-ups, and I noticed she likes to eat sweet corn (natural) prepared by steaming and sometimes sugar cane juice (natural). What categories do natural sweet corn and sugar cane come under in the Food Guide Pyramid? Should she avoid such foods? Common sense tells me the above-mentioned food items taste extremely sweet, and I am concerned.


I hope your mother can visit a dietitian who can give her an individualized meal plan including her favorite foods. While sweet corn is usually classified as a vegetable, it is a more starchy one than green beans or lettuce. So, in the context of a meal plan, one-half cup of sweet corn would be counted as 15 grams of carbohydrate which is the same amount in a slice of bread or one-half cup of rice. Sugar cane, as you might have guessed, is plain sugar and while it does not need to be totally eliminated, will most likely raise her blood glucose levels if the carbohydrate is not accounted for in the overall meal plan or if it is eaten by itself. On occasion, she could have a couple of tablespoons, and it would probably be better to have it with a meal, not between meals.

Additional comments from James Michael Schurig, RD, LD, CDE:

The sweet corn falls under the starchy vegetables and sugar cane would fall under the fats, oils, and sweets section of the Food Guide Pyramid. A person with diabetes requires a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats for effective meal planning. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar the most and the fastest, but even though this is the case, the body would rather use carbohydrates for energy than to protein and/or fat. The objective of diabetes meal planning is to spread these carbohydrates evenly throughout meals and snacks and balance them with a moderate amount of protein and fat. I hope this assists you in assisting your mother in her meal planning endeavors.