Your diabetes diet is simply a healthy-eating plan that will help you control your blood sugar.
Contrary to popular belief, having diabetes doesn’t mean that you have to start eating special foods or follow a complicated diabetes diet plan. For most people, having diabetes simply translates into eating a variety of foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes.
This means choosing a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Rather than a restrictive diabetes diet, it’s a healthy-eating plan that’s naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. In fact, it’s the best eating plan for everyone.

Your meal plan is an eating guide that helps you:

  • Establish a routine for eating meals and snacks at regular times every day
  • Choose the healthiest foods in the right amounts at each meal

If you’re already eating good-for-you foods, you may not need to make many changes to keep your blood sugar (glucose) under control. It may simply be a matter of adjusting your portion sizes. If you tend to eat at irregular times, overeat or make poor food choices, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian. He or she can offer specific tips to help you change your eating habits.

If you need to lose weight or you’re taking diabetes medications or insulin, you may need to follow a more deliberate plan — eating only a recommended number of servings from each food group every day. Your doctor may suggest working with a registered dietitian to tailor your diet based on your health goals, tastes and lifestyle. Together you’ll determine which meal-planning tools might work best for you, such as exchange lists or carbohydrate counting.

Your dietitian may recommend using the exchange system, which groups foods into categories — such as starches, fruits, meats and meat substitutes, and fats.

One serving in a group is called an "exchange." An exchange has about the same amount of carbohydrates, protein, or fat and calories — and the same effect on your blood sugar — as a serving of every other food in the same group. So you can exchange — or trade — half of a medium baked potato (3 ounces) for 1/3 cup of baked beans or 1/2 cup of corn because they’re all one starch serving.

Your dietitian can help you use an exchange list to figure out your daily meal plan. He or she will recommend a certain number of servings from each food group based on your individual needs.

Carbohydrate counting can be a helpful meal-planning tool, especially if you take diabetes medications or insulin. Eating the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal or snack will keep your blood sugar from going too high or too low throughout the day. If you’re taking insulin, your diabetes educator can teach you how to count the amount of carbohydrates in each meal or snack and adjust your insulin dose accordingly.

The amount of protein or fat in the meal or snack generally isn’t a factor when determining the insulin dose. However, that doesn’t mean that you can go overboard on low-carbohydrate foods or those that don’t contain carbohydrates, such as meat and fats. These foods slow digestion after a meal or snack, which impacts your blood sugar level. And remember, too many calories and too much fat and cholesterol over the long term may lead to weight gain, heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

Some people who have diabetes use the glycemic index to select foods, especially carbohydrates. Foods with a high glycemic index are associated with greater increases in blood sugar than are foods with a low glycemic index. But low-index foods aren’t necessarily healthier. Foods that are high in fat tend to have lower glycemic index values than do some healthy foods.

If you’re counting carbohydrates, work with your dietitian to learn how to do it properly to meet your specific needs.

Consistent eating habits can help you control your blood sugar level. Every day try to eat about the same amount of food at about the same time. Include a variety of foods to help meet your nutritional goals. Your dietitian can help you plan a program that meets these guidelines:

Nutrient Aim for
Carbohydrates 45% to 65% of daily calories
Protein 15% to 20% of daily calories
Fats 20% to 35% of daily calories

If you stick to your meal plan and watch your serving sizes, you’ll eat about the same amount of carbohydrates and calories every day. This helps control your blood sugar and your weight. On the flip side, the more you vary what you eat — especially the amount of carbohydrates — the harder it is to control your blood sugar.

Embracing your healthy-eating plan is the best way to keep your blood sugar under control and prevent diabetes complications. And your planned meals and snacks need not be boring. For greater variety, work in your favorite foods and foods you haven’t tried before. Get creative within the guidelines of your healthy-eating plan. Look for inspiration from others who are following a plan — and enjoying the benefits.