What Should You Eat If You Have Diabetes
In truth, a diet aimed at reducing the risks of diabetes is really nothing more than a nutritionally balanced meal plan aimed at supporting maintaining blood sugar levels within range and supporting a healthy weight.
For those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, the main focus of a diabetes-focused diet is being attentive to your weight. That said, a diabetic diet is simply an eating approach that works to keep you healthy, and so is not reserved only for people with diabetes. Your whole family can enjoy the same meals and snacks, regardless of whether others have diabetes or not.
YesThere are a few food decisions that will matter more if you do have diabetes. We provide you with some general guidelines to help you understand how much and how often to eat in order to maintain steady blood sugar levels. And, these recommendations hold true for anyone who has diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as prediabetes and gestational diabetes.
Diet really does matter, a lot!
In fact, if you were recently diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, by decreasing your weight by about 10%, you may even reverse your diabetes, putting it into remission.
Your Weight Is Important
Losing weight will make it easier for your body to lower your blood sugar level, and can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol.
To know whether you’re overweight, work out your body mass index .
If you need to lose weight, it is recommended for most people to do it slowly over time. Aim for around 0.5 to 1kg a week.
The charity Diabetes UK has more information on healthy weight and weight loss.
There is evidence that eating a low-calorie diet on a short-term basis can help with symptoms of type 2 diabetes. And some people have found that their symptoms go into remission.
A low-calorie diet is not safe or suitable for everyone with type 2 diabetes, such as people who need to take insulin. So it is important to get medical advice before going on this type of diet.
Page last reviewed: 18 August 2020 Next review due: 18 August 2023
Choose Carbohydrates That Keep Blood Sugar Steady
Our wide variety of food products contain different levels and types of carbohydrates, making it harder to eat wisely with diabetes.
In general, you will want to choose carbs that have the least impact on your blood sugar. That means selecting foods that are high fiber, low sugar foods since these are absorbed more slowly and so have little impact on blood sugar changes.
Best carb choices to promote a healthy lifestyle for people with diabetes:
- High fiber foods include: Whole grain breads and cereals, and foods made with 100% whole wheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, corn and cornmeal
- Dried beans, lentils, and peas
- Fresh fruits like berries, apples, pears, and oranges
- Dairy products including yogurt, milk, and cheese. The best yogurt is Greek-style or strained yogurt since these contain triple the level of protein.
- Vegetables. Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables are all healthy carbs that have less effect on your blood sugar
As you might guess, sugar-sweetened cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and other baked goods made with white flour as well as candy and soft drinks that contain sugar and high fructose corn syrup have little nutritional value and are likely to send your blood sugar soaring, so should eat them only occasionally, if at all, and only in very small amounts.
Skip foods made with all-purpose white flour and avoid sugary foods and sugar-sweetened drinks.
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What Does The Science Say
“What can I eat?” is one of the top questions asked by people with diabetes when they are diagnosedand our goal is to help answer that question. A panel of scientists, doctors, endocrinologists, diabetes educators and dietitians reviewed over 600 research articles over the course of five years to see what dietsor eating patternswork well for people with diabetes. The results were published in our Nutrition Consensus Report.
The main finding? Everyone’s body responds differently to different types of foods and diets, so there is no single “magic” diet for diabetes. But you can follow a few simple guidelines to find out what works for you to help manage your blood sugar.
Can I Drink Alcohol If I Have Type 2 Diabetes
For most people with type 2 diabetes, the general guideline for moderate alcohol consumption applies. Research shows that one drink per day for women and two a day for men reduces cardiovascular risk and doesn’t have a negative impact on diabetes. However, alcohol can lower blood sugar, and people with type 2 diabetes who are prone to hypoglycemia should be aware of delayed hypoglycemia.
Ways to prevent hypoglycemia include:
- Eat food with alcoholic drinks to help minimize the risk.
- Mixed drinks and cocktails often are made with sweeteners or juices, and contain a large amount of carbohydrates so they will increase blood sugar levels.
- Wear a diabetes alert bracelet so that people know to offer food if you demonstrate hypoglycemic symptoms.
It also is important to know that hypoglycemia symptoms often mimic those of intoxication.
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What Is Carb Counting
Carbohydrates are the sugar, starches, and fibers found in many foods, such as grains, fruits, and dairy products. Your body turns carbs into the sugar it uses for energy. This means carbs affect your blood sugar level more than other kinds of foods.
Carb counting is a way to plan your meals. It keeps you aware of the amount of carbs youâre eating. That information can help you control what youâre eating and keep it within a healthy range for people with type 2 diabetes. This helps you manage your blood sugar levels. Doctors often suggest carb counting for people with diabetes who take insulin. It lets you match your insulin dose to the amount of carbs youâre getting.
Carbs are measured in grams. To count your carbs, find out how many carbs are in the foods you eat. Add up the grams to figure out your total for each meal and snack. In general, you should get 45 to 60 grams of carbs with each meal and 15 to 20 grams for each snack.
But remember, not all carbs are created equal. Fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat milk are the best sources of carbs. Your dietitian or diabetes educator can make a specific plan for you.
The Type 2 Diabetes Meal Planner
Everyone who has diabetes should have a diabetes meal plan. The reason is that certain foods can seriously raise blood sugar levels and make diabetes more difficult to control. In addition, by having a Type 2 diabetes meal plan, you can not only control your blood sugar levels but depend less on medications, which can result in significant cost savings.
When you consume excess calories that include simple sugars and fats, it results in an undesirable increase in blood sugar levels. If this glucose remains high persistently, it can lead to long-term complications of diabetes that include loss of vision, neuropathy, malfunction of the kidneys, premature heart disease, stroke, loss of limb, or even death.
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The Best Diet Plan For Diabetics
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the body stops making a hormone called insulin, or when the bodys cells dont use insulin effectively.
When the insulin response malfunctions, blood sugar can accumulate to dangerous and even life-threatening levels. Over time, high blood sugar also increases the risk of serious health complications, including heart disease and infections.
There are a few different types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes and are becoming increasingly common in type 1 diabetes. Excess body fat increases the release of inflammatory chemicals that make the body less sensitive to insulin.
Even modest weight loss in diabetes can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control if youre overweight or obese.
There are a couple of proven approaches to weight loss with diabetes. Faster results are typically seen with a low-carb diet. However, low-fat diets are just as beneficial in the long term.
The trick is to select the plan that includes more of the foods you like, and that you can stick with forever. The great news is, a healthy diet can put you well on your way to better health if youre overweight or obese with diabetes.
About Kimberly Yawitz
Kim Yawitz is a registered dietitian and nutritionist in St. Louis, Missouri.
Learn more about her on the About page.
Joe Leech, Dietitian
How Do I Know Which Diet Is Right For Me
Simply said, there is no one perfect diet for everyone with type 2 diabetes. Always work with your doctor and diabetes care team to make sure you are choosing a diet and eating plan that works for your activity level, personal goals, palate, and budget, and make sure it is something that you can stick with long-term.
Some questions to ask yourself before choosing a specific eating plan:
- Am I looking to lose weight?
- Am I looking for a super low-carbohydrate eating plan?
- Do I need a meal plan to fuel my workouts better?
- How much money do I have to dedicate to buying specific foods?
- Is the rest of my family willing to support my new eating plan?
- Will the rest of my family be joining me on this new eating plan?
- What types of foods do I gravitate to? What types of foods do I not enjoy eating?
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The Best Type 2 Diabetes Diet
So what does the best type 2 diabetes diet look like? We break foods down into three categories: green light, yellow light, and red light foods.
Green lights you can eat as much as you want, period. Yellow lights are okay, but shouldnt be daily staples. And we recommend removing red light foods from your diet and your pantry.
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.
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Other Ways To Treat Diabetes
In addition to dietary changes, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes. Steps you can take to improve diabetes management are:
Diabetes can be tricky, but it is a manageable disease, and adhering to healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes can help.
Goal : Achieve A Healthy Body Weight
Body mass index uses your height and weight to determine how much body fat you carry. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered to be a healthy weight range with a healthy amount of body fat.
Another measure: waist circumference is considered by many to be a better measure of excess abdominal body fat. A waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men, and above 35 inches in women has been shown to increase the risk of developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The closer you are to a healthy body weight or at least an acceptable waist circumference, the more likely you will be able to control, prevent, and possibly reverse your risks of diabetes.
Dont get overwhelmed by thinking about how much total weight you have to lose, Arevalo advises. Studies have shown that losing just 5-10% of your body weight will significantly improve your blood sugar levels as well as your cardiovascular health so set short-term goals of losing just 5-10 pounds to start.
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Carb Counting For Type 2 Diabetes
Carbohydrate counting is one approach that you can take to help manage your blood sugar levels. In carb counting, you add up the number of grams of carbohydrates that you eat during each meal.
With careful tracking, you can learn how many grams of carbohydrates you need to eat to maintain a safe blood sugar level while taking insulin injections. A doctor, nurse, or dietitian can help you get started.
Many foods contain carbohydrates, including:
- wheat, rice, and other grains and grain-based foods
- dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
- potatoes and other starchy vegetables
- fruit and fruit juice
- milk and yogurt
- processed snack foods, desserts, and sweetened beverages
There are many books and online resources that you can use to learn how many grams of carbohydrates are found in portions of common foods. You can also check the nutritional labels of packaged and processed foods.
Which Type Of Fats Are Recommended
Fats have little direct effect on blood sugar but, as part of a meal, they are useful in slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates. Fats also have effects on health that are not related to blood sugar. For example:
- Animal meat fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, dairy, and specifically fermented dairy such as yogurt, appears to decrease this risk.
- Plant-based fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado are associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk.
- Fat also contributes to feelings of satiety and can play a role in managing overeating and carbohydrate cravings. A portion of healthy fats is much more satisfying and healthy than jam on white toast.
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Why Must People With Diabetes Pay Attention To Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates, one of the three necessary macronutrients for living, primarily come from the sugars and starches found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy products.
For people living with diabetes who cannot metabolize glucose on their own, they must carefully count carbohydrates and calibrate exogenous insulin or other medications and exercise accordingly, to avoid high blood sugars and negative health complications.
Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three main ways the body obtains energy, or calories, said Paige Smathers, a Utah-based registered dietitian. Carbohydrates, although often criticized in diet culture today, are the bodys main source of energy.
Foods high in simple carbohydrates, mostly from added sugars like cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey, and refined grains, especially white flour and white rice will cause your blood sugar levels to spike quickly.
When eating carbohydrates, people with type 2 diabetes should opt for foods that contain fiber, such as 100% whole-grain bread and oats. Its important to count the number of carbohydrates you eat as a person living with diabetes, and make sure youre incorporating them into an overall healthy diet.
What Constitutes A Good Diet For Diabetics
Dr. Horowitz applauds the diets featured in this ranking for their inclusion of complex carbohydrates , lean proteins, healthy fats and dietary fiber, as well as their restriction of sweetened drinks and simple carbohydrates.
When it comes to keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy rangea key to successful diabetes managementDr. Horowitz recommends higher fiber foods because theyre slower to digest and take longer to affect glucose levels while also improving satiety.
The key to keeping glucose levels from rising is balance, she says. Having more of the meal composed of complex carbsand also eating a consistent amount of carbohydrates from meal to meal and avoiding meals that have too much at any one time including lean protein in the meal will help with satiety and prevent overeating.
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Dining Out When Managing Type 2 Diabetes
It can seem tough to navigate a menu when youre eating out, but its not impossible. Enjoy your time with friends and eat delicious food with these guidelines from Palinski-Wade.
Have an appetizer before you leave. Its tempting to save up calories throughout the day to help plan for a night out, but that approach can backfire. Youll 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.
Visualize your plate. Ideally, your plate should look very similar to the way it does at home with a couple of small tweaks: ½ nonstarchy vegetables , ¼ lean protein, and ¼ 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 , do so near the end of the meal. Limit it to one glass.