10 Nutrition Tips for a Healthy Diabetes Diet

February 14,2024 |

When most people think of diabetes, the first things that come to mind are strict diets and insulin shots. While the food you eat makes a difference, you can still enjoy your favorite foods occasionally or in moderation. Yes, there are specific foods you should limit, but healthy eating with diabetes is more about making conscious decisions regarding your food and knowing how it affects your blood glucose levels. To help you create a lifestyle that helps you manage your diabetes and keeps you satisfied, here are ten nutrition tips for a healthy diabetes diet.

The Importance of a Diabetes Meal Plan

The primary reason that people with diabetes need to create or follow some type of meal plan is to control their blood glucose levels. Certain foods can create a spike in your blood sugar (hyperglycemia), which can damage arteries, veins, and other issues. When not addressed, it can result in several different diabetes-related complications, such as a higher risk of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, digestive and kidney diseases, and more. While there are diabetes medications to help you manage your blood sugar, choosing strategic foods is also an effective way for people with type 2 diabetes. Moreover, when you eat well with diabetes, you're more likely to lose excess weight and reap the associated health benefits. You'll likely need to incorporate physical activity for the biggest results, but any healthy lifestyle change can make a difference.

12 Nutrition Tips for Eating Well While Living with Diabetes

Living with diabetes means eating healthy foods like lean proteins, whole vegetables, and healthy fats, but it can be difficult to sort through all the nutrition facts and find the right plan for your needs. To help you make healthy choices in foods and drinks, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Plan Your Meals in Advance

It can be almost impossible to throw together a healthy meal when you're running out the door and have nothing in your fridge. However, healthy foods can be just as accessible as junk food—if you plan in advance. Every week, try to make a meal plan for what you're going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, spend some time doing a little meal prep. This could be chopping vegetables in advance for a quick egg scramble, making smoothie bags for the freezer, or even simply buying healthy snacks that can be enjoyed on the go. Try to choose options that help manage your blood glucose levels, and you'll be eating right regardless of your schedule.

2. Try the Diabetes Plate Method

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also recommends individuals try out the Diabetes Plate Method. This is a simplified way to help you create healthy portion sizes without putting too much stress into meal planning. You'll need a nine-inch dinner plate (slightly smaller than standard size) to do this. Then, fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, eggplant, spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, etc. Add a lean protein to one-quarter of the plate, and top off the final quarter with healthy carbohydrates. Complement the meal with a zero-calorie beverage and a full meal. Healthy fats should also be used sparingly, and fruits can also be enjoyed!

3. Follow a Diabetes-Friendly Diet

Several eating plans have been reviewed by dietitians who specialize in diabetes management. This is a great way to take the guesswork out of eating, as all you need to do is choose a plan that works with your preferences, make a list of ingredients, and follow the guidelines. Even healthy plant-based diets can be adapted to help keep you feeling your best.

4. Choose Healthy Carbohydrates

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. While many people assume that any type of carb is bad for diabetes management, that's not necessarily true. Your body needs carbs to function, and several types help regulate your blood sugar well into the day. Try to stick to 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, or flour when shopping. You can also choose other whole grains, like barley, oats, and bulgar. These are considered part of a heart-healthy diet and are rich in fiber, which can help you feel full for longer. They also have a positive impact on your blood sugar. Carb counting can help you track your eating, but it's not the only method.

5. Use the Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) is a great tool to help control and prevent diabetes. It's a scale that's used to provide information about how fast your body converts carbs into sugar, which gives you valuable insight into how the foods you're eating change your blood glucose levels. Typically speaking, low GI foods are key, as they're filled with fiber and don't cause a spike in blood sugar. Just make sure to follow the serving size for each item, as eating an excess of anything can cause further changes in your blood sugar.

6. Differentiate Between the Types of Carbs

Foods that contain carbs could be either sugar, fiber, or starches. Starches found in foods can give you energy and a range of minerals and keep you feeling full. They're more abundant in complex carbs and are a significant part of eating healthy. Fiber is also important; you should aim for at least 25 to 30 grams daily. Sugar is the primary thing to look for on any food label or nutritional facts. Regardless of whether it's added sugar or natural sugar, it can cause a spike in your blood glucose levels that requires attention.

7. Incorporate Good Fats

While certain fats, like saturated fat and trans fat, should be avoided, healthy monounsaturated fats can actually help lower blood sugar. Try to incorporate a few servings per day through nuts, avocados, or olive oil. You may also want to choose low-fat options in the grocery store to help with weight management—just make sure there's no added sugar. Oftentimes, low-fat foods will replace the lost "flavor" with sugar, which is not ideal for individuals with diabetes.

8. Opt for Lean Proteins

Lean protein in a diabetes-friendly diet can help stabilize blood sugar levels and promote satiety. Choose lean protein sources such as skinless poultry, fish, tofu, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. These options provide essential nutrients without the saturated fats that can harm heart health. Eating a diet with foods high in protein can also help you with weight management and long-term muscle gain.

9. Find Healthy Drink Alternatives

Staying hydrated is vital, but the choice of beverages is equally important. Opt for water, herbal teas, or other sugar-free options to quench your thirst without affecting your blood glucose levels. While it can be hard at first, try eliminating sugary drinks, sodas, and excessive caffeine from your diet, as they can contribute to blood sugar spikes and disrupt your overall hydration balance.

10. Make Your Desserts Diabetes-Friendly

Satisfying your sweet tooth while managing diabetes is possible by making smart dessert choices. Opt for desserts low in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats. Incorporate naturally sweetened options using fruits or sugar substitutes. Portion control is also essential, as mindful indulgence in moderation allows you to enjoy dessert without negatively impacting your blood sugar.

Other Healthy Eating Tips for People with Diabetes

In addition to the tips above, here are some additional guidelines to help you make informed and health-conscious food choices:

Learn How to Properly Read Labels

Pay attention to the total carbohydrate content, including dietary fiber and sugars. Be cautious of hidden sugars and opt for products with whole, natural ingredients. You should also always consider the serving size, as some labels can be misleading. Familiarize yourself with portion control and use the nutritional information to make choices aligned with your dietary needs.

Grocery Shopping Tips

Stick to the perimeter of the store, where fresh produce, lean proteins, and dairy products are typically located. Fill your cart with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy options. Moreover, try not to shop on an empty stomach, as it can lead to impulsive and less health-conscious choices.

Eating Out at Restaurants

When looking at the menu, try to find the grilled or baked protein options, such as fish or poultry, and choose dishes with plenty of vegetables. You can also request modifications, such as changing sides or choosing a different cooking method. It's also important to remember that most restaurant portions are two to three times bigger than normal, so consider sharing a dish or taking some home for later.


It's important to work with your doctor to maintain an effective diabetes management plan. To support a healthy lifestyle, Byram Healthcare carries a range of continuous blood glucose monitors and diabetes management products. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.