Type 2 Diabetes

Recipes and Nutrition Advice for Managing Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes Diet

Because certain foods, such as carbohydrates, directly impact your blood sugars, your diet is one of the most important factors in managing diabetes. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as: starches, fruit, milk/yogurt, legumes, sweets, and candy. When metabolized carbohydrates turn into sugar (glucose), which is the body's primary source of energy. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes glucose from the blood stream to the cells to use for energy.

When you have diabetes, managing blood sugar can be difficult either because your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin it makes isn't being used efficiently. This typically happens when you are overweight. Eating too much can contribute to weight gain and obesity, making your body more resistant to insulin. Learning how to eat a balanced, modified carbohydrate diet, can help you to lose weight and manage your blood sugars.

Everyone with diabetes needs to manage their carbohydrate intake. Whether they do this simply by reducing their carbohydrate intake, counting carbohydrates, or eating a consistent carbohydrate diet, modifying carbohydrates can lead to weight loss, blood sugar control, and often a reduction in triglycerides (a type of fat that can increase your risk for heart disease). In addition, most people with type 2 diabetes need to lose weight. In order to lose weight, we need to reduce our overall calorie intake. By increasing fiber, reducing overall portions, reducing intake of high-calorie foods, such as sweets and fast foods, and choosing the right kinds of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, people with type 2 diabetes can lose weight.

There are many types of meal plans that can help you lose weight. Spend some time understanding some of the best ways to eat for diabetes to get you jump started.

What Are the Best Ways to Eat for Diabetes?

Educate yourself as much as you can about nutrition. Learn about what foods you can eat, what foods you should limit, when you should eat, and how to portion control your food. Please note that exact portions differ from person to person based on calorie needs, weight, etc. Here are some great ways to get started: 

Practice the Plate Method: The plate method is an easy way to portion control your food without having to directly count your carbohydrates. Its emphasis is on increasing non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. The plate method is a wonderful method for increasing fiber intake. Fiber-rich foods can help to slow down how quickly your blood sugars rise. Eating a high-fiber diet may also help you to lose weight because high-fiber foods are metabolized at a slower pace, which helps you to feel full.

Feeling full more quickly can help to reduce your calorie intake and aid in weight loss. High-fiber foods also are rich in vitamins and minerals, which boosts your nutrition.

To practice the plate method, simply divide your plate into three. Make half your plate non-starchy vegetables, such as salad, broccoli, string beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc. Dedicate a quarter of your plate to lean protein, such as roasted chicken, grilled or baked fish, or lean meat like sirloin steak. Your portion of protein should be about 3-4oz (the size of a deck of cards, or the palm of your hand). And lastly, make a quarter of your plate a complex carbohydrate, such as whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, barley, a starchy vegetable like baked sweet potato, or a legume like chickpeas, or black beans. Your portion should be about 1 cup or about a fist full. You can add some healthy fat to your meal, such as a serving of avocado or olive oil for cooking. A serving of oil is about 1 teaspoon and a portion of avocado is about a third of avocado.

Depending upon your calorie needs, you may be able to increase your intake of fats too. If you are still hungry after this meal, have another helping of non-starchy vegetables. Be sure to eat slowly and enjoy your food. 

Eat a Consistent Carbohydrate Diet: When you have diabetes, you must manage your carbohydrate intake because carbohydrates are the types of foods that impact blood sugar the most. A consistent carbohydrate diet means that you eat about the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time daily. This doesn't mean you have to eat the same foods daily, but that you aim to eat the same amount of carbohydrates for each meal. For example, if you are instructed to eat 45g of carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch, 15g of carbohydrates for a snack, and 60g of carbohydrates for dinner, you want to try to stick to that daily. Eating a consistent carbohydrate diet can help to keep your blood sugars steady and prevent fluctuations. For example, if you eat a small amount of carbohydrates for breakfast one day and then have a heavy carbohydrate meal for breakfast the next day, your blood sugars will likely spike.

Being consistent helps to keep your blood sugars steady. If you follow this type of diet, you'll need to be carbohydrate savvy. You'll have to be a good carbohydrate counter, know where hidden carbohydrates reside, and have some good carbohydrate counting tools

Limit Certain Types of Food: Limiting certain types of food applies to all people who have diabetes. And quite honestly, even if you don't have diabetes, limiting these types of foods is part of healthy eating. Certain types of refined, processed carbohydrates, like white bread, pasta, juice, sweets, cake, and candy, can increase blood sugars rapidly. In addition, they contain very little nutrition and are rich in calories that can cause weight gain. While many people with diabetes believe they can't eat fruit, fresh, whole fruit, such as berries, can be part of a diabetes diet. The portion of fruit and how you eat fruit should be carefully considered. Aim to avoid fruit juice altogether unless your blood sugar is low. Try to keep your fruit servings to about 2-3 per day and consider avoiding certain types of fruit like dried fruit and grapes, which can raise blood sugars quickly. Replace white bread, pasta, and bagels for whole grains such as whole grain bread or whole grain pasta. These changes can help to regulate your blood sugar, increase your fiber intake, and boost your nutrition. Keep in mind that, although you've swapped refined carbohydrates for whole grains, portions still matter. For example, if you swap your sugary cereal for oatmeal in the morning, that doesn't mean you can eat unlimited amounts. The portion of carbohydrates still matters both for calorie control and blood sugar control.

Learn About Portion Control: The quantity of carbohydrates is just as important as the quality of carbohydrates when it comes to managing diabetes. The amount of carbohydrates you need per day can be determined based on your weight, activity level, calorie needs, and how your body responds to carbohydrates. Discuss with your diabetes educator how many carbohydrates you need per day, so that you can portion control your grams of carbohydrates throughout the day. If you are not interested in carbohydrate counting or you find it too complicated, aim to practice the plate method.

One serving of carbohydrates is about 15g. That doesn't mean you are limited to 15g per meal, but we use 15g as a reference point. Most people can have about 45g of carbohydrates per meal. Some people benefit from eating less carbohydrates, while others may need more if they are more active or require a higher calorie intake. Depending on whether you are using the exchange method (an older method for carbohydrate counting) or counting carbohydrates in total grams, your diabetes educator can teach you how to count portions of carbohydrates or total grams.

Eating a balanced diet also means controlling your portions of foods that do not contain carbohydrates, especially if you are trying to lose weight. If you reduce your carbohydrate intake and start to eat endless amounts of cheese (because it is low-carb), odds are you won't lose weight. 

Here are some portions: 

  • One serving of fruit: 1 whole piece, 1 cup of berries, 1/2 cup mixed fruit or melon, 12-15 grapes or cherries (keep fruit to about 2-3 servings per day)
  • One serving of a starch: 1 slice of bread, 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice, 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal, 3/4 cup unsweetened cereal, 1/3 cup beans, 1 small potato (size of a computer mouse)
  • Protein and fat do not contain carbohydrates, but they still contain calories. Some studies suggest that eating a higher protein, higher fat diet may help to improve blood sugars. Each person should have an individualized meal plan, since what works for you may not work for someone else. Discuss with your health care provider if this is right for you. 
  • Protein: 1 serving per meal is about 3-4 oz, the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
  • Fat: 1 serving is: 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/3 avocado, ~1 teaspoon nut butter. Again, this doesn't mean this is how much you are limited to per meal. Other foods, such as protein also contain fat. Some studies have shown that the amount of fat isn't as important as the quality of fat. Aim to choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado. When possible, read labels and stick to one serving. For example: if you are using mayonnaise, or nut butter, read the label and stick to one serving. 
  • Non-starchy vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw. Try to eat about 5-7 servings daily. Non-starchy vegetables are typically one food choice you can eat in unlimited amounts. Load up when you can to help to keep you full. 
  • Sweets: The American Heart Association suggests that the max amount of added sugars per day be limited to: Men: 150 cal per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons). Women: 100 cal per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons). 

How Can I Incorporate My Diabetes Diet Into Everyday Life?

The American Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes receive individualized meal plans based on their likes/dislikes, culture, lifestyle, weight, education level, etc. Meeting with  a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator is a great way to help you understand carbohydrates and a healthy diabetes diet. They can provide you with an individualized meal plan and the tools you need to get you started on making good food choices. If you are unable to meet with someone, approach your new way of eating in small steps. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all this information, start small. Head to the food store and pick up some healthy items. If you don't have healthy foods in the house, you won't be able to put together healthy meals. Secondly, get rid of your temptations. You can't control what surrounds you on the outside, but you can control what is in your home. Toss the cookies, cake, juice, and chips. If it's not there, you can't have it. If you want to indulge from time-to-time, make it an outing. Go out for ice cream after a walk. You'll appreciate it more. You'll be surprised at how much you will enjoy your new way of eating and how surprised you'll be at the way you used to eat. Be patient, though. It takes time to create new habits. 

Remember that any change you can make is worth your effort. Even the smallest change can help to improve your energy and blood sugar. Make realistic goals for yourself. For example, if you are used to eating a doughnut and sugary coffee for breakfast, switch to whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter and reduce the sugar in your coffee. The next week, focus on lunch—add vegetables to your sandwich or pack a small baggy of cut up vegetables. After another week or so, decide to make dinner two nights per week and practice the plate method. Once you start to feel better, you'll want to continue to make changes. 

Think about it: What you eat is a major part of your everyday life. We are constantly being tested to make healthy choices. Whether you decide to follow a consistent carbohydrate diet, practice the plate method, or simply reduce your portions of carbohydrates and make better food choices, you must decide that your new mantra is to eat healthfully. A diabetes "diet" is not a temporary thing. By making small, realistic goals for yourself, you can be successful in losing weight and reducing your blood sugars, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Adjusting to a new way of eating takes some time, and you may slip once in a while. It's OK. Allow yourself to make some mistakes and move on.

If You Need Help

As with anything new, sometimes we need help. Don't hesitate to contact your certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian if you need help. They are the experts and they are there to help you. You can also use online resources, such as Verywell for inspiration, tips, and more education. If you are looking for more information, consider finding someone else who has diabetes for motivation and inspiration. You can always look to the American Diabetes Association for help or dLife.com for an online way to meet others with diabetes. 

A Word From VeryWell

Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important ways to manage diabetes. While it may seem difficult, it is controllable. And today we are not only bombarded with unhealthy food choices, but we are also inundated with healthy ones. America has jumped on the healthy eating bandwagon. Utilize all the resources you have at hand. Set small, tangible goals, and embrace all your wins. You can eat healthy and enjoy it too. 

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