Eating with Diabetes: 7 Rules for a Healthy Diet

These choices will help keep blood sugar steady.

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A healthy diet is crucial in managing diabetes (type 1 or type 2).

That’s because every morsel you eat, whether it’s a shiny, red apple or a forkful of gooey mac and cheese, is going to release varying levels of sugar into your bloodstream. Reducing the amount of sugar surging into your body can help manage diabetes symptoms, possibly prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and help you avoid the serious complications of diabetes on the kidneys, heart, eyes, feet, and more.

Here are some basic expert-approved rules to keep in mind for healthy eating to manage diabetes.

  1. Lose weight if you need to. Losing excess weight can improve your insulin sensitivity and decrease your risk of complications with diabetes, says Sonal Chaudhry, MD, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health. This means you need to monitor portion sizes in addition to choosing good-for-you dishes.

  2. Watch your carbs. Carbs are a critical part of a healthy diet (and you don’t need to stop eating them) but you want to monitor how many you consume in a given meal or snack. That will vary for each person, depending on their age, weight, activity level, and what medications they take. Learn tips for counting carbs for diabetes here.

  3. Don’t skip meals. This seems like a simple way to cut calories and lose weight, but it’s not a smart strategy for managing diabetes. “Having a consistent supply of carbohydrate to the bloodstream is very important so that you don’t become hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.

  4. Balance your plate. Managing saturated fat, calories, and carbohydrates doesn’t have to mean studying ingredient lists and food labels religiously. Try the MyPlate method, which means dividing your dinner plate into healthy portions: half the plate for fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate for whole grains, and the remaining quarter for lean proteins, like fish. Learn more about using MyPlate for a healthy diet here.

  5. Eat more fiber. This nutrient has many benefits, including helping you feel full, aiding in blood sugar management, and assisting with weight loss. You can find fiber in such foods as whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits.

  6. Cut back on certain red-flag foods. That includes soda, sugary juices, high-salt foods, and fried foods.

  7. Treat yourself in moderation. Yes, those with diabetes can absolutely have dessert, but they should plan for it. For example, if you know there’s going to be cake after the meal, reduce the carbohydrates—the rice or dinner roll—you eat at dinner.

For more tips on healthy eating with diabetes, here are diabetes superfoods and the best proteins for a diabetes diet.