While there’s no such thing as a “diabetic diet”, there are some general nutrition guidelines that are a good idea to follow if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Whether you’re managing your type 2 diabetes with insulin, oral medication, or through exercise and diet alone, it’s important to learn how different types of food impact your blood sugars so that you can make the nutrition choices that are right for you
It’s recommended that people living with diabetes eat a diet high in fiber with a focus on non starchy vegetables (such as beans, cabbage, and greens) while minimizing added sugars and refined grains and prioritizing whole foods over highly processed foods.¹
Getting 3-5 servings of vegetables a day can help you feel full and ensure you get plenty of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers.² Choose fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and vegetable juices without added sodium, fat, or sugar.
Choosing foods low in sodium or generally cutting down sodium intake can make a difference, especially if you have high blood pressure.³
There’s no one-fits-all recommendation for how many carbohydrates (carbs), protein, or fat you should eat per day, which is why you should experiment with different nutrition approaches, ideally with the help of a Registered Dietitian (RD), to find a nutrition approach that works for you and your body.¹
How to Know Which Nutrition Approach Is Right for You
A successful nutrition plan supports blood sugar management, health, and well-being. Here are a few different components to knowing whether a nutrition approach is right for you.
Ariel Warren, Registered Dietician (RDN), and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist (CDCES) recommends choosing healthier alternatives based on the foods you enjoy and measuring your blood sugars before and after meals to assess how different foods (and portion sizes) impact your blood sugars.⁴
But don’t forget, everyone is different and individual goals and lifestyle changes should always be discussed with your diabetes care team.
Allowing around 30 grams of carbs per meal can be a great starting point, as it allows you some wiggle room for healthy carbs that are good sources of fiber, but isn’t enough to throw your blood sugar control out of whack.
Next, monitor your blood sugar (use a CGM if possible) and make changes to your carb intake and other food choices so you can better reach your blood sugar and health targets.⁵
Ben Tzeel, RD adds that you should stick with a new approach for more than a week to truly know how it works for you.⁶
Finally, both dietitians agree that food should be enjoyable. If you dread every meal, it won’t be sustainable and you’ll have a harder time reaching your goals.
Why There Is So Much Focus on Carbohydrates
The reason carbs are so often discussed is that they are the macronutrient that gets converted into glucose the fastest and can have a dramatic impact on blood sugars.⁷ Often when we think of carbs, we think of bread, candy, and soda but in reality, most foods contain carbs and will impact blood sugars to some degree.
Other foods that can be high in carbohydrates include legumes, dairy, fruit, and starchy vegetables. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t eat these types of foods but you might need to reduce the amount you eat or enjoy them in combination with other less carb-heavy foods like poultry or fish (protein).⁸
Not all carbs impact blood sugars however, so it can be beneficial to pay attention to the net-carbs in the foods you enjoy. Net carbs are the total amount of carbs minus fiber (and half of any sugar alcohols if present). The reason we focus on net carbs is that dietary fibers won’t impact blood sugars and sugar alcohol only impacts blood sugar partially.
Great, Tasty Recipes for the Whole Day
So what could you eat? Let's look at a whole day of meals that can work great for people living with diabetes.
Breakfast: Cottage Cheese Pancakes
19 g carbs, 17 g net carbs
Starting the day with a well-balanced breakfast can really set you up for the day ahead. These pancakes are low carb and packed with blood sugar friendly protein.
Adding protein to your breakfast and keeping the total carb intake moderately low can help manage your post-breakfast blood sugars.
Lunch: Mediterranean Salad
12 g carbs, 9 g net carbs
The crunch, color, and flavor of this salad is sure to put a smile on your face.
It’s high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and protein and is sure to keep you full for hours. The low carb count combined with healthy fats can slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream and thereby reduce the risk of a post-meal blood sugar spike.
Because of the fish and cheese, this recipe is fairly high in sodium. If you’re watching your sodium intake, simply reduce or skip the cheese.
20 g carbs, 15 g net-carbs
This dish is packed with fiber and flavor and it’s completely meatless. It can easily help you reach your daily vegetable, vitamin, and fiber goals while being gentle on your blood sugars.
Since the dish is all vegetables, it’s low in calories as well so on days where you’re really hungry, you can enjoy two servings without consuming a large amount of calories and without the blood sugar headache.
9 g carbs, 7 g net carbs
These cookies are great for those afternoon snack attacks where all you can think about is eating a sweet treat. It’s a high-fat low-carb cookie which means that it’s very filling but won’t make your blood sugars spike.
It’s very low in both carbs and sodium which is more than you can say for most packaged snacks, even those that are advertised as “sugar-free” or “all-natural!” Plus, making your own snacks means that you can reduce the amount of processed foods you include in your diet.
A friendly reminder! Sugar-free is not the same as carb free so still be sure to pay attention to blood sugars at snack time.
All of the information in this article is based on the following sources:
1. Evert, A.B., Dennison, M. Gardner, C.D., Garvey, W.T. Lau, K.H.K., MacLeod, J., Mitri, J., Pereira, R.F., Rawlings, R., Robinson, S., Saslow, L., Uelmen, S., Urbanski, P.B., Yancy, W.S., 2019. Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report. Continuing Evolution of Nutritional Therapy for Diabetes. [online] Available at: https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/42/5/731.
2. American Diabetes Association, 2020. Non-starchy Vegetables. [webpage] Available at: https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/non-starchy-vegetables [Accessed 20/01/21].
3. American Diabetes Association, 2021. Non-starchy Vegetables. [webpage] Available at: https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/meal-planning/go-heart-healthy [Accessed 20/01/21].
4. Warren, A., 2020. A discussion about diabetes meal plans. [conversation] (Personal communication, 30 October 2020).
5. Diabetes Strong, 2017. The Pros and Cons of CGM. [webpage] Available at: https://diabetesstrong.com/fit-with-diabetes-part-4-the-pros-and-cons-of-cgm/ [Accessed 20/01/21].
6. Tzeel, B., 2020. A discussion about food tracking. [conversation] (Personal communication, 2 November 2020).
7. Healthline, 2017. 12 Simple Tips to Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes. [webpage] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/blood-sugar-spikes [Accessed 20/01/21].
8. American Diabetes Association, 2020. Eat Good to Feel Good. [webpage] Available at: https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/healthy-food-choices-made-easy [Accessed 20/01/21].
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Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.