Eating Well to Manage Diabetes

Family cooking a meal together

Eating well is essential to managing blood sugar levels and feeling your best when living with diabetes. We provide some tips on choosing foods that can help you manage your blood sugar levels, but it is important to work with your provider to build a plan that's right for you.

Managing your blood sugar levels is the key to living with diabetes, and eating well is key to managing blood sugar. What does it mean to eat well? To start, eat foods at the right time and in the right amount so your blood sugar stays in your target range, preventing harm to your body.

Everyone's body responds differently to distinct types of foods, so it is important to work with your doctor, dietitian, and/or diabetes educator to create a healthy eating plan that’s right for you.

Nutrition Recommendations 

Eating well to manage diabetes requires a combination of foods that are naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich foods are important food categories. In fact, diabetes meal planning is a great eating plan for most everyone.

Choosing nutritious foods and determining healthy portion sizes to suit your activity level will improve your overall eating habits. The goal is to include fiber-rich foods, good fats, protein, and healthy carbohydrates.

Meal Planning

Eating three balanced meals a day at regular times helps you better use the insulin that your body produces. Eating carbohydrates (carbs) together with foods that have protein, fat, or fiber slows down how quickly your blood sugar rises. This means eating well-proportioned meals with a healthy balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. It’s also important to eat whole foods instead of highly processed foods. If this sounds difficult, it’s not. Planning the perfect “whole” meal is as easy as 1,2, 3.

  1. Half your meal should be fruits and vegetables.
  2. One quarter of the meal should be protein, such as beans, fish, chicken, eggs, and lean beef.
  3. One quarter of the meal should be nutrient-dense carbohydrate foods.

Carbohydrates

How you consume carbohydrates is the key to managing diabetes. The process of digestion involves breaking down food into different nutrient sources. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks this down into blood sugar. The goal in choosing foods with carbs is to make sure they are nutrient-dense. This means foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Sparingly use or replace foods that are high in carbs with minimal nutritional value. These include:

  • White flour – breads and pastries
  • Sweets – deserts, candy, sugary drinks, and breakfast cereals
  • Starches – pastas and white rice

Eat sources of carbohydrates which are nutrient-dense, including:

  • Whole grains – oats, brown rice, barley, and quinoa
  • Legumes – chickpeas, beans, peas, and nuts
  • Vegetables – sweet potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach 
  • Fruit – apples, blueberries, grapefruit, pears, peaches, and plums

Keeping track of the amount of carbs you eat and setting a limit for each meal can help keep your blood sugar levels in your target range.

Aside from managing your diabetes, healthy eating offers other benefits. With generous amounts of fruits, vegetables, and fiber, it’s likely to reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.