Diabetes Diet

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Blood sugar as a function of diet in diabetes

Controlling blood sugar is an important goal for people with diabetes, but it is only one component of a healthy nutrition plan. Proper nutrition is essential for everyone, especially those living with diabetes. A "diabetes diet" should have as a goal the achievement and maintenance of a healthy body weight. Optimal control of blood sugar (glucose) and weight can help to prevent common complications of diabetes such as heart and vascular disease.

There is no specific diet that is recommended for all people with diabetes. Diabetic nutrition plans are individualized according to each individual's needs, schedules, and eating habits. A diabetes diet plan must also take into consideration the intake of insulin and oral diabetes medications. The foundation of a diabetes meal plan, however, is the same for everyone.

How can I stick to a diabetic diet plan?

Recommended strategies include the consumption of a variety of foods, such as:

  • whole grains,
  • fruits,
  • non-fat dairy products,
  • beans, and
  • lean meats or vegetarian substitutes.

Many nutrition experts, including the American Diabetes Association, recommend that no more than 30% of daily calories come from fat, with 50% to 60% of from carbohydrates and 12% to 20% from protein. Eating several small meals or healthy snacks throughout the day rather than a few larger meals can also help those with diabetes maintain control of blood sugar (glucose) levels. A common myth is that certain foods are forbidden for people with diabetes. This is not the case. There are no truly "forbidden" foods, and with careful planning and attention to portion control, people with diabetes can enjoy the same foods as others in the family.

Tools and methods for following a diabetic diet plan

Sometimes, people with diabetes choose to use specific methods to help follow a diabetes meal plan. These methods are not required for people with diabetes, but can be helpful for some. Some of these ways include:

MyPlate is a tool that replaced the previous MyPyramid image to help Americans plan healthy meals. The goal is to get people to think about making a healthy plate at meal times based upon the size of each food portion. The plate relies on the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines and is divided into four sections:

  1. fruits,
  2. vegetables,
  3. grains, and
  4. protein.

Exchange lists group together foods that have similar carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calorie content. Meal planning is based on consumption of a specific number of exchanges from each group. Exchange lists have been published by The American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Carbohydrate counting is based upon the total carbohydrate intake (measured in grams) of foods.

Glycemic index ranks carbohydrates according to the effects they have on blood sugar levels.


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Medically reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with a subspecialty in Endocrinology & Metabolism


USDA. Choose my plate.