Diabetic diet meal plan


Food and diet

For years, people with type 1 diabetes were told they needed to eat three meals and three snacks a day to keep their blood glucose levels from swinging too high or too low. Thankfully, with modern insulin analogues and regimens, you no longer need such a regimented diet. You can eat a little or a lot depending on what you feel like doing.

Your diabetes care team can help you tailor your insulin treatment around your lifestyle. To make sure you’re getting the correct amount of insulin, you will need to consider what and how much you eat, so you can match the glucose entering your bloodstream with the insulin dose you take.

Beginning to think about what is in your food and drink is often confusing at first, but your diabetes care team are there to help and it will become easier over time. It’s often recommended that you get tailored advice for your diet from a registered dietician. If you don’t have one already, ask your diabetes team to refer you.

You can eat sugar

Like anyone, it’s important to ensure you’re eating a healthy diet, but living with type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean you need to cut sugar out of your diet completely.

In fact, sugar can often be your friend when you’re having a hypo and need to boost your blood glucose levels.

Carb counting

Carb counting is an important part of managing your type 1 diabetes. When you eat carbohydrates (both starches such as potatoes, rice and pasta and sugars such as fruit, milk, honey and table salt), it’s broken down into glucose and absorbed into your bloodstream where it can be used for energy.

It’s important to have a good understanding of how much, and what type, of carbohydrate is in the foods you eat as this will help you work out how much insulin you need to give with meals and snacks.

There are structured education programmes like DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating), which help you learn how to count the carbohydrate content of your meals and decide how much insulin you need. Ask your diabetes team for more information about the courses.

Protein, fat and fibre

Fat can have an effect on your blood glucose levels. Fat delays the rate at which the stomach empties, which slows down the absorption of glucose from digestion. This might sound like a good thing, but a high fat diet is not usually a healthy diet. In fact, eating too much fat (particularly saturated or animal fat) can be harmful and increase your risk of obesity and heart disease. A high-fat meal can also make it more difficult for your insulin to work well, resulting in your blood-glucose level after your meal being higher than expected.

Fibre is a plant material that is not absorbed by your body. It helps keep your digestive system healthy and can improve control of your blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Following a high fibre diet (of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and wholegrains) can also be helpful for weight management as high fibre foods help fill you up without providing you with excess energy.

Altering doses per meal

If you would like more freedom with your diet, your diabetes team will probably suggest you use a number of units per exchange/portion or per grams of carbohydrate that you eat – this is often referred to as your ‘insulin-to-carb ratio’. This allows you to take a dose of rapid-acting or short-acting insulin to cover the expected rise in your blood-glucose level.

What Makes for a Good Type 2 Diabetes Diet? Foods to Eat and Avoid, Best and Worst Diet Plans, How to Cut Carbs, and Everything Else to Know

There’s no one-size-fits-all diabetes diet per se, but understanding how to make smart food choices is essential for keeping blood sugar in a healthy range.

An excellent diabetes diet consists of all the key food groups, including fruits, veggies, healthy fat, and protein. iStock

Living well with diabetes means taking your medication as prescribed, managing stress, exercising regularly, and, equally important, knowing what foods are good and bad for keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. (1,2,3)

If you’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the prospect of giving up the foods you love may seem daunting or even devastating. But you may be relieved to know that a good diet for type 2 diabetes isn’t as complex or out of the ordinary as you might expect.

What Is a Good Diet for Type 2 Diabetes?

In fact, a smart diabetes diet looks a lot like the healthy eating plan doctors recommend for everyone: It includes eating lots of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, enjoying whole-grain carbohydrates in moderation, fueling up with lean protein, and eating a moderate amount of healthy fats. (3) What it boils down to is that “There is no ‘diabetic diet’,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and Belly Fat Diet For Dummies, and based in Vernon, New Jersey. “The guidelines are basically the same for healthy eating for everyone, with or without diabetes,” she says.

Still, eating when you have diabetes requires taking some steps that are specific to the disease. Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all eating plan, knowing the basics is key for maintaining a high quality of life, reducing the risk of complications, and potentially even reversing diabetes. (4, 5)

RELATED: Diabetes Food Advice You Should — and Shouldn’t — Follow to Manage Blood Sugar

Is There an Ideal Type 2 Diabetes Diet?

Why Is It Important to Eat Well When Managing Type 2 Diabetes, and What Are the Risks if You Don’t?

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by a condition called insulin resistance, where the body can’t effectively use the hormone insulin to ferry glucose (blood sugar) to cells and muscles for energy. This causes glucose to accumulate in your blood at higher than normal levels, which can put your health in danger. (6)

Picking the right amounts of the right foods can help lower blood sugar levels and keep them steady, reducing diabetes symptoms and helping lower the risk for health complications, such as nerve damage, vision problems, heart disease, kidney damage, and stroke. (7)

RELATED: How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes Complications

Eating well can also help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. In fact, losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight may help you better control type 2 diabetes, or prevent prediabetes from progressing into the full-blown form of the disease. (8)

Rather than trying to overhaul your lifestyle with quick fixes, create lasting habits by focusing on small, simple, and maintainable changes, Palinski-Wade says. Otherwise, you may feel overwhelmed and revert to your old, unhealthy eating ways — and regain weight you’ve lost. “Being consistent with change, no matter how small, is key to long-term weight loss success,” she adds. Here are four to get you started:

Pack in more veggies. Add in one extra serving of nonstarchy vegetables at dinner. Consider adding vegetables to a snack, too.

Fit in more fruit. Research shows that eating berries, apples, and pears is associated with weight loss. (9) Go figure, these are especially fiber-rich choices. Of course, all other fruits count, too — just be sure to factor them into your carbohydrate servings.

Stay active. Ultimately, you should aim to be active 150 minutes per week (that’s just 30 minutes five days per week). But initially, start out by walking 15 minutes a few times per week, and adding on time from there. This handy chart will show you how to build up slowly.

Nibble on something in the morning. Eating breakfast is one habit of long-term weight-losers. (10) A plain yogurt with fruit, nuts and fruit, or scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast are all diabetes-friendly breakfasts.

RELATED: 7 Easy Breakfast Ideas for People With Type 2 Diabetes

People who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk for developing diabetes in the first place. Being overweight or obese is also linked with increased risk of conditions such as certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, and the aforementioned diabetes complications. (11)

Is It Important to Monitor Caloric Intake if You Have Diabetes?

While it can be helpful, it’s not absolutely necessary to track how many calories you’re taking in daily. “Although tracking calories can be beneficial when it comes to weight reduction, you can lose weight and still have a poor nutritional quality to your diet,” Palinski-Wade points out.

Therefore, if you do count calories, make sure you’re also focused on healthy-food choices. You can also track your food intake, she says, which will let you “monitor portions as well as how certain foods and mealtimes impact blood glucose levels,” she says.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following calorie guidelines for people who are managing diabetes: (12)

  • About 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day for small women who are physically active, small or medium-sized women interested in weight loss, or medium-sized women who are not physically active
  • About 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day for large women interested in weight loss, small men at a healthy weight, medium-sized men who aren’t physically active, or medium-sized or large men interested in weight loss
  • About 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day for medium-sized or large men who are physically active, large men at a healthy weight, or a medium-sized or large women who are very physically active

How Cutting Carbs Can Help You Stabilize Unbalanced Blood Sugar Levels That Result From Diabetes

The best course of action is managing the amount of carbohydrates you eat. “Although individual carbohydrate goals will vary based on age, activity level, medication, and individual insulin resistance levels, it’s imperative to avoid having too many carbohydrates in one sitting,” says Palinski-Wade. For reference, if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and don’t take medication, cap carbs to no more than 60 grams (g) per meal (four carbohydrate servings).

The best sources of carbohydrates for someone with diabetes are fiber-rich sources from whole foods, which can help improve glucose control. These include fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Limit sugar and refined grains, like white bread and pasta.

Why You Should Include Fiber in Your Diabetes Meal Plan

An excellent way to trim your waistline and stabilize blood sugar is reaching for foods high in fiber. Fiber isn’t digested by the human body, so fiber-rich foods with carbohydrates do not raise blood sugar levels as quickly because they are processed more slowly. Fiber-rich foods can also help you feel fuller for longer, aiding weight loss, helping prevent obesity, and maybe even warding off conditions such as heart disease and colon cancer. (13)

Unfortunately, most adults don’t eat enough fiber. (14) Whether a person has diabetes or not, they should aim to follow the same recommendations. Women should get at least 25 g of fiber per day, while men need at least 38 g per day, Palinski-Wade says.

What Are the Best Sources of Carbohydrates for People With Type 2 Diabetes?

You can find carbohydrates in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, and dairy. Don’t shy away from them, either, as they supply necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber, the NIH points out. (15) Good sources of carbs include:

  • Whole grains, like whole-wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa
  • Nonstarchy veggies, like peppers, eggplant, onion, and asparagus
  • Starchy veggies are okay to eat in moderation, just mind the carbohydrate content. Examples include sweet potatoes and corn.
  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy, like unsweetened yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Beans and legumes, like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils

RELATED: 5 Tricks for Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies

What Are the Best Types of Proteins When Managing Type 2 Diabetes?

One-quarter of your plate should contain a source of lean protein, which includes meat, skinless poultry, fish, reduced-fat cheese, eggs, and vegetarian sources, like beans and tofu. (3) Enjoy these diabetes-friendly options: (16)

  • Beans, including black or kidney beans
  • Hummus
  • Lentils
  • Edamame
  • Nut butter
  • Tofu
  • Fish, such as tuna, sardines, or salmon
  • Skinless poultry
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
  • Reduced-fat cheese or regular cheese in small amounts
  • Lean beef, like sirloin or tenderloin

What Are the Best Sources of Healthy Fats if You Have Type 2 Diabetes?

Fat is not the enemy, even if you have diabetes! The key is being able to tell unhealthy fats from healthy fats and enjoying them in moderation, as all fats are high in calories.

But type matters more than amount: Aim to limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories, Palinski-Wade advises.

Consider opting for these sources of healthy fat, per the American Diabetes Association (ADA): (17)

  • Avocado
  • Oils, including canola, corn, and safflower
  • Nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds, including sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower

What Are the Best Sources of Dairy When You Have Type 2 Diabetes?

The goal with dairy is to choose sources that are nonfat or low-fat (1 percent) to save on saturated fat. Also, remember that while these sources offer protein, they are also another source of carbs, so you need to factor them into your carb allotment.

  • Nonfat or 1 percent milk
  • Nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt (as well as Greek yogurt)
  • Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Nondairy milk, like soy milk or almond milk
  • Reduced-fat cheese

RELATED: Yogurt for Diabetes: How Does Yours Stack Up?

What Are the Best Grains for People With Type 2 Diabetes?

Don’t fear grains either — they’re a great source of heart-healthy fiber. Aim to make at least half of your grain intake whole grains. (3) Here are some great options:

  • Old-fashioned or steel-cut oats
  • 100 percent whole-wheat bread, wraps, or tortillas
  • Whole-grain cereal (without added sugar)
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Farro
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Wild rice

What Are the Healthiest Condiments for Managing Type 2 Diabetes?

Sugar hides in many condiments, like ketchup, BBQ sauce, and marinades. Always read the label, and choose the lower-sugar option that best fits in with your diet and goals. Here are a few condiments suggested by the ADA that boost the flavor of foods without causing a sugar overload. (18,19)

  • Mustard (Dijon or whole-grain)
  • Salsa
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar, including balsamic, red or white wine, or apple cider varieties
  • Spices and herbs
  • Light salad dressing (without added sugar)
  • Hot sauce
  • Hummus

The Best Foods to Eat Regularly if You Are Living With Type 2 Diabetes

Certain foods are considered staples in a type 2 diabetes diet. These are foods that are known to help control blood sugar and promote a healthy weight. They include:

  • Fiber-rich fruits and nonstarchy vegetables, such as apples and broccoli
  • Lean sources of protein, such as boneless, skinless chicken, turkey, and fatty fish, like salmon
  • Healthy fats, such as peanut butter, nuts, and avocado (in moderation)
  • Whole grains, like quinoa and barley
  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy, like milk and plain yogurt

The Top Foods to Limit or Avoid if You Have Type 2 Diabetes

Likewise, certain foods are known to throw blood sugar levels out of whack and promote unhealthy weight gain. Foods that should be limited or avoided if you have type 2 diabetes include:

  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • White bread and pasta
  • Canned soups, which are high in sodium
  • Microwaveable meals, which are also high in sodium
  • Candy
  • Sources of saturated fat, like bacon or fatty cuts of meat

RELATED: The Best and Worst Foods to Eat in a Type 2 Diabetes Diet

Common Diabetes Food Myths You Shouldn’t Believe

With all the info out there on how you should or shouldn’t eat, it’s easy to get caught up in false information. Here are several myths to ignore, starting now:

You can never have your favorite foods again. Not true — even if it’s a sugary cupcake or white bread. “Although no one should make these foods a regular part of their meal plan, there are no foods that are entirely off limits with diabetes,” Palinski-Wade says.

Sugar is bad. Eat no more than 10 percent of your total calories from added sugars, Palinski-Wade recommends. This is no different than the guidelines for everyone, meaning you can still enjoy a few bites of dessert if you’d like.

RELATED: The Truth About Eating Sugar and Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

You shouldn’t eat fruit. The positive news about berries, apples, and melons (in addition to numerous other types of fruit) is that they contain health-promoting vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, points out Palinski-Wade. Fruit can definitely be part of your diabetes diet.

You have to make yourself a separate meal. Diabetes is not a sentence to eat boring, bland foods. You can eat the same food as your family, and even add in special foods here and there, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center. (20)

Going Low-Carb for Diabetes: Does It Work?

Carbs have been traditionally looked at as the enemy of people with type 2 diabetes, but they don’t have to be. You can still eat carbs — including grains — on a diabetes eating plan, says Palinkski-Wade. The key is to get those carbs from smart sources (whole grains, legumes, fruit, dairy), limit your carb intake to no more than 60 g per meal (in general), and space them out throughout the day for best blood sugar control.

But if you are interested in going low-carb, there is some evidence that this type of diet plan can be beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes. For instance, a preliminary research review in 2017 found that a low-carb plan helped adults with diabetes lower their triglyceride levels and boost “good” HDL cholesterol. It may also have mind-body benefits, as people said they were less stressed and happier between meals. (21) Another review concluded that low-carb diets drop blood glucose levels and allow people to use less medication, or eliminate it completely. The authors recommend it as a first-line treatment for diabetes. (22)

While the benefits are exciting, if you do go low-carb, be aware of the risks, which include nutrient deficiencies. You may also not get enough fiber if you’re not eating enough nonstarchy vegetables. Eating too much protein can also compromise kidney health. (23)

RELATED: Is a Low-Carb or Low-Fat Diet Better for Weight Loss?

What Are the Best Popular Diet Plans for People Managing Type 2 Diabetes?

Healthy eating, following the guidelines below on building a diabetes meal plan, and focusing on making nutritious choices most of the time can help you shed weight.

Working with a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator can help you reach your goal weight while meeting all of your nutritional needs.

That said, you may like the direction offered by a diet plan. The two that are suggested for people with diabetes time and time again are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Unlike so-called “diets” (many of which are designed only for the short term), these eating approaches aim to set the foundation for building and maintaining lifelong habits.

Palinski-Wade favors the Mediterranean diet because “it’s been researched for decades and has been shown to be beneficial at reducing the risk of heart disease,” she says. That’s important because people with diabetes are up to four times more likely to die from heart disease compared with adults without diabetes.

Following the Mediterranean diet, you’ll focus on whole foods in the form of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, nuts, and poultry and fish, while limiting red meat. (24)

Another diet option to consider is the DASH diet. “The DASH diet has been found to be beneficial at reducing blood pressure levels, a key risk factor for heart disease and kidney disease. Because both of these disease risks are elevated with diabetes, this style of eating may promote a reduction in the risk of comorbid conditions associated with diabetes,” Palinski-Wade explains.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet promotes eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry, beans, nuts, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy. You’ll also cap sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day (1,500 mg if advised by a doctor). (25)

What Are Some Diet Plans That May Benefit People With Type 2 Diabetes?

While it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting any diet plan, it’s especially important to talk to them if you’re interested in the following:

Ketogenic Diet You’ll eat very few carbs on this plan (20 to 50 g a day) to achieve a state of ketosis, where your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs. “There is some research that suggests ketogenic diets may help to reduce insulin resistance and improve blood glucose levels,” says Palinski-Wade. Indeed, one study of adults with type 2 diabetes who followed a ketogenic diet for 10 weeks improved glycemic control and helped patients lower their dosage of medication. (26) Still, it’s a controversial diet, so make sure to weigh the pros and cons with your physician.

RELATED: What Is the Ketogenic Diet? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Intermittent Fasting (IF) IF asks you to limit the time you eat to a certain number of hours per day, or to eat a very low number of calories on certain days. And limited research (small studies and animal trials) have shown benefits to fasting glucose and weight. That said, skipping meals may hinder blood sugar control or cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially if you’re on insulin, so talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before attempting.

Paleo Diet The premise of this plan is to eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, focusing on fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, and certain fats. (It eliminates grains, legumes, and most dairy.) One study in 2015 found that both paleo diets and the guidelines from the ADA improved glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes — though the paleo dieters came out on top. (27)

RELATED: What Is the Paleo Diet? If It’s Good for Diabetes, What to Eat, and Benefits and Risks

What Are the Worst Popular Diet Plans for People Living With Type 2 Diabetes?

Any diet that is gimmicky, not backed by research, is too restrictive, or makes too-good-to-be-true promises (like losing X amount of weight in a certain amount of time) is worth skipping.

Examples include juice fasts, cleanses or detoxes, the cabbage soup diet, the military diet, and the Body Reset Diet. (The last ranked #40 out of 40 of diets analyzed by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of best diets for diabetes.) (28)

RELATED: US News’ Best Health and Weight Loss Diets for 2018

4 Tips for Building a Good Diabetes Meal Plan

Your first stop should be connecting with a registered dietitian who is a certified diabetes educator — search for one near you at EatRight.org — and your primary doctor to figure out how many carbohydrates you should eat per meal based on your individual needs, says Palinski-Wade. From there, follow these steps:

Know “like” foods. Use a diabetes exchange list, which tells you how foods compare in terms of their carbohydrate content. For instance, 1 apple and ½ cup applesauce both contain about 15 g of carbs. (29) Or learn how to count carbohydrates — a system of thinking of carbohydrates in foods in 15 g units. This will help you determine proper portions.

Use the Create Your Plate tool. When you’re just getting started, it’s helpful to envision exactly what your plate should look like. The ADA has a Create Your Plate tool that will help immensely. (30) With enough practice, this will become second nature. They recommend filling half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, tomatoes), one-quarter with grains (preferably whole) or starchy foods (sweet potato, plantain), and another quarter with lean protein (beans, seafood, skinless chicken).

Top it off. A smart addition to the meal is a serving of fruit or nonfat or low-fat dairy. Drink water or unsweetened tea or coffee.

Season right. Using salt on your foods is fine (and enhances the flavor), but watch how much you add. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (and less than 1,500 mg daily if you have heart disease). (31) Using dried herbs and spices is another way to add sodium-free flavor to foods for no calories. (32)

A Diabetes Diet Sample Menu to Follow

Day 1

Breakfast: Veggie omelet (1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites), topped with reduced-fat cheese, plus fruit

Snack: Plain, nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt and berries

Lunch: Salad (dark lettuce or leafy greens) topped with chicken breast and chickpeas with olive oil and vinegar dressing

Snack: Celery and carrot sticks with nut butter

Dinner: Grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, and quinoa

Day 2

Breakfast: Fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk, yogurt, and chia seeds (optional)

Snack: Unsalted almonds with a piece of fruit

Lunch: Turkey chili with reduced-fat cheese

Snack: Sliced vegetables and hummus

Dinner: Tofu and veggie stir-fry over brown rice

Day 3

Breakfast: Old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts

Snack: Roasted chickpeas

Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole wheat with sliced veggies

Snack: Fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese with a sliced peach

Dinner: Tray bake (all foods baked on the same tray) made with shrimp and roasted vegetables

RELATED: The 8 Best Snacks for Blood Sugar Control

3 Simple Tips for Dining Out With Type 2 Diabetes

It can seem tough to navigate a menu when you’re eating out, but it’s not impossible. Enjoy your time with friends and eat delicious food with these guidelines from Palinski-Wade:

Have an app before you leave. It’s tempting to “save up” calories throughout the day to help plan for a night out, but that approach can backfire. You’ll be famished by the time you get there and less likely to make a healthy choice when you order. Eat a small, healthy snack before you go, like some nuts or a low-fat plain yogurt. “This can help decrease hunger and prevent overeating” she says.

Envision your plate. Ideally, your plate should look very similar to how it does at home — with a couple of small tweaks: 1/2 vegetables (steamed if possible), 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 whole grains. “You want to be careful not to eat too many carbs at one sitting, and avoid meals packed with saturated fat,” says Palinski-Wade.

Sip smart. Alcohol stokes your appetite, so if you do have alcohol (make sure to talk to your doctor first if you’re on medication), do so near the end of the meal. Limit it to one glass.

RELATED: 9 Dining-Out Tips for People With Diabetes

How to Find Extra Help Building a Type 2 Diabetes-Friendly Diet

If you have diabetes, you already know how helpful having a strong support system can be. But that network should extend beyond just your friends and family. That’s where that registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator comes into play.

“Diabetes is a very individual disease. Depending on factors like your age, activity level, insulin resistance, and medication, your dietary goals and carbohydrate goals can vary greatly,” Palinski-Wade explains.

A professional who knows nutrition and diabetes inside and out can help you create a plan that meets your goals for weight loss and glucose levels, but isn’t so restrictive that you can’t enjoy your favorite foods, she adds.

The Best Websites or Blogs for Type 2 Diabetes Meal Inspiration

  • Diabetic Foodie
  • A Sweet Life
  • Diabetes Self-Management
  • Low Carb Maven

5 Excellent Books That Offer Type 2 Diabetes-Friendly Recipes

  • The Type 2 Diabetic Cookbook & Action Plan: A Three-Month Kickstart Guide for Living Well with Type 2 Diabetes by Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE and Michelle Anderson
  • Diabetes Weight Loss: Week by Week — A Safe, Effective Method for Losing Weight and Improving Your Health by Jill Weisenberger, RD, CDE
  • Diabetic Cookbook for Two: 125 Perfectly Portioned, Heart-Healthy, Low-Carb Recipes by Jennifer Koslo, RD
  • Eat What You Love Diabetic Cookbook: Comforting, Balanced Meals by Lori Zanini, RD, CDE
  • The American Diabetes Association Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook by Robin Webb

RELATED: 13 Books That Can Help You Live Better With Diabetes

Putting It All Together: Why Diet Choices Are Key for Type 2 Diabetes Management

Your diet is one of the main pillars of good diabetes control. “What you eat can help or hinder insulin resistance,” says Palinski-Wade.

While it seems like there is a lot to remember, the basic tenets boil down to simple, nutritious eating.

In the end, you can cut through the noise by considering a few things when you sit down to eat: Aim for “a well-balanced diet limited in simple sugars and rich in whole plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruit, along with lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy, plant-based fats,” she says.

Remember that and you don’t need to follow a ton of rules — even when you have type 2 diabetes.

For more advice on eating to manage type 2 diabetes, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “How 7 People With Diabetes Are Rocking Their A1C While Eating 7 Different Ways”!

February 02, 2020
Basic meal planning

When you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it’s natural to have questions about what food to eat. Each person with diabetes is different and there is no single diet that suits everyone.

In fact, there are several different eating patterns that you may choose to follow such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. Whatever diet you decide to follow, the idea is to choose foods that help you to do the following:

  • manage your blood glucose (sugar)
  • manage your weight
  • manage your blood pressure level
  • manage your cholesterol
  • reduce the risk of diabetes complications like stroke or heart attack

A registered dietitian can give more specific advice and help you plan meals to achieve your goals. Until then, use this basic meal planning information for guidance.

Healthy eating tips for diabetes

Food is the key to managing diabetes and reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other problems. There are many things you can do to change or improve your diet, but it’s important to avoid trying to change too many things at once.

Use the information below to pick 1 or 2 things you can do today to help you plan for healthier meals. Once you feel comfortable with the new changes, come back to this page and choose another healthy eating tip to work on.

Watch your portions

The amount of food you eat is important for diabetes management. Portion sizes are different for everyone, so what’s right for someone else might not be right for you.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests one way to plan your portions. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, people with diabetes should choose more vegetables than fruit because most vegetables have less sugar. Divide the other half of your plate between protein food and whole grain foods.

Portion size is an important part of weight loss. If you’re overweight or obese, weight loss is the most important and effective way to help normalize blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of other health problems.

Eat healthy carbohydrates

It’s true that all carbohydrates (carbs) affect your blood sugar, but it is a myth that people with diabetes are not “allowed” to eat any carbohydrate foods. The type and amount of carbohydrate you eat is what matters.

There are many healthy carbohydrates that are actually good for you. Low-glycemic index foods such as legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables can help control blood sugar, protect you from heart disease and stroke, and can make you feel full longer to help with losing weight. Include more of these carbohydrates in your diet.

Eat more whole foods and less highly processed foods

Highly processed foods are foods and drinks that are prepared with excess sodium, sugar and saturated fat. Instead of highly processed foods, choose whole foods and prepare most of your meals at home.

Eat more vegetables and fruit

At each meal and as a healthy snack, choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits. They are all healthy options. Eat whole or cut vegetables and fruits instead of drinking juices (fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates are high in sugar).

Limit sugars and sweets

Limit sugars and sweets such as regular pop, desserts, candies, jam and honey. The more sugar you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be. Other sweeteners can be useful if you choose to use them.

Be consistent with your carbs

Try to eat three meals per day at regular times and space your meals no more than six hours apart. Eating at regular times helps your body control blood sugar levels. It also helps to try to eat about the same amount of food at each meal, especially carbohydrates.

Consider learning about counting carbohydrates as the amount of carbohydrate eaten at one time is usually important in managing diabetes. Having too many carbohydrates at a meal may cause your blood sugar level to go too high, and not enough carbohydrate may cause your blood sugar to go too low, depending on the type of diabetes medication you take.

Choose “good” fats

Some fats are good for us. The good fats are found in foods like olive oil, canola oil, other vegetable oils, avocado, soft margarine, nuts, seeds, and oily fish like trout and salmon. These are called unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats on the other hand, can increase your cholesterol level and your risk of heart disease. Choose foods with saturated fat less often-butter, red meat, cakes, pastries, deep fried foods, high fat dairy products. Choose healthy proteins including plant-based protein and lower fat dairy products more often.

Drink water

Make water your beverage of choice. Water is a sugar-free and calorie-free way to quench your thirst and stay hydrated. Drinking regular pop and fruit juice will raise your blood sugar.

Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels and may cause you to gain weight; it is best to use alcohol in moderation.

Plan ahead for healthy meals

Planning healthier meals and snacks can go a long way to helping you reach your goals. Talk to your registered dietitian or health-care team about the amount of carbohydrates that are right for you and for help with meal planning. A weekly meal plan will help you shop for the right foods and encourage more cooking at home.

What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:

Does It Work?

Giving up potatoes, corn, white rice, bread from refined flour, beets, carrots, beer, and refined sugars can certainly lead to weight loss, especially if your usual diet includes lots of these foods and beverages.

Sugar Busters! works by cutting calories from added sugars and processed foods, and by adding foods that help you feel full. A diet rich in high-fiber vegetables, stone-ground whole grains, lean meats, fish, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, and fruits are the foundation of most healthy weight loss plans.

Testimonials from people who have done the Sugar Busters! Diet are not backed up with scientific evidence, though.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

The diet promises to lower your cholesterol, help you achieve optimal wellness, increase your energy, and help treat diabetes and other diseases.

Controlling blood sugars with low-glycemic foods and cutting out sugar and refined grains is a formula that should work for most people with diabetes or insulin resistance.

With the restriction of most processed foods, anyone on a low-sodium diet will find this plan helpful.

Check with your doctor before starting the diet.

The Final Word

Sugar Busters! is a template for healthy eating without counting calories or weighing or measuring portions. People who want to curb sugar cravings and clean up their diet will enjoy this adaptable and manageable diet plan. It’s ideal for anyone who wants a flexible approach to eating healthy that doesn’t include counting calories.

It’s not for people who eat out often, because avoiding processed foods can be hard at restaurants.

Nutrition Overview

Foods high in starch include:

  • Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, lima beans and potatoes
  • Dried beans, lentils and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas and split peas
  • Grains like oats, barley and rice (The majority of grain products in the US are made from wheat flour. These include pasta, bread and crackers, but the variety is expanding to include other grains as well.)

As for sugar, there are two main types:

  • Naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk or fruit
  • Added sugars such as those added during processing such as fruit canned in heavy syrup or sugar added in to a cookie

On the nutrition facts label, the number of sugar grams includes both added and natural sugars.

And as for fiber …

Remember that it comes from plant-based foods, so there’s no fiber in milk, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish. Healthy adults need between 25 and 30 grams of fiber a day.

Good sources of dietary fiber include:

  • Beans and legumes like black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chick peas, white beans, and lentils
  • Fruits and vegetables, especially those with edible skin (like apples and beans) and those with edible seeds (like berries)
  • Nuts—try different kinds. Peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are a good source of fiber and healthy fat, but watch portion sizes, because they also contain a lot of calories in a small amount.
  • Whole grains such as:
    • Whole wheat pasta
    • Whole grain cereals, specifically those with three grams of dietary fiber or more per serving, including those made from whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats

Meal Plans and Diabetes

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If you have diabetes, eating healthy meals helps you the same way it helps your best friend or the guy who sits next to you in math class. Good nutrition helps you grow properly, reach and maintain a weight that’s right for your height, and stay healthy. But eating right also helps you keep your blood sugar levels on track — something that’s important for people with diabetes. By eating well, you’ll also help to prevent diabetes problems that can occur later in life, like heart disease.

People who have diabetes don’t need to be on strict diets, but they do need to pay attention to when they eat and what’s on their plates. Crack open the cookbooks and surf to your favorite recipe website because it’s time to plan meals that you love!

Food Labels

Eating right means knowing what’s in the foods you’re eating. It’s easy to guess what some foods contain, but others are more of a mystery. That’s where food labels come in. Food labels list a food’s ingredients, nutritional information, and calories per serving. This nutritional information includes carbohydrates (pronounced: kar-bo-HI-drates, and also known as carbs), sodium, and fats, all of which are important to people with diabetes.


The amount of carbohydrates you eat can help you control your diabetes. People with diabetes need to balance the amount of carbs they eat with their activity levels and insulin. A doctor or dietitian will show you how to do this. Once you have this information, food labels will make it easy to track and meet your goals.

Food labels list carbohydrates in grams. You can figure out your carb intake in three steps:

  1. Look on the food label for the serving size.
  2. Look on the food label for the amount of carbohydrates per serving.
  3. Calculate how many servings you ate.

For example, a food label might show that the serving size is ½ cup (120 milliliters) and the amount of carbohydrates per serving is 7 grams. If you ate 1 cup (240 milliliters) of that food, you ate 14 grams of carbs (7 grams per serving x 2 servings).


Food labels also list how much sodium (salt) is in foods. Some people with diabetes have hypertension (high blood pressure), and eating too much salt can make it worse. If you have hypertension, you may need to check how much sodium is in the foods you eat so you can stick to the guidelines your doctor gives you. Even if you don’t have hypertension, it’s a good idea to go easy on sodium.


People with diabetes are also at greater risk of developing heart disease, especially if they have high levels of lipids (fats) in their blood. You can ask your doctor or dietitian if you need to limit your intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fats. Food labels list the amount and types of these fats that a food contains. All of these can contribute to the development of heart disease in people with or without diabetes.

Aside from carbs, sodium, and fats, you might check food labels for the same reasons that everybody else does. Watching the calories you eat — and limiting the amount of high-calorie foods that you eat — can help you maintain a healthy weight. It’s also important to make sure that you get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber to stay healthy.

A quick-reference guide to food content can make choosing healthy foods a little easier if you’re eating out or in situations where there’s no food label. This guide contains details on the carbohydrate, fat, and sodium content of foods, along with other nutritional information. If you don’t have one, you can get one from your doctor or dietitian.

Meal Planning

Just like everyone else, people with diabetes need to aim for each meal to be a good balance of nutrition and taste. Here are some estimates to shoot for over the course of a day:

  • About 10% to 20% of the calories you eat should come from protein. Try to select lean meats like chicken or beef.
  • Roughly 25% to 30% of calories should come from fat. Try to avoid foods with lots of trans and saturated fats (or eat them only in moderation).
  • About 50% to 60% of the calories you eat should come from carbohydrates. Try to eat lots of green and orange vegetables in your daily diet — like carrots and broccoli. And choose vitamin-rich brown rice or sweet potatoes instead of white rice or regular potatoes.

Your diabetes health care team will teach you (and whoever prepares your meals, such as your mom or dad) meal planning guidelines. Your meal plan won’t tell you specific foods to eat, but it may suggest mealtimes, food groups to select from, and the amounts to eat from these food groups.

There’s no sense in having a boring diet you won’t stick to, so your nutrition team will work to build the plan based on the foods that you usually eat. To find out what you like to eat, the team may ask you to keep a food diary or write down what you eat and drink for 3 days to get a good idea of your tastes.

Your meal plan will probably look different from someone else’s because it depends on your needs and health goals. For example, if you need to lose weight, then the team will help you focus on controlling the number of calories and fat grams you eat.

Three Ways to Plan Meals

Some people with diabetes use a program called the exchange meal plan as a guide for what they eat each day. The exchange meal plan is really useful for people with diabetes who are overweight or who need to pay close attention to the balance of calories and nutrients they eat each day.

For this meal plan, foods are divided into six groups: starch, fruit, milk, fat, vegetable, and meat. The plan sets a serving size (amount) for foods in each group. And each serving has a similar amount of calories, protein, carbohydrate, and fat. This allows a person some flexibility in planning meals because they can exchange, or substitute, choices from a food list. The number of servings from each food group recommended for each meal and snack is based on the total number of calories that the person needs each day.

The other two types of meal plans help make sure that the amount of carbohydrates that a person’s eating matches up with the insulin or other diabetes medicines he or she is taking. Focusing on carbohydrate intake is important because carbs are mainly responsible for the rise in blood sugar that occurs after eating. With the constant carbohydrate meal plan, the person eats a certain amount of carbohydrates in each meal and snack. Then he or she takes insulin or other diabetes medicines at the same times and in the same amounts each day. This plan is easy to follow for people who usually eat and exercise about the same amount from day to day.

Another option is the carbohydrate counting meal plan. Many people with diabetes use carb counting to figure out the amount of carbohydrates in the foods they eat at each meal or snack. They then match their insulin dosage to that carb amount. This plan works best for people who take a dose of insulin (as a shot or with an insulin pump) with each meal. This meal plan works well for people who need more flexibility, because the person takes insulin when actually eating, rather than at a set time each day.

Helpful Tools

Keeping a written record of what you eat can help you and your diabetes health care team make changes to your diabetes management plan. One helpful tool is a blood glucose record. This record makes it easy to jot down your carbohydrate intake alongside your blood sugar readings and lets you see how well you’re balancing your food and insulin. Then if you need to adjust your insulin dose, this written record can help you understand why and help you decide how much and what time you should have the new dosage.

It can also help to keep a few references handy, such as charts that show portion sizes and lists of how many carbohydrates various foods contain. Your diabetes health care team or a nutritionist can supply this information, and the American Diabetes Association offers it, too.

With your diabetes knowledge and the right tools, you’ll be prepared to eat right for your health.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD Date reviewed: April 2016

More than 100 million Americans are currently living with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, according to the latest government stats. While you let that sink in, let me explain a little bit about how these conditions develop. Everything you eat gets broken down so your body can use the raw materials to carry out its daily functions (thinking, breathing, moving, and on and on). When you eat carbohydrates from foods like grains, sweets, starchy veggies, fruits and beans, those carbs get broken down to glucose, which is the primary source of energy for your cells. (Ever heard of carb-loading before a marathon? The theory behind this has to do with stock-piling those carbs for energy.)

In order for that energy to reach your cells, your pancreas pumps out insulin. You can think of insulin like a delivery truck; its job is to transport glucose to your cells where it can be used for energy. (If it’s transported to your cells but isn’t used for energy, it’s stored in your muscle or liver cells as glycogen and then used at a later time.)

In certain situations, your cells become less responsive to insulin, so it’s as if no one is available to sign off on the package and the delivery truck can’t deliver energy to your cells. In this case, glucose sticks around in your blood stream. When this happens, your pancreas works overtime to pump out more insulin in an effort to get that energy to your cells. Ultimately, the pancreas can’t keep up its overtime work, glucose remains in your blood stream since your cells aren’t responding to it, and your blood sugar rises above normal levels.

What’s the difference between prediabetes and diabetes?

In both prediabetes and diabetes, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but the main difference between these two conditions is whether your blood sugar reaches the cutoff point to be diagnosed with diabetes. Most people aren’t aware they have prediabetes, yet if it’s left untreated, there’s a high chance prediabetes will progress to diabetes. However, if it’s caught, studies show a holistic lifestyle approach that involves a healthy eating plan, some routine activity, and a small amount of weight loss can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent or more.

What can I eat if I have prediabetes or diabetes?

With either condition, your meal plan is pretty similar to other healthy meal plans, like the Mediterranean Diet or a plant-based diet. In fact, studies suggest that a plant-centered eating pattern rich in foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds can help improve insulin sensitivity, which means your cells continue to respond to insulin, allowing your delivery truck to drop off those energy packages. These types of foods, along with foods like coffee, tea and extra virgin olive oil, are high in polyphenol compounds, which are thought to play a role in lowering your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

While carbs are encouraged on this plan, you may need to adjust how you eat your carbs. A diabetes-friendly eating plan emphasizes smart carb choices eaten in the right portions and eaten steadily throughout the day at each of your three meals. That means balancing out your carb choices with other nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes more modest than you may be used to.

A diabetes-friendly eating pattern is also lower in overly processed sweets, sugary drinks and refined snacks, though you don’t need to eliminate your favorite foods to get healthier.

The best way to lose weight boils down to these three things

May 31, 201802:11

Diabetes-Friendly Sample Menu

This sample day helps illustrate a diabetes-friendly eating plan. This plan supplies about 35 grams of carbohydrate from whole food sources at each of the three meals and about 10-15 grams at each of the two snacks. Carbohydrate needs are individual so you may need a bit more or a bit less. Together with your doctor or dietitian, you can decide on the amount of carbs that match your needs.

You’ll notice that the plan includes some fan favorite foods, like pancakes, an Asian-inspired entree, and a sweet treat. While you may need to cut back on some of the less healthful foods you eat, your food should still be both mentally and physically satisfying and this plan is meant to both fill you up and mimic foods, like diner pancakes and takeout food, that can be eaten in a more healthful, but equally enjoyable way.

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Simple Banana Pancakes

In a bowl, mash one banana with ½ teaspoon cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites. Stir the beaten eggs into the mashed banana and mix well. Heat a nonstick skillet coated with avocado or coconut oil spray over medium heat and add about ¼ cup of the batter at a time to form pancakes, cooking about 1-2 minutes per side and flipping gently. While pancakes are cooking, heat ¼ cup frozen blueberries in the microwave for about 30 seconds. When pancakes are ready, drizzle with 1 tablespoon almond butter and top with warmed blueberries.


Chicken Quinoa Greek Salad

Toss 2 cups pre-washed arugula with 1/3 cup cooked quinoa (from frozen or from leftover), ½ small cucumber, diced, 4-5 cherry tomatoes, ¼ cup canned and drained chickpeas, 3 oz shredded, rotisserie chicken, and 2 tablespoons pitted, kalamata olives. Toss salad with ¼ teaspoon Greek seasoning, 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.


½ large cucumber cut into rounds and topped with a total of ¼ cup hummus, divided over each round. Sprinkle with black pepper or other seasonings if you’d like.


Easy Orange Chicken with Broccoli over Rice

Cut 1 lb chicken into cubes and saute in avocado oil until cooked through and browned. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together ¼ cup lower sodium chicken broth, ½ cup orange juice, 1 ½ tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons lower-sodium tamari or soy sauce, 2 minced garlic cloves and ½ tsp red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes. As sauce is simmering, steam about 8 cups of broccoli florets and 3 cups pre-riced cauliflower (from fresh or frozen). When veggies are ready, add broccoli to the pan with the chicken and coat with the sauce, letting it come back to a simmer. As your meal is coming to a simmer, combine ½ cup cooked brown rice (reheated from frozen or leftovers) with the heated cauliflower rice. Serve the chicken and broccoli mixture over the rice mixture. Makes 4 servings.


1 oz dark chocolate

Where does weight loss fit in?

If you need to lose weight, losing just a little bit — defined as 5 percent to 7 percent of your weight — can help your cells respond to insulin better. This helps keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range and may prevent or delay prediabetes from progressing into diabetes.

Government data suggests the average woman is around 171 pounds and the average man is about 198 pounds, so for average individuals, weight loss of around 8 or 9 pounds for women and about 10 pounds for men is enough to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. I’ve found that people tend to have much larger weight-loss goals, but when you move the goal post, a smaller amount like this is easier to achieve and much more sustainable. Some people find they can lose more, but from a health perspective, this amount is linked with considerable benefits. And you can achieve this type of weight loss without severely limiting your diet or pushing yourself to extremes at the gym! Many people can lose a small amount of weight by simply following the healthy eating principles discussed here and developing a consistent activity practice.

How much exercise do I need?

Again, not that much. According to research, 150 minutes per week is ideal, though some is always better than none. Activity is important because it’s one of the ways you can help your cells continue to respond to insulin, which again, helps keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.

With activity, it’s important to develop a routine that you don’t mind doing most days. For many people, that means squeezing in a 30-minute walk five days per week, but for others, group fitness classes may be more enticing. If time is a challenge, consider taking shorter, 10-minute walks after meals or subscribing to a fitness app so you can work out consistently, even when you can’t get to the gym. Studies suggest that sneaking in some activity about 30 minutes after a meal may be an especially good way to help transport glucose to your cells. So if it makes sense for you to take a stroll after dinner, that might be helpful. But my best advice when it comes to staying active is to find something you like doing and to fit it in when you can! Whether that’s right when you wake up (before the demands of the day set in) or at lunch with some walking buddies or any other time that suits you. When fitness is enjoyable and works into your schedule easily, it’s more likely to become a long-term habit, which will help keep your blood sugar levels healthy over time.


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