Diabetes and Nutrition – familydoctor.org

People who have diabetes have too much sugar in their blood. Controlling diabetes means controlling blood sugar level. What you eat is closely related to the amount of sugar in your blood. Making the right food choices will help you control your blood sugar level.

Path to better health

Eating well is one of the main things you can do to help control diabetes.

Do I have to follow a special diet?

There is no specific diet for diabetes. Your doctor can work with you to design an eating plan. A meal plan is a guide that tells you what types of foods to eat at meals and snacks. The plan also tells you how much food you should have. For most people who have diabetes (and those who don’t), a healthy diet consists of:

  • 40% to 60% of calories come from carbohydrates
  • 20% calories from protein
  • 30% or fewer calories from fat

Your diet should also be low in cholesterol, low in salt, and low in added sugar.

Can I eat some sugar?

Yes. In recent years, doctors have learned that eating some sugar does not usually cause problems for most people with diabetes, if it is part of a balanced diet. Just be careful with how much sugar you consume and try not to add sugar to foods.

What kind of foods can I eat?

Generally, with each meal you can take:

  • 2 to 5 options (or up to 60 grams) of carbohydrates
  • 1 choice of protein
  • A certain amount of fat

Talk to your doctor or dietitian for specific advice.

carbohydrates They are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy products, and starchy foods like bread. Try to consume fresh fruits instead of canned fruits, fruit juices or dried fruits. You can eat fresh vegetables and frozen or canned vegetables. Condiments such as fat-free mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard are also carbohydrates.

Protein It is found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans, and some vegetables. Try to eat poultry and fish more often than red meat. Do not eat poultry skin. Also, trim excess fat from all meat. Choose fat-free or low-fat options when consuming dairy, such as cheeses and yogurts.

Not all fats are bad. It is important to know the differences between fats. Unsaturated fats They are the “good” fats (nuts, fish, olive oil, canola oil, seeds, etc.). Saturated fats They are less healthy. You must limit them in your diet. They include red meat, butter, lard, full-fat dairy products, dark poultry, etc. Trans fat They are the worst fats for you. These fats can be found in processed foods like crackers, snack foods, and most fast foods. To identify trans fats, check food labels for the words “partially hydrogenated.”

Your doctor or dietitian will tell you how many grams of fat you can consume each day. When eating fat-free versions of foods (like mayonnaise and butter), check the label to see how many grams of carbohydrates they contain. Please note that these products often have added sugar.

What is exchange list?

The swap list is a tool to help you plan healthy meals and snacks. To add variety to your diet, you can replace certain foods with others from the same group. Some examples are listed here.

Food group You can have… Or change it for…
Fruit (each serving contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates) 1 small or medium piece of fresh fruit 1/2 cup fruit juice or canned or chopped fruit
Vegetable (each serving contains approximately 5 grams of carbohydrates) 1 cup raw vegetables 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or vegetable juice
Starch (each serving contains approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates) 1 slice or ounce of bread 1/2 cup pasta, cereal, starchy vegetables
Sugar, honey, molasses 1 tsp 4 grams of carbohydrates
Milk (does not include cream, yogurt or cheese) 1 cup cow’s milk (low fat) 12 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein
Meat 1 ounce of meat, fish, poultry, cheese or yogurt 1/2 cup dried beans
Fat (includes nuts, seeds, and small amounts of bacon and peanut butter) 1 teaspoon oil, butter or margarine 5 grams of fat

Things to consider

If you don’t control your diabetes, you are at risk for many other health problems. The best way to control diabetes is through diet, exercise, and sometimes medication. Poor diabetes control over time can lead to kidney and heart disease. It can also damage your eyes and nerves. It can cause problems in skin tissues, especially in the feet and legs.

An important part of managing your diabetes is controlling your blood sugar level. It’s easy to do it yourself, whether through a blood glucose monitor or a continuous glucose monitoring system. Your doctor can help you decide which method is best for you.

If you can’t control your blood sugar through diet and exercise, talk to your doctor. It may mean that you need medications to help control your diabetes. Some signs of uncontrolled high blood sugar include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Being more fatigued than normal for no obvious reasons.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • If I have type 2 diabetes, can I control it with diet and exercise alone?
  • If I take medication to control my blood sugar, do I really need to diet and exercise?
  • Can I still go out to eat if I have diabetes?
  • Am I healthy enough to start an exercise routine?
  • What type of exercises should I do?
  • If I exercise, can I eat more high-fat foods?
  • Where can I get more information about eating well?


American Diabetes Association: Nutrition

American Heart Association: Healthy Forever

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetes

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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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