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Diabetes Diet and Eating

You can take good care of yourself and your diabetes by learning

  • what to eat
  • how much to eat
  • when to eat

Making wise food choices can help you

  • feel good every day
  • lose weight if you need to
  • lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other problems caused by diabetes

Healthful eating helps keep your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, in your target range. Physical activity and, if needed, diabetes medicines also help. The diabetes target range is the blood glucose level suggested by diabetes experts for good health. You can help prevent health problems by keeping your blood glucose levels on target.

Blood Glucose Levels

What should my blood glucose levels be?

Target Blood Glucose Levels for People with Diabetes
Before meals 80 to 130
1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal less than 180

Talk with your health care provider about your blood glucose target levels and write them here:

My Target Blood Glucose Levels
Before meals ______ to ______
1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal less than ______

Ask your doctor how often you should check your blood glucose on your own. Also ask your doctor for an A1C test at least twice a year. Your A1C number gives your average blood glucose for the past 3 months. The results from your blood glucose checks and your A1C test will tell you whether your diabetes care plan is working.

How can I keep my blood glucose levels on target?

You can keep your blood glucose levels on target by

  • making wise food choices
  • being physically active
  • taking medicines if needed

For people taking certain diabetes medicines, following a schedule for meals, snacks, and physical activity is best. However, some diabetes medicines allow for more flexibility. You'll work with your health care team to create a diabetes plan that's best for you.

Drawing of foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a morning snack, an afternoon snack, and an evening snack, arranged in a circle around a clock. Breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack are labeled.

Talk with your doctor or diabetes teacher about how many meals and snacks to eat each day. Fill in the times for your meals and snacks on these clocks.

Drawing of a blank clock face labeled breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack.

Your Diabetes Medicines

What you eat and when you eat affect how your diabetes medicines work. Talk with your doctor or diabetes teacher about when to take your diabetes medicines. Fill in the names of your diabetes medicines, when to take them, and how much to take. Draw hands on the clocks to show when to take your medicines.

Drawing of a blank clock face.

Name of medicine: __________________
Time: ________ Meal: _______________
How much: ________________________

Drawing of a blank clock face. Name of medicine: __________________
Time: ________ Meal: _______________
How much: ________________________

 

Drawing of a blank clock face. Name of medicine: __________________
Time: ________ Meal: _______________
How much: ________________________

 

Drawing of a blank clock face. Name of medicine: __________________
Time: ________ Meal: _______________
How much: ________________________

 

Your Physical Activity Plan

What you eat and when also depend on how much you exercise. Physical activity is an important part of staying healthy and controlling your blood glucose. Keep these points in mind:

  • Talk with your doctor about what types of exercise are safe for you.
  • Make sure your shoes fit well and your socks stay clean and dry. Check your feet for redness or sores after exercising. Call your doctor if you have sores that do not heal.
  • Warm up and stretch for 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise. Then cool down for several minutes after you exercise. For example, walk slowly at first, stretch, and then walk faster. Finish up by walking slowly again.
  • Ask your doctor whether you should exercise if your blood glucose level is high.
  • Ask your doctor whether you should have a snack before you exercise.
  • Know the signs of low blood glucose, also called hypoglycemia. Always carry food or glucose tablets to treat low blood glucose.
  • Always wear your medical identification or other ID.
  • Find an exercise buddy. Many people find they are more likely to do something active if a friend joins them.

Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia)

Low blood glucose can make you feel shaky, weak, confused, irritable, hungry, or tired. You may sweat a lot or get a headache. If you have these symptoms, check your blood glucose. If it is below 70, have one of the following right away:

  • 3 or 4 glucose tablets
  • 1 serving of glucose gel-the amount equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of any fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of a regular (not diet) soft drink
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk
  • 5 or 6 pieces of hard candy
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey

After 15 minutes, check your blood glucose again. If it's still too low, have another serving. Repeat these steps until your blood glucose level is 70 or higher. If it will be an hour or more before your next meal, have a snack as well.

How much should I eat each day?

Have about 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day if you are a

  • small woman who exercises
  • small or medium-sized woman who wants to lose weight
  • medium-sized woman who does not exercise much
Choose this many servings from these food groups to have 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day:
6 starches 2 milks
3 vegetables 4 to 6 ounces meat and meat substitutes
2 fruits up to 3 fats

Talk with your diabetes teacher about how to make a meal plan that fits the way you usually eat, your daily routine, and your diabetes medicines. Then make your own plan.

Have about 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day if you are a

  • large woman who wants to lose weight
  • small man at a healthy weight
  • medium-sized man who does not exercise much
  • medium-sized or large man who wants to lose weight
Choose this many servings from these food groups to have 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day:
8 starches 2 milks
4 vegetables 4 to 6 ounces meat and meat substitutes
3 fruits up to 4 fats

Talk with your diabetes teacher about how to make a meal plan that fits the way you usually eat, your daily routine, and your diabetes medicines. Then make your own plan.

Have about 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day if you are a

  • medium-sized or large man who exercises a lot or has a physically active job
  • large man at a healthy weight
  • medium-sized or large woman who exercises a lot or has a physically active job
Choose this many servings from these food groups to have 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day:
10 starches 2 milks
4 vegetables 5 to 7 ounces meat and meat substitutes
4 fruits up to 5 fats

Talk with your diabetes teacher about how to make a meal plan that fits the way you usually eat, your daily routine, and your diabetes medicines. Then make your own plan.

Starches

Starches are bread, grains, cereal, pasta, and starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes. They provide carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole grain starches are healthier because they have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Eat some starches at each meal. Eating starches is healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes.

Examples of starches are

  • bread
  • pasta
  • corn
  • pretzels
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • crackers
  • cereal
  • tortillas
  • beans
  • yams
  • lentils

How much is a serving of starch?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of starch: one slice of bread or one small potato or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal or 3/4 cup of dry cereal flakes or one 6-inch tortilla.


Examples of 2 servings:

Drawings of examples of two servings of starch: one small potato plus one small ear of corn or two slices of bread.


Examples of 3 servings:

Drawings of examples of three servings of starch: one small roll plus 1/2 cup of peas plus one small potato or 1 cup of rice.

If your plan includes more than one serving at a meal, you can choose different starches or have several servings of one starch.

  1. How many servings of grains, cereals, pasta, and starchy vegetables (starches) do you now eat each day?

    I eat _____ starch servings each day.

  2. Go back to " How much should I eat each day" to check how many servings of starches to have each day.

    I will eat _____ starch servings each day.

  3. I will eat this many servings of starches at

    Breakfast __________ Snack ___________

    Lunch ______________ Snack ___________

    Dinner _____________ Snack ___________

    A diabetes teacher can help you with your meal plan.

What are healthy ways to eat starches

  • Buy whole grain breads and cereals.
  • Eat fewer fried and high-fat starches such as regular tortilla chips and potato chips, french fries, pastries, or biscuits. Try pretzels, fat-free popcorn, baked tortilla chips or potato chips, baked potatoes, or low-fat muffins.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream on a baked potato.
  • Use mustard instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free substitutes such as low-fat mayonnaise or light margarine on bread, rolls, or toast.
  • Eat cereal with fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
Drawing of a slice of bread.
Drawing of a baked potato.
Drawing of a bowl of cereal with a spoon in the bowl.

Vegetables

Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are low in carbohydrate.

Examples of vegetables are

  • lettuce
  • broccoli
  • vegetable juice
  • spinach
  • peppers
  • carrots
  • green beans
  • tomatoes
  • celery
  • chilies
  • greens
  • cabbage

How much is a serving of vegetables?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of vegetables: 1/2 cup of cooked carrots or 1/2 cup of cooked green beans or 1 cup of salad.


Examples of 2 servings:

Drawings of examples of two serving of vegetables: 1/2 cup of cooked carrots plus 1 cup of salad or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice plus 1/2 cup of cooked green beans.

Examples of 3 servings:

Drawings of examples of three serving of vegetables: 1/2 cup of cooked greens plus 1/2 cup of cooked green beans and one small tomato or 1/2 cup of broccoli plus 1 cup of tomato sauce.

If your plan includes more than one serving at a meal, you can choose several types of vegetables or have two or three servings of one vegetable.

  1. How many servings of vegetables do you now eat each day?

    I eat _____ vegetable servings each day.

  2. Go back to " How much should I eat each day" to check how many servings of vegetables to have each day.

    I will eat _____ vegetable servings each day.

  3. I will eat this many servings of vegetables at

    Breakfast __________ Snack ___________

    Lunch ______________ Snack ___________

    Dinner _____________ Snack ___________

    A diabetes teacher can help you with your meal plan.

What are healthy ways to eat vegetables?

  • Eat raw and cooked vegetables with little or no fat, sauces, or dressings.
  • Try low-fat or fat-free salad dressing on raw vegetables or salads.
  • Steam vegetables using water or low-fat broth.
  • Mix in some chopped onion or garlic.
  • Use a little vinegar or some lemon or lime juice.
  • Add a small piece of lean ham or smoked turkey instead of fat to vegetables when cooking.
  • Sprinkle with herbs and spices.
  • If you do use a small amount of fat, use canola oil, olive oil, or soft margarines (liquid or tub types) instead of fat from meat, butter, or shortening.
Drawing of a bowl of salad.
Drawing of a head of garlic with one clove broken off, a lemon and two slices of lemon, and a bottle of vinegar.
Drawing of a spice rack filled with jars of spices.

Fruits

Fruits provide carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Examples of fruits include

  • apples
  • fruit juice
  • strawberries
  • dried fruit
  • grapefruit
  • bananas
  • raisins
  • oranges
  • watermelon
  • peaches
  • mango
  • guava
  • papaya
  • berries
  • canned fruit

How much is a serving of fruit?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of fruit: one small apple or 1/2 cup of juice or 1/2 a grapefruit.

Examples of 2 servings:

Drawings of examples of two servings of fruit: one banana or 1/2 cup of juice plus 1 1/4 cups of whole strawberries.

If your plan includes more than one serving at a meal, you can choose different types of fruit or have several servings of one fruit.

  1. How many servings of fruit do you now eat each day?

    I eat _____ fruit servings each day.

  2. Go back to " How much should I eat each day" to check how many servings of fruit to have each day.

    I will eat _____ fruit servings each day.

  3. I will eat this many servings of fruit at

    Breakfast __________ Snack ___________

    Lunch ______________ Snack ___________

    Dinner _____________ Snack ___________

    A diabetes teacher can help you with your meal plan.

What are healthy ways to eat fruits?

  • Eat fruits raw or cooked, as juice with no sugar added, canned in their own juice, or dried.
  • Buy smaller pieces of fruit.
  • Choose pieces of fruit more often than fruit juice. Whole fruit is more filling and has more fiber.
  • Save high-sugar and high-fat fruit desserts such as peach cobbler or cherry pie for special occasions.
Drawing of strawberries and a banana, a carton of orange juice and a glass of orange juice.

Milk

Milk provides carbohydrate, protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals.

How much is a serving of milk?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of milk: 1 cup of fat-free or low-fat yogurt or 1 cup of fat-free, also called skim, or low-fat, also called 1 percent, milk.
Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have four to five servings of milk each day.

How many servings of milk do you now have each day?

  1. I have _____ milk servings each day.

  2. Go back to " How much should I eat each day" to check how many servings of milk to have each day.

    I will have _____ milk servings each day.

  3. I will have this many servings of milk at

    Breakfast __________ Snack ___________

    Lunch ______________ Snack ___________

    Dinner _____________ Snack ___________

    A diabetes teacher can help you with your meal plan.

What are healthy ways to have milk?

  • Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Eat low-fat or fat-free fruit yogurt sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener.
  • Use low-fat plain yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

Meat and Meat Substitutes

The meat and meat substitutes group includes meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, fish, and tofu. Eat small amounts of some of these foods each day.

Meat and meat substitutes provide protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Examples of meat and meat substitutes include

  • chicken
  • beef
  • fish
  • canned tuna or other fish
  • eggs
  • peanut butter
  • tofu
  • cottage cheese
  • cheese
  • pork
  • lamb
  • turkey

How much is a serving of meat and meat substitutes?

Meat and meat substitutes are measured in ounces. Here are examples.

Examples of 1-ounce serving:

Drawings of examples of a 1-ounce serving of meat and meat substitutes: one egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter; this serving portion is listed under a drawing of a jar of peanut butter.

Examples of 2-ounce serving:

A drawing of an example of a 2-ounce serving of meat and meat substitutes: a sandwich on a plate labeled as one slice, or 1 ounce, of turkey plus one slice, or 1 ounce, of low-fat cheese.

Examples of 3-ounce serving:

A drawing of an example of a 3-ounce serving of meat and meat substitutes: a piece of cooked lean meat on a plate labeled as 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, chicken, or fish, with a note saying that after being cooked a 3-ounce piece of meat is about the size of a deck of cards

*Three ounces of meat (after cooking) is about the size of a deck of cards.

  1. How many ounces of meat and meat substitutes do you now eat each day?

    I eat _____ ounces of meat and meat substitutes each day.

  2. Go back to " How much should I eat each day" to check how many ounces of meat and meat substitutes to have each day.

    I will eat _____ ounces of meat and meat substitutes each day.

  3. I will eat this many ounces of meat and meat substitutes at

    Breakfast __________ Snack ___________

    Lunch ______________ Snack ___________

    Dinner _____________ Snack ___________

    A diabetes teacher can help you with your meal plan.

What are healthy ways to eat meat and meat substitutes?

  • Buy cuts of beef, pork, ham, and lamb that have only a little fat on them. Trim off the extra fat.
  • Eat chicken or turkey without the skin.
  • Cook meat and meat substitutes in low-fat ways:
    • broil
    • grill
    • stir-fry
    • roast
    • steam
    • microwave
  • To add more flavor, use vinegars, lemon juice, soy sauce, salsa, ketchup, barbecue sauce, herbs, and spices.
  • Cook eggs using cooking spray or a non-stick pan.
  • Limit the amount of nuts, peanut butter, and fried foods you eat. They are high in fat.
  • Check food labels. Choose low-fat or fat-free cheese.
Drawing of a jar of salsa, a lemon, two slices of lemon, two small jars, one labeled as herbs and the other labeled as spices.
Drawing of a can of vegetable oil spray.

Fats and Sweets

Limit the amount of fats and sweets you eat. Fats and sweets are not as nutritious as other foods. Fats have a lot of calories. Sweets can be high in carbohydrate and fat. Some contain saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol that increase your risk of heart disease. Limiting these foods will help you lose weight and keep your blood glucose and blood fats under control.

Examples of fats include

  • salad dressing
  • oil
  • cream cheese
  • butter
  • margarine
  • mayonnaise
  • avocado
  • olives
  • bacon

Examples of sweets include

  • cake
  • ice cream
  • pie
  • syrup
  • cookies
  • doughnuts

How much is a serving of sweets?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of sweets from the fats and sweets group: a 3-inch cookie or one plain cake doughnut or 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.

How much is a serving of fat?

Examples of 1 serving:

Drawings of examples of one serving of fats from the fats and sweets group: one strip of bacon or 1 teaspoon of oil; this serving portion is listed under a drawing of a bottle of canola oil with a teaspoon next to the bottle.



Examples of 2 servings:

Drawings of examples of two serving of fats from the fats and sweets group: 1 tablespoon of regular salad dressing--this serving portion is listed under a drawing of a bottle of salad dressing--or 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat salad dressing--this serving portion is listed under a drawing of a bottle of salad dressing--plus 1 tablespoon of reduced-fat mayonnaise; this serving portion is listed under a drawing of a jar of mayonnaise.

How can I satisfy my sweet tooth?

Try having sugar-free popsicles, diet soda, fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt, or sugar-free hot cocoa mix.

Other tips:

  • Share desserts in restaurants.
  • Order small or child-size servings of ice cream or frozen yogurt.
  • Divide homemade desserts into small servings and wrap each individually. Freeze extra servings.

Remember, fat-free and low-sugar foods still have calories. Talk with your diabetes teacher about how to fit sweets into your meal plan.

Drawing of a box of popsicles, a carton of fat-free ice cream and a box of hot chocolate mix.

Alcoholic Drinks

Alcoholic drinks have calories but no nutrients. If you have alcoholic drinks on an empty stomach, they can make your blood glucose level go too low. Alcoholic drinks also can raise your blood fats. If you want to have alcoholic drinks, talk with your doctor or diabetes teacher about how much to have.

Drawing of a bottle of brandy and a can of beer.

Your Meal Plan

Plan your meals and snacks for one day. Work with your diabetes teacher if you need help.

Breakfast
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
Snack
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     
Lunch
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
Snack
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     
Dinner
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
Snack
Food Group Food How Much
     
     
     

Measuring Your Food

To make sure your food servings are the right size, you can use

  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • a food scale

Or you can use the guide below. Also, the Nutrition Facts label on food packages tells you how much of that food is in one serving.

Guide to Sensible Serving Sizes

This much is the same as
Drawing of an open hand with a circle drawn around the palm to show what a serving size of 3 ounces looks like.
3 ounces
1 serving of meat, chicken, turkey, or fish
Drawing of a closed fist with a circle drawing around the fist to show what a serving size of 1 cup looks like.
1 cup
1 serving of
  • cooked vegetables
  • salads
  • casseroles or stews, such as chili with beans
  • milk
Drawing of a closed fist with the thumb up with a circle drawing around half of the fist to show what a serving size of 1/2 cup looks like.
½ cup
1 serving of
  • fruit or fruit juice
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or corn
  • pinto beans and other dried beans
  • rice or noodles
  • cereal
Drawing of an open hand that is cupped with a circle drawn around the palm to show what a serving size of 1 ounce looks like.
1 ounce
1 serving of
  • snack food
  • cheese (1 slice)
Drawing of an open hand with a circle drawn around the tip of the thumb to show what a serving size of 1 tablespoon looks like.
1 tablespoon
1 serving of
  • salad dressing
  • cream cheese
Drawing of an open hand with a circle drawn around the tip of the index finger to show what a serving size of 1 teaspoon looks like.
1 teaspoon
1 serving of
  • margarine or butter
  • oil
  • mayonnaise

When You're Sick

Take care of yourself when you're sick. Being sick can make your blood glucose go too high. Tips on what to do include the following:

  • Check your blood glucose level every 4 hours. Write down the results.
  • Keep taking your diabetes medicines. You need them even if you can't keep food down.
  • Drink at least one cup (8 ounces) of water or other calorie-free, caffeine-free liquid every hour while you're awake.
  • If you can't eat your usual food, try drinking juice or eating crackers, popsicles, or soup.
  • If you can't eat at all, drink clear liquids such as ginger ale. Eat or drink something with sugar in it if you have trouble keeping food down, because you still need calories. If you can't eat enough, you increase your risk of low blood glucose, also called hypoglycemia.
  • In people with type 1 diabetes, when blood glucose is high, the body produces ketones. Ketones can make you sick. Test your urine or blood for ketones if
    • your blood glucose is above 240
    • you can't keep food or liquids down
  • Call your health care provider right away if
    • your blood glucose has been above 240 for longer than a day
    • you have ketones
    • you feel sleepier than usual
    • you have trouble breathing
    • you can't think clearly
    • you throw up more than once
    • you've had diarrhea for more than 6 hours
May 2014
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Marion J. Franz, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.D.E.; Carolyn Leontos, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., University of Nevada

This information is not copyrighted. The NIDDK encourages people to share this content freely.