What is a healthy diet for people with diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) offers the following healthy diet tips for people with diabetes: 
  • Eat lots of non-starchy vegetables and pick from a rainbow of colors to maximize variety. Choose vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans with meals.
  • Choose whole, frozen or canned fruit in water or its own juice instead of juices or sweetened canned fruit.
  • Choose whole-grain foods, like brown rice or whole-wheat spaghetti, over processed grain products.
  • Include dried beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils in your meals.
  • Eat fish two to three times per week.
  • Choose lean meats like cuts of beef and pork that end in "loin," such as pork loin and sirloin. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose nonfat dairy products, such as skim milk, nonfat yogurt and nonfat cheese.
  • Drink water and calorie-free drinks instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Cook with liquid oils instead of solid fats that can be high in saturated and trans fats. And if you're trying to lose weight, watch your portion sizes of added fats.
  • Account for carbohydrate content from all nutritive sweeteners (sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, fruit juice, honey, molasses, dextrose, maltose, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol). They can affect blood glucose levels.
  • Sodium: People differ in their sensitivity to sodium and its effect on blood pressure. Limit your intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Because it is impractical to assess how sensitive you are to sodium, sodium recommendations for people with diabetes are the same as those for the general population.
  • Vitamins and mineral supplements: Talk to your healthcare professional about whether you need to take a daily multivitamin. Research indicates that the best approach is to eat a balanced daily diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics
With diabetes, you need to balance the amount of carbohydrates you eat with your body’s ability to use it. Spread out the amount of carbohydrate you eat evenly throughout the day, preferably every 4 hours. Remember one carbohydrate serving is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates. The following are some general guidelines for carbohydrate choices at meals (these may change depending on your personal goals): Women can generally have 3-4 carbohydrate choices per meal. Men can have 4-5 choices. Make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian so she/he can personalize your meal plan taking into consideration your food preferences, medications, and activity schedule. You can find a dietitian in your location at www.eatright.org

Remember the following foods contain carbohydrates, starches, starchy vegetables (Squash, potatoes, corn, beans, peas), milk and yogurt, fruits, and sweets/desserts.

Healthy food choices also include fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in nutrients and fiber and low in sodium. Choose whole grains such as oats, barley, whole-grain wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, or rye.
Other suggestions:
  • Include a healthy protein choice at every meal
  • Choose high fiber foods to help control blood sugar
  • Limit simple sugars and concentrated sweets
  • Select healthy choices from each food group:
  • Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet
  • Bake, broil, or grill your meat instead of frying
  • Season your food with fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of salting it; Measure out carbohydrate food servings at least once a month to make sure you are eating the correct portion size; Be aware that breaded meats and vegetables have carbohydrates in them!
Cassie Vanderwall
Nutrition & Dietetics
Healthy eating for a person with diabetes means eating a variety of healthful foods, including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy sources of fat. It also means that individuals with diabetes need to pay extra attention to their portion sizes of carbohydrate. It is best to consume the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal, in order to promote blood sugar control.

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a great resource to help people with diabetes identify how much carbohydrate they need on a daily basis. An RD can also help to create a meal plan that includes a variety of healthful foods and the occasional treat!
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

A healthy, diabetic diet should provide adequate nutrition with calorie and carbohydrate content to promote a healthy weight and blood glucose levels. Foods contain a combination of 3 macronutrients fat, carbohydrate and protein of which all are eventually broken down into glucose to affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels directly and the amount must be monitored and carefully planned. Strive for healthy blood glucose levels by including healthy fats, protein and carbohydrate at every meal and snack. include a variety of vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, and nuts. Choose 2 or 3 small servings of high carbohydrate foods in range of about one-fourth to one-half cup or 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate, of legumes, beans, soy or dairy, whole grains, and fruits at meals and snacks. Seek out a Registered Dietitian to customize a meal plan for your individual nutrient needs and lifestyle.

Kait Fortunato
Nutrition & Dietetics
People with diabetes need to pay attention to carbohydrates in food. As easy way to do this is carbohydrate counting or following the exchange list. Whole grain carbohydrates are high in fiber and will be your best option. Try combining a carbohydrate and protein food at each meal and snack. It is also important to eat lean meats, low fat dairy, and a variety of vegetables.
The same diet that will help protect your heart and keep you healthy overall is also good for people with diabetes. In general, your diet should be nutritionally balanced, high in fiber, low in fat (especially saturated fat), and moderate-to-low in salt.
  • Load up with vegetables;
  • Choose lean meats, chicken, and fish - and prepare them by baking or broiling;
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products;
  • Avoid high-sodium processed foods and limit the salt you add to food; and
  • Enjoy some fresh fruit every day.
As for how much you should eat of starchy foods like bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, follow the advice of your doctor and dietitian. Finally, watch the calories. Too much of any food can cause you to gain weight, and that will make it hard to control your diabetes.
Angela Ginn
Nutrition & Dietetics

A person with diabetes can enjoy a healthy diet including whole grains, lean protein, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy and heart healthy oils. Yes, carbohydrates are important when living with diabetes. Choosing complex carbohydrates are essential for management of blood glucose. And always drink calorie-free beverages.

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
There is no such thing as a "Diabetic" diet. A healthy diet that includes whole grains, lean protein foods, fruits, vegetables, heart healthy fats is recommended for everyone -- including people with diabetes. A Registered Dietitian (RD) especially one who specializes in diabetes can customize a meal plan with the right combinations of all the different food groups for good blood sugar control. Look for the CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator) qualification to identify a dietitian specializing in diabetes. To locate a dietitian in your area visit www.eatright.org.
The same diet that is healthy for everyone -- one that includes grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and meats. You don't need special foods because of diabetes, but you should do what you can to cut back on foods with lots of fat (like lunch meats, salad dressings, cheeses, and fried foods), lots of added sugar (like soft drinks), or both (like desserts and candies).If you are taking insulin or other diabetes medication, the timing of your meals could also be important for keeping your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible throughout the day. Keeping track of how different foods affect your blood glucose can also help you choose a healthy meal plan.

Seeing a registered dietitian (RD) can make this process easier and more effective. An RD can work with you to see what type of foods you like, what you don't like, and what would work best for your diabetes management. Together, you can come up with a meal plan that works for you.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.