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Learn about a host of diabetes-related topics such as how many Americans suffer from this disease to how to easily adjust to a new diet after diagnoses. This section will provide you with the information you need to make informed dietary decisions regarding diabetes.

Food for Diabetics: What You Need to Know

A diabetic diet can be both rich in nutrients and flavor. Find out how to successfully manage blood sugars with the assistance of nutritious, yet delicious food

Food for Diabetics: What You Need to Know

If diagnosed with diabetes, one might be prescribed and advised to follow a diabetic diet to manage blood sugars.

However, food for diabetics is similar to a balanced diet all can benefit from. What's more, a diabetic diet can be both rich in nutrients and flavor.

Find out how to successfully manage blood sugars with the assistance of nutritious, yet delicious food!

A Diabetic Diet Overview

A diabetic diet is essentially a healthy eating pattern balanced with healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. It naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals while being low in calorie. The natural reduction in calories can lead to a healthy weight and tighter glucose control.

Whole grains, fresh produce, lean and plant-based proteins, dairy products, and healthy fat sources should comprise most of the diet. A diabetic meal plan also limits prepackaged, processed foods rich in refined flour, sugar, oil, and salt.

A diabetic diet also considers meal frequency and timing. Meals and snacks should ideally be spaced within a three to four-hour block. Consuming three meals and one to two snacks within a daily time frame helps regulate blood sugars and moderate hunger.

But the most important part of diabetic meal planning is ensuring controlled carbohydrate at all meals and snacks. After that, choose lean proteins and include healthy fat sources to ensure a balanced diet.

Healthy Carbs for Diabetics

Again, focusing on the timing and amount of carbohydrate consumed is vital for diabetes management. Most health experts suggest consuming no more than 45 to 60 grams of carb per meal. Also limit to 15 grams of carb at snack time.

But there are different forms of dietary carbohydrates and not all are treated the same. Make these healthy carbs the focus of a balanced diet:

• Whole Grains: Choose whole grains and wheat products over refined products. Desserts and pastries to reduce the risk of blood sugar exaggerated spikes and drops.

Wheat and related grains contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber that white and processed foods generally lack. Examples of whole grains include barley, brown rice, corn, millet, and oatmeal.

• Vegetables: All veggies are nutritious, but some contain more carbs and calories than others.

Vegetables are broken down into "starchy" and "non-starchy" types. Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates, often 15 grams per serving. Sweet and russet potatoes, corn, peas, squash, and pumpkin are examples of starchy veggies.

On the other hand, non-starchy vegetables generally supply only five grams of carb per serving. They tend to be lower in calorie but ample in nutrients. Non-starchy veggies include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, kale, spinach.

• Fruits: Individuals often think they should be avoided due to their sugar composition. Although fruits do contain sugar, they contain a natural sugar known as fructose.

When choosing fruits, go for whole fruits rather than fruit juices that lack fiber and are concentrated in sugar. If desiring a glass of juice, stick to a 4-ounce serving.

Pairing fruit with a protein source can help stabilize blood sugars. An apple with peanut butter, berries with Greek yogurt, and peaches with cottage cheese are just a few example pairings.

• Dairy Products: Milk, cheeses, and yogurts contain lactose, which is a sugar naturally sourced from dairy products. Dairy products are also excellent sources of calcium and provide ample amounts of protein.

When choosing dairy products, pay attention to the ingredient and nutrition label. Some products, especially yogurt varieties, often contain unnecessary and added sugars.

Additional Dietary Factors

Controlling carbohydrate intake is key for managing blood sugars. However, a diabetic diet also considers other dietary components, including lean proteins and healthy fats:

• Lean Protein: Offering protein with meals helps improve blood sugars and induce satiety. Protein is also important for weight loss, which can in turn improve insulin resistance.

Lean animal meats are naturally absent in carbohydrate and include sources as chicken, turkey, sirloin, fish and shellfish. Beans, lentils, soybeans, nuts and seeds are valuable plant-based protein sources. However, stay mindful of their carb and fat plant-based proteins also supply.

• Healthy Fat: Offering more healthy fats in the diet can lower the risk of heart disease and improve overall health. This is especially important for those with diabetes, as they are at greater risk of developing heart disease.

Nutrition experts encourage swapping out saturated and trans fats with healthier fat sources. These include monounsaturated (MUFAs), polyunsaturated (PUFAs), and omega-3 fatty acids.

Healthy fat sources include nuts, seeds, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil, which shows to reduce after-meal blood sugar levels. Aim for two to three servings of fish weekly, such as tuna and salmon, for added omega-3 fatty acids. Also go for leaner cuts of meats, including skinless chicken, turkey, and sirloin, to reduce overall fat and calorie content.

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To ensure a balanced diet, fill at least half the meal plate with non-starchy veggies. The additional two quarters should include a lean protein and whole grain or starch. Further complement with a healthy fat source. The balance of these foods naturally controls calorie intake and blood sugars.

Additional dietary factors include sodium content, nonnutritive sweetener use, and alcohol consumption:

• Sodium: Again, those with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease. So it might be a good idea to moderate its intake for overall health, too.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg (milligrams) per day. They also encourage moving toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg daily for most adults. A doctor can also help determine a recommended sodium level.

Sodium can naturally be reduced by choosing fresh produce and protein sources over prepackaged, processed foods. Also reduce sodium content by rinsing off canned products before use and dismissing the salt shaker.

Stay cautious of dressings, condiments, and sauces, as they often house and hide a tremendous amount of salt. Spice it up in the kitchen with various seasonings to naturally avoid sodium while amplifying favor.

• Non-Nutritive Sweeteners: Compared to natural or refined sugars, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols provide a lower glycemic response. They also supply little- to no-carbohydrate.

Non-nutritive sweeteners do appear to be safe. However, some people report unpleasant gastric discomfort following their consumption, with large doses potentially causing diarrhea.

While consuming regular soda is discouraged, too, diet soda may be just as bad. The artificial sweetener may raises concerns regarding weight and blood sugars. Ultimately, limit the consumption of such beverages and make water the top hydration choice.

• Alcohol: Moderating alcohol is important for all aspects of health, including diabetes management. Especially in the absence of food, alcohol may induce hypoglycemia.

Men are encouraged to consume no more than two drinks per day, while women are limited to one. If deciding to drink, pairing alcohol with food may also lower the risk of hypoglycemia.

Diabetic Blood Sugar Levels

Each person responds different to carbohydrate foods. Blood sugar also increases based upon grams of carbohydrate, which is unique to each individual. For example, insulin production and use change personal blood glucose response to a certain intake of carbohydrate.

However, it is important to keep blood sugars in recommended levels. Doing so lowers the risk of complications associated to uncontrolled diabetes.

WebMD recommends the following target blood sugar levels for diabetes. Unless noted otherwise, values are indicated in milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL).

• Fasting: less than 100
• Before a meal: 70 to 130
• 1 to 2 hours after a meal: less than 180
• Before exercise: 100
• Bedtime: 100 to 140
• Hemoglobin A1c: less than or around 7.0%

Since each individual's carbohydrate and resulting glucose levels can vary, it is important to measure and test blood glucose levels regularly.

Ultimately, though, work with a healthcare team to determine targeted blood sugars based on personal needs. Consulting with a Registered Dietitian can also help devise an appropriate diet plan.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on January 10, 2016. Updated on June 09, 2020.


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