Eating Balanced Meals

Although there are special guides designed for patients with diabetes, people who have the condition have the same basic nutritional needs as people without diabetes. Healthy eating means eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes choosing protein sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, soy-based meat substitutes, and low- or non-fat dairy products.

Guidelines include the following:

  • Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables of various colors (e.g., spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, onions, eggplant, kale).
  • Use whole grains such as brown rice or whole-wheat spaghetti.
  • Substitute beans or lentils for meat a few times per week.
  • Eat fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Choose lean meats and remove skin from poultry.
  • Switch to non-fat dairy products such as skim (or non-fat) milk, non-fat yogurt, and non-fat cheeses.
  • Use vegetable-based oils such as canola, olive, or corn oil.

Due to potentially high levels of mercury, women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should limit fish consumption to 2 servings per week; should limit white or albacore tuna intake to no more than 6 ounces per week; and should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish Talk with a qualified health care provider or registered dietician about the safety of fish in the diet.

Choosing Healthy Snacks

A healthy snack is high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and low in fat and added sugar or sweeteners. A licensed dietician can provide ideas for healthy snacks. Examples of healthy snacks include fresh fruit with low-fat cheddar cheese, raw vegetables with low- or non-fat dressing or yogurt dip, and whole grain crackers with low-fat cheddar cheese.

Whole Grains and Other High Fiber Foods

Generally, foods made with whole grains are healthier choices than those made with refined flour. For example, 100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal are healthier than white bread, white rice, and sugary, low-fiber breakfast cereals. Foods made with refined grains (e.g., white flour, white rice) can make blood sugar rise faster than whole-grain foods. Talk to a qualified health care provider or licensed dietician about managing carbohydrates.

Recommendations for adding fiber to the diet include the following:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Use brown rice instead of white.
  • Eat 100% whole-grain bread.
  • Substitute whole-grain pasta for traditional pasta.
  • Choose breakfast cereals made with whole grains (containing at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving).
  • Check for whole grains in the ingredients lists of all grain-based products.
  • Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or candy.
  • Substitute lentils or beans for meat 2-3 times per week.
  • Have a green salad with dinner or lunch.
  • Try Indian, Latin, or Middle Eastern foods that have beans, lentils, or chickpeas.

Limiting Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

Being overweight makes it harder for the body to manage blood glucose level and increases the risk for heart disease. Limiting saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet can help control diabetes, maintain a healthy weight, and keep the heart healthy.

To reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet:

  • Limit meat and poultry servings to 6 ounces or 1/3 of a pound.
  • Choose lean cuts of beef (cuts with "loin" in the name, or 90% lean ground beef).
  • Remove the skin from poultry before eating.
  • Eat fish such as salmon, trout, and herring 1-2 times per week.
  • Limit or avoid shellfish.
  • Substitute beans, lentils, or tofu for meat 2-3 times per week.
  • Drink low-fat or non-fat milk instead of whole or 2% milk.
  • Substitute plain low- or non-fat yogurt for sour cream.
  • Limit butter, avoid stick margarines, or use a special margarine that is made with plant stanols and sterols and does not contain trans fat.

Avoid Trans Fats

Trans fats, from hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, are unhealthy because they raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Eliminating trans fats from the diet can also help control weight and prevent heart disease.

Check the ingredients lists for foods and avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. Choose products made with healthier unsaturated fats such as canola, olive, soybean, safflower, and corn oils.

To eliminate trans fats (hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils) from the diet avoid the following:

  • Stick margarine
  • Some peanut butters (check the ingredients list)
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Many pastries and other bakery items (also raise blood glucose levels)
  • Many crackers, cookies, and chips (also raise blood glucose levels)
  • Fast food French fries, fried chicken, breaded chicken and fish patties

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 01 Mar 2007

Last Modified: 21 Jul 2014