Nutrition Guidelines for Diabetes


Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body processes blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the hormone needed to allow blood sugar to enter cells for energy production. In both types of diabetes, blood sugar levels become too high, leading to a range of serious health complications if left unmanaged. Fortunately, following a healthy nutrition plan can help manage diabetes and prevent many of its complications. This article provides an overview of key nutrition guidelines people with diabetes should follow.

Healthy Eating Patterns

The foundation of healthy eating for diabetes is choosing nutrient dense whole foods over highly processed options. Some healthy eating patterns to follow include:

  • Mediterranean diet – Emphasizes plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, and fish. Limits red meat and saturated fats.
  • DASH diet – Stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Focuses on vegetables, fruits, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. Limits sodium, sweets, and red meats.
  • Plant-based diet – Focuses on minimally processed foods from plants like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Limits or avoids animal products.
  • Low glycemic index diet – Focuses on foods that don’t cause large spikes in blood sugar. Includes non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, minimally processed whole grains, lean proteins, and healthful fats like olive oil.

Portion Control

Paying attention to portion sizes is key for diabetes management. Even healthy foods contain calories and carbohydrates that can raise blood sugar. Some tips for portion control include:

  • Use smaller plates and bowls to avoid overfilling them with food.
  • Measure out staple foods like grains or starchy veggies rather than estimating.
  • Be mindful of servings for higher calorie foods like oils, nuts, cheese, and meat.
  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to ensure adequate fiber and nutrients.

Carbohydrate Counting

Counting the grams of carbohydrates you eat is important for keeping blood sugar levels in check. Work with a registered dietitian to determine your daily carb target. Ways to track carbs:

  • Use an app like MyFitnessPal to enter foods and tally carbs.
  • Check nutrition labels for total and fiber grams of carbohydrates.
  • Look up carb counts for whole foods like fruits and starchy vegetables.
  • Use a food scale for accuracy with items like rice, pasta, and baked goods.

Healthy Fats

Choosing the right types of fat is important. Prioritize monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Limit saturated fats from meat and dairy and avoid trans fats from processed baked goods, snacks, and fried food.


Eating adequate protein while limiting excessive intake is part of a diabetes nutrition plan. Good sources include fatty fish, poultry, beans, tofu, eggs, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. Keep meat and poultry portions reasonable and avoid processed varieties like bacon or sausage.


Getting adequate vitamins and minerals can help regulate blood sugar levels. Key micronutrients to be mindful of include:

  • Vitamin D from fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk and juice
  • Magnesium from leafy greens, beans, nuts, and whole grains
  • Chromium from broccoli, oranges, tomatoes, barley, and oats
  • Zinc from beef, poultry, beans, nuts, and fortified cereals
  • Vitamin C from citrus, berries, melons, bell peppers, and tomatoes


Drinking enough water and limiting beverages with added sugar is vital. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water per day minimum. Opt for unsweetened coffee, tea, and add slices of citrus or cucumber to water for flavor. Limit fruit juice to half cup servings and avoid sodas and sweet tea.


If you don’t have other health issues exacerbated by alcohol, drinking in moderation may be permitted by your doctor. For women, that means 1 drink per day, for men 1-2 drinks daily. One drink equals 12oz beer, 5oz wine, or 1.5oz spirits. Stay hydrated when drinking alcohol as it can directly interfere with blood sugar management.


Following basic diabetes nutrition guidelines focused on nutrient-dense whole foods, controlling portions, monitoring carbohydrates, choosing healthy fats and protein, staying hydrated, and limiting alcohol can help keep blood sugar stable. Work with your care team to personalize your meal plan, identify any nutritional deficiencies to correct, and establish your individual dietary needs. With the right nutrition plan, diabetes can be managed effectively.

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