Diabetes diet: create your healthy eating plan


Your diabetes diet is simply a healthy eating plan that will help you control your blood sugar. Here’s help getting started, from meal planning to carb counting.

A diabetes diet involves eating the healthiest foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular meal times.

A diabetes diet is a healthy eating plan that is naturally high in nutrients and low in fat and calories. The key elements are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In fact, a diabetes diet is the best eating plan for almost everyone.

Why do you need to create a healthy eating plan?

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will likely recommend that you see a dietitian to help you create a healthy eating plan. The plan helps you control your blood sugar (glucose) level, control your weight, and control risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and blood fats.

When you consume excess calories and fat, your body generates an unwanted spike in blood glucose. Failure to keep your blood glucose under control can lead to serious problems, such as high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), which, if they persist, can lead to long-term complications, such as damage to the nerves, kidneys, and heart.

You can maintain safe blood glucose levels by choosing healthy foods and keeping track of your eating habits.

For most people with type 2 diabetes, losing weight can also make it easier to control blood glucose and offers a number of other health benefits. If you need to lose weight, a diabetes diet provides a well-organized and nutritious way to reach your goal safely.

What does a diet for diabetes entail?

A diabetes diet is based on eating three meals a day at regular times. This helps you better use the insulin that your body produces or receives through a medicine.

A registered dietitian can help you prepare a diet based on your health, taste, and lifestyle goals. She can also talk with you about ways to improve your eating habits, such as choosing portions that suit your size and activity level needs.

Recommended foods

Make your calories count with these nutritious foods. Choose healthy carbohydrates, high-fiber foods, fish, and “good” fats. Read more about What foods can help a diabetic gain weight here.

Healthy carbohydrates

During digestion, sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) are broken down into glucose in the blood. Focus on healthy carbohydrates, such as:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes, such as beans and peas
  • Low-fat dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • Avoid less healthy carbohydrates, such as foods or drinks with added fats, sugars, and sodium.

High fiber foods

Dietary fiber includes all the parts of plant foods that your body cannot digest or absorb. Fiber moderates the way your body digests and helps control blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich foods include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Walnuts
  • Legumes, such as beans and peas
  • Whole grains
  • Heart healthy fish

Eat heart-healthy fish at least twice a week. Fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent heart disease.

Avoid fried fish and fish with high levels of mercury, such as king mackerel.

“Good” fats

Foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol levels. Some of them are:

  • Avocado
  • Walnuts
  • Canola, olive and peanut oils
  • But don’t overdo it, as all fats are high in calories.

What foods to avoid

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by accelerating the development of clogged and hardened arteries. Foods containing the following may go against your goal of a heart-healthy diet.

Saturated fats. Avoid high-fat dairy products and animal proteins, such as butter, beef, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon. It also limits coconut and palm oils.

Trans fat. Avoid trans fats found in processed snacks, baked goods, butter, and stick margarines.

Cholesterol. Sources of cholesterol include dairy products and high-fat animal proteins, egg yolks, liver, and other guts. Try not to eat more than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day.

Sodium. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Your doctor may suggest that you try even less if you have high blood pressure.

Bringing Everything Together in One Place: Creating a Plan

You can use a few different approaches to create a diabetes diet that helps you keep your blood glucose level within a normal range. With the help of a nutritionist, you may find that one of the following methods, or a combination of them, works for you:

How to count carbohydrates

Because carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, they have the greatest impact on your blood glucose level. To help control your blood sugar level, you may need to learn how to calculate the amount of carbohydrates you are eating so that you can adjust your insulin dose accordingly. It is important to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates at each meal or snack.

A nutritionist can teach you to measure your food portions and become a savvy reader of food labels. It can also teach you to pay special attention to serving size and carbohydrate content.

If you are taking insulin, a nutritionist can teach you to count the amount of carbohydrates at each meal or snack and adjust your insulin dose accordingly.

Choose your foods

A nutritionist may recommend that you choose specific foods to help you plan meals and snacks. You can choose a number of foods from lists that include categories like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

A serving in a category is called a “choice” and has roughly the same amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and calories (and the same effect on blood glucose) as a serving of any other food in that same category. For example, the list of starches, fruits and milk includes options that have 12 to 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Glycemic index

Some people with diabetes use the glycemic index to select foods, especially carbohydrates. This method classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their effect on blood glucose levels. Talk to your nutritionist about whether this method might work for you.

Are there any risks?

If you have diabetes, it is important to work with your doctor and nutritionist to create an eating plan that is effective for you. Eat healthy foods, control your portions, and have scheduled times to control blood glucose. If you don’t stick to your prescribed diet, you are at risk for changes in your blood sugar levels and more serious complications.