Eating doesn’t have to be boring.
It’s all about finding the right balance that works for you.
When you’re managing diabetes, your eating plan is a powerful tool. But figuring out what to eat can feel like a hassle, right? Well, it doesn't have to because there are easy things you can do to add flavor to your daily routine—including healthy twists on your favorite foods.
One key to feeling your best lies in the food you eat. You can start by working with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN/RD) to make an eating plan that works for you. In it, be sure to include the foods you like—and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Most importantly, remember that eating well—and adding activity to your daily routine by moving more—are important ways you can manage diabetes.
And we’re here to help you every step of the way.
Let's get started.
What does the science say?
"What can I eat?" is one of the top questions asked by people with diabetes when they are diagnosed—and 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 diets—or eating patterns—work 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.
Healthy eating made easy with the Diabetes Plate Method
No matter which eating pattern works best for you, it can still be hard to know where to start when it comes to building healthy meals that help you manage your blood sugar—while still being tasty.
That’s where the Diabetes Plate Method comes in. Using this method, you can create perfectly portioned meals with a healthy balance of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates—without any counting, calculating, weighing or measuring. All you need is a plate!
And once you’ve got the Plate Method down, check out these tasty plates for some meal planning inspiration! Find articles like this and more from the nutrition experts at the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Food Hub®—the premier food and cooking destination for people living with diabetes and their families.
You’re part of the club
As you work on making healthier food choices, surrounding yourself with the right kind of support will be important. Start with your people. Share your nutrition challenges—talk about it as openly as you feel comfortable. Not only will this help you clear your head, but by hearing from others, you can sharpen your resolve to stay on target.
Next, reach out to your community. Not only are we here to help, but there are often local resources that you can use. Aren’t sure where to find those? Ask your doctor or dietitian.
Most of all, don’t let how you manage your diabetes isolate you. Share your questions, emotions and feelings with your club. Chances are someone nearby is dealing with something similar.
Antoinette was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—but she hasn’t let it hold her back.
Now, Antoinette manages her diabetes through a exercise, stress management, medication and a balanced meal plan—and she strives to remove the stigma associated with diabetes and build a community of people actively seeking to improve their health despite their diagnosis.
What you need to know about nutrients
Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s dive into nutrients.
First things first: do you use food labels for products that you buy in the store? The food labels on packaging can be a great place to find information about the nutrients in the food you’re purchasing.
Now, let’s talk about one of the most controversial nutrients on that food label for people with diabetes:
Carbs, carbs, carbs—what about them?
When you eat or drink foods that have carbohydrate—also known as carbs—your body breaks those carbs down into glucose (a type of sugar), which then raises the level of glucose in your blood. Your body uses that glucose for fuel to keep you going throughout the day. This is what you probably know of as your “blood glucose” or “blood sugar.”
When it comes to managing diabetes, the carbs you eat play an important role. After your body breaks down those carbs into glucose, your pancreas releases insulin to help your cells absorb that glucose.
When someone’s blood glucose—or blood sugar—is too high, it is called hyperglycemia. There are a few causes for “highs,” including not having enough insulin in your body to process the glucose in the blood or the cells in your body not effectively reacting to the insulin that is released, leaving extra glucose in the blood. A low blood glucose is known as hypoglycemia. “Lows” can sometimes be caused by not consuming enough carbohydrates, or an imbalance in medications. In short, the carbs we consume impact our blood sugar—so balance is key!
There are three main types of carbohydrates in food—starches, sugar and fiber. As you’ll see on the nutrition labels for the food you buy, the term “total carbohydrate” refers to all three of these types.
The goal is to choose carbs that are nutrient-dense, which means they are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in added sugars, sodium and unhealthy fats.
When choosing carbohydrate foods...
- Eat the most of these: whole, unprocessed non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes and green beans have a lot of fiber and very little carbohydrate, which results in a smaller impact on your blood sugar. Remember, these should make up half your plate according to the Plate Method!
- Eat some of these: whole, minimally processed carbohydrate foods. These are your starchy carbohydrates, and include fruits like apples, blueberries, strawberries and cantaloupe; whole intact grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta and oatmeal; starchy vegetables like corn, green peas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and plantains; and beans and lentils like black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and green lentils. If you’re using the Plate Method, foods in this category should make up about a quarter of your plate.
- Try to eat less of these: refined, highly processed carbohydrate foods and those with added sugar. These include sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea and juice, refined grains like white bread, white rice and sugary cereal, and sweets and snack foods like cake, cookies, candy and chips.
As for sugar, there are two main types:
There are naturally occurring sugars, like those in milk or fruit. The other kind are added sugars, like those added during processing in regular soda, sweets and baked goods.
You may have heard added sugars referred to by other names—or seen one of these listed in the ingredients in a food label. Dextrose, fructose, lactose, beet sugar, corn syrup and agave are just some of the many names for added sugars.
Did you know that you can find the amount of both added and naturally occurring sugars listed in the new nutrition facts label? Learn more.
And as for fiber...
The amount of fiber you need depends on your age and gender. Healthy adults need between 25 and 38 grams of fiber a day on average—you can find recommendations for your age group and gender in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
Remember that it comes from plant-based foods such as veggies, whole intact grains and fruit. This means that milk, eggs, meat, poultry and fish are not good sources.
Good sources of fiber include:
- Pulses (like lentils and peas) and beans and legumes (think black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chickpeas and white beans)
- 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:
- Quinoa, barley, brown rice and farro
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain cereals, including those made from whole wheat, wheat bran and oats