Diabetes and Nutrition


Diabetes and Nutrition

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to eating with diabetes. Finding the balance that works for you, where you can control your blood sugar while enjoying meals is the goal, and there is lots of room for individualization. A Registered Dietitian or Diabetes Educator can help you find a plan that works for your lifestyle. Start with these tips:

Try the “Diabetes Plate” Method

Illustration of dietary recommendations, plate with half nonstarchy vegetables, one quarter carbohydrates, and one quarter protein

Make half of the plate non-starchy vegetables, a quarter protein foods and the last quarter carbohydrates. Pair with a low-calorie drink like water or unsweetened tea.


Non-starchy vegetables offer a good source of fiber, which helps us feel fuller, longer, prevent blood sugar spikes, improve digestion, and helps balance cholesterol. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include: 

  • Asparagus 
  • Broccoli or cauliflower 
  • Brussels sprouts 
  • Cabbage 
  • Carrots 
  • Cucumber 
  • Eggplant 
  • Mushrooms 
  • Green beans 
  • Peppers

Examples of animal-based protein foods include: 

  • Lean beef 
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish 
  • Cheese

Plant-based protein foods can provide quality protein, but also healthy fats and fiber. Keep in mind that some sources – like beans and lentils are also high in carbohydrates. Be sure to read labels and take this into account when building your plate. Examples of plant-based protein foods include:  

  • Beans, lentils, and prepared foods such as hummus or falafel 
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Edamame 
  • Soy products
  • Tofu or tempeh

Foods higher in carbohydrates will have the greatest effect on blood sugar. Limiting them to one quarter of your plate can help your blood sugar from rising too much after meals. Examples of carbohydrate foods include:

  • Grains such as rice, oats, quinoa, bread, pasta and tortillas 
  • Beans and legumes (e.g., garbanzo, black or kidney) 
  • Fruit and dried fruit 
  • Dairy products like milk and yogurt 
  • Starchy vegetables like squash, potato, and corn

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to carbohydrates. 

There is growing evidence to show that low carbohydrate eating patterns can benefit people with diabetes and prediabetes, though there is no commonly understood definition for “low carb.” Some benefit from following a lower carb eating pattern (26-45% of total calories from carbohydrate), including a reduction in diabetes medications and better blood sugar control. It’s important to have a good plan to minimize risks, such as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and to check your blood sugar regularly. Work with your doctor and a diabetes educator to find an approach that works for you.

Regular Meals and Snacks 

Regardless of your selected meal composition, eating regular meals and snacks is a must. Don’t be tempted to skip meals or calorie-restrict to lose weight. Instead, incorporate movement you enjoy and increase the nutrient-density of your meals. Including both complex carbohydrates and a protein or fat is the perfect way to satisfy hunger and sustain you until your next meal.

Complex carbs are fiber-rich foods – things like whole wheat bread or brown rice – which take longer to digest, which means a slower rise in blood sugar and more consistent energy. 
Healthy fats include things like nuts and seeds (or nut/seed butter), olive oil/olives, and avocado.

It's normal and healthful to eat every 3-4 hours or 4-6 times each day. Aim for 3-4 components at meals and 2-3 at snacks. Try these easy snack combinations:

  • Fruit and cheese or hard-boiled eggs 
  • Whole grain toast + nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.) or avocado
  • Handful of nuts/seeds + dried fruit
  • Cherry tomatoes + whole grain crackers with hummus

For more tips on healthy snacking, download this guide from the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists: 

Listen for Hunger Signals and Set Yourself Up for Success

We often eat on the go or while scrolling on our phones, which can make it hard for us to notice our body’s subtle signals, telling us it’s still hungry or has had enough. Don’t be tempted to skip meals. When your body tells you it’s hungry, honor that request with a nourishing snack or meal.  

Self-control can only take us so far. Studies show that we are likely to eat more foods with salt, sugar and unhealthy fats when they are more available. Set your environment to make the healthy choice, the easy choice. Think about environmental changes that can set you up for success. For example: 

  • If you’re trying to eat less candy, ditch the candy jar on your desk and replace it with healthy, grab and go snacks like fresh fruit or unsalted nuts. 
  • When you’re trying to move more, schedule time on your calendar and pack your shoes in your work bag so they’re handy when you’re ready to go. 

Prioritize Water and No-Calorie Drinks

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation (follow same guidelines as everyone else—no more than 1 drink for women and 2 for men per day). Drinking in moderation is important for several health reasons, but even more so for people with diabetes: 

  • Alcohol can inhibit the liver’s ability to properly process blood glucose (sugar), which can lead to hypoglycemia, especially for people taking insulin. 
  • Many drinks also contain carbohydrates, which should be considered when planning meals and snacks.

It can be tempting to reach for a soda or sports drink, especially when we’ve finished a tough workout. But in most circumstances, drinks that are marketed to hydrate you after working hard are actually not necessary and can have a significant, negative impact on your long-term blood sugar goals. After a workout, choose water and a healthy snack. Keep a refillable water bottle with you so you always have access to a healthy drink.  

Don’t Punish Yourself for Setbacks

Behavior change is hard. On average it takes people 66 days to turn a new habit into a permanent one. You will take a few steps forward and some back. 

Those steps backward are part of the process and in some cases, may be your body trying to tell yourself something. If you miss a workout or oversleep, your body might be telling you it needs rest. 

Even when you do everything “right,” your A1C may continue to rise over time. This is because diabetes is a progressive disease – insulin resistance gets worse over time. With lifestyle modifications and healthy behaviors, you can slow that progression and live a robust and healthy life.

Keep your care team in the loop. They’re there to help, monitor, and make adjustments.

Seek Support from Others

Share your goals with trusted friends or family members. Talk about what you’re working on and ask for their encouragement or to help keep you accountable.

Make ongoing education part of your routine healthcare.

Diabetes education provides 1:1 support to help you develop and follow a care plan that works for you. In addition to content expertise, they lend problem solving support and can connect with additional resources. Most insurances support diabetes education—check with your provider for details.