Diet meal plan for diabetics type 2. This diabetic meal plan is ideal for those living with type 2 diabetes as well as a pre diabetic condition. This diet meal plan includes 20 tasty and easy to make recipes that will help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol and keep you healthy.
Diabetes type 2 – meal planning
Your main focus is on keeping your blood sugar (glucose) level in your target range. To help manage your blood sugar, follow a meal plan that has:
- Food from all the food groups
- Fewer calories
- About the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal and snack
- Healthy fats
Along with healthy eating, you can help keep your blood sugar in target range by maintaining a healthy weight. People with type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. Losing even 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help you manage your diabetes better. Eating healthy foods and staying active (for example, 60 total minutes of walking or other activity per day) can help you meet and maintain your weight loss goal. Activity lets your muscles use sugar from the blood without needing insulin to move the sugar into the muscle cells.
HOW CARBOHYDRATES AFFECT BLOOD SUGAR
Carbohydrates in food give your body energy. You need to eat carbohydrates to maintain your energy. But carbohydrates also raise your blood sugar higher and faster than other kinds of food.
The main kinds of carbohydrates are starches, sugars, and fiber. Learn which foods have carbohydrates. This will help with meal planning so that you can keep your blood sugar in your target range. Not all carbohydrates can be broken down and absorbed by your body. Foods with more non-digestible carbohydrates, or fiber, are less likely to increase your blood sugar out of your goal range. These include foods such as beans and whole grains.
MEAL PLANNING FOR CHILDREN WITH TYPE 2 DIABETES
Meal plans should consider the amount of calories children need to grow. In general, three small meals and three snacks a day can help meet calorie needs. Many children with type 2 diabetes are overweight. The goal should be able to reach a healthy weight by eating healthy foods and getting more activity (150 minutes in a week).
Work with a registered dietitian to design a meal plan for your child. A registered dietitian is an expert in food and nutrition.
The following tips can help your child stay on track:
- No food is off-limits. Knowing how different foods affect your child’s blood sugar helps you and your child keep blood sugar in target range.
- Help your child learn how much food is a healthy amount. This is called portion control.
- Have your family gradually switch from drinking soda and other sugary drinks, such as sports drinks and juices, to plain water or low-fat milk.
Everyone has individual needs. Work with your health care provider, registered dietitian, or diabetes educator to develop a meal plan that works for you.
When shopping, read food labels to make better food choices.
A good way to make sure you get all the nutrients you need during meals is to use the plate method. This is a visual food guide that helps you choose the best types and right amounts of food to eat. It encourages larger portions of non-starchy vegetables (half the plate) and moderate portions of protein (one quarter of the plate) and starch (one quarter of the plate).
EAT A VARIETY OF FOODS
Eating a wide variety of foods helps you stay healthy. Try to include foods from all the food groups at each meal.
VEGETABLES (2½ to 3 cups or 450 to 550 grams a day)
Choose fresh or frozen vegetables without added sauces, fats, or salt. Non-starchy vegetables include dark green and deep yellow vegetables, such as cucumber, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, cabbage, chard, and bell peppers. Starchy vegetables include corn, green peas, lima beans, carrots, yams and taro. Note that potato should be considered a pure starch, like white bread or white rice, instead of a vegetable.
FRUITS (1½ to 2 cups or 240 to 320 grams a day)
Choose fresh, frozen, canned (without added sugar or syrup), or unsweetened dried fruits. Try apples, bananas, berries, cherries, fruit cocktail, grapes, melon, oranges, peaches, pears, papaya, pineapple, and raisins. Drink juices that are 100% fruit with no added sweeteners or syrups.
GRAINS (3 to 4 ounces or 85 to 115 grams a day)
There are 2 types of grains:
- Whole grains are unprocessed and have the entire grain kernel. Examples are whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, amaranth, barley, brown and wild rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.
- Refined grains have been processed (milled) to remove the bran and germ. Examples are white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.
Grains have starch, a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates raise your blood sugar level. For healthy eating, make sure half of the grains you eat each day are whole grains. Whole grains have lots of fiber. Fiber in the diet keeps your blood sugar level from rising too fast.
PROTEIN FOODS (5 to 6½ ounces or 140 to 184 grams a day)
Protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and processed soy foods. Eat fish and poultry more often. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey. Select lean cuts of beef, veal, pork, or wild game. Trim all visible fat from meat. Bake, roast, broil, grill, or boil instead of frying. When frying proteins, use healthy oils such as olive oil.
DAIRY (3 cups or 245 grams a day)
Choose low-fat dairy products. Be aware that milk, yogurt, and other dairy foods have natural sugar, even when they do not contain added sugar. Take this into account when planning meals to stay in your blood sugar target range. Some non-fat dairy products have a lot of added sugar. Be sure to read the label.
OILS/FATS (no more than 7 teaspoons or 35 milliliters a day)
Oils are not considered a food group. But they have nutrients that help your body stay healthy. Oils are different from fats in that oils remain liquid at room temperature. Fats remain solid at room temperature.
Limit your intake of fatty foods, especially those high in saturated fat, such as hamburgers, deep-fried foods, bacon, and butter.
Instead, choose foods that are high in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. These include fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
Oils can raise your blood sugar, but not as fast as starch. Oils are also high in calories. Try to use no more than the recommended daily limit of 7 teaspoons (35 milliliters).
WHAT ABOUT ALCOHOL AND SWEETS?
If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount and have it with a meal. Check with your health care provider about how alcohol will affect your blood sugar and to determine a safe amount for you.
Sweets are high in fat and sugar. Keep portion sizes small.
Here are tips to help avoid eating too many sweets:
- Ask for extra spoons and forks and split your dessert with others.
- Eat sweets that are sugar-free.
- Always ask for the smallest serving size or children’s size.
Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity
Nutrition and physical activity are important parts of a healthy lifestyle when you have diabetes. Along with other benefits, following a healthy meal plan and being active can help you keep your blood glucose level, also called blood sugar, in your target range. To manage your blood glucose, you need to balance what you eat and drink with physical activity and diabetes medicine, if you take any. What you choose to eat, how much you eat, and when you eat are all important in keeping your blood glucose level in the range that your health care team recommends.
Becoming more active and making changes in what you eat and drink can seem challenging at first. You may find it easier to start with small changes and get help from your family, friends, and health care team.
Eating well and being physically active most days of the week can help you
- keep your blood glucose level, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target ranges
- lose weight or stay at a healthy weight
- prevent or delay diabetes problems
- feel good and have more energy
What foods can I eat if I have diabetes?
You may worry that having diabetes means going without foods you enjoy. The good news is that you can still eat your favorite foods, but you might need to eat smaller portions or enjoy them less often. Your health care team will help create a diabetes meal plan for you that meets your needs and likes.
The key to eating with diabetes is to eat a variety of healthy foods from all food groups, in the amounts your meal plan outlines.
The food groups are
- nonstarchy: includes broccoli, carrots, greens, peppers, and tomatoes
- starchy: includes potatoes, corn, and green peas
- fruits—includes oranges, melon, berries, apples, bananas, and grapes
- grains—at least half of your grains for the day should be whole grains
- includes wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, and quinoa
- examples: bread, pasta, cereal, and tortillas
- lean meat
- chicken or turkey without the skin
- nuts and peanuts
- dried beans and certain peas, such as chickpeas and split peas
- meat substitutes, such as tofu
- dairy—nonfat or low fat
- milk or lactose-free milk if you have lactose intolerance
Eat foods with heart-healthy fats, which mainly come from these foods:
- oils that are liquid at room temperature, such as canola and olive oil
- nuts and seeds
- heart-healthy fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
Use oils when cooking food instead of butter, cream, shortening, lard, or stick margarine.
What foods and drinks should I limit if I have diabetes?
Foods and drinks to limit include
- fried foods and other foods high in saturated fat and trans fat
- foods high in salt, also called sodium
- sweets, such as baked goods, candy, and ice cream
- beverages with added sugars, such as juice, regular soda, and regular sports or energy drinks
Drink water instead of sweetened beverages. Consider using a sugar substitute in your coffee or tea.
If you drink alcohol, drink moderately—no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man. If you use insulin or diabetes medicines that increase the amount of insulin your body makes, alcohol can make your blood glucose level drop too low. This is especially true if you haven’t eaten in a while. It’s best to eat some food when you drink alcohol.
When should I eat if I have diabetes?
Some people with diabetes need to eat at about the same time each day. Others can be more flexible with the timing of their meals. Depending on your diabetes medicines or type of insulin, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day. If you take “mealtime” insulin, your eating schedule can be more flexible.
If you use certain diabetes medicines or insulin and you skip or delay a meal, your blood glucose level can drop too low. Ask your health care team when you should eat and whether you should eat before and after physical activity.
How much can I eat if I have diabetes?
Eating the right amount of food will also help you manage your blood glucose level and your weight. Your health care team can help you figure out how much food and how many calories you should eat each day.
If you are overweight or have obesity, work with your health care team to create a weight-loss plan.
The Body Weight Planner can help you tailor your calorie and physical activity plans to reach and maintain your goal weight.
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories and replace less healthy foods with foods lower in calories, fat, and sugar.
Meal plan methods
Two common ways to help you plan how much to eat if you have diabetes are the plate method and carbohydrate counting, also called carb counting. Check with your health care team about the method that’s best for you.
The plate method helps you control your portion sizes. You don’t need to count calories. The plate method shows the amount of each food group you should eat. This method works best for lunch and dinner.
Use a 9-inch plate. Put nonstarchy vegetables on half of the plate; a meat or other protein on one-fourth of the plate; and a grain or other starch on the last one-fourth. Starches include starchy vegetables such as corn and peas. You also may eat a small bowl of fruit or a piece of fruit, and drink a small glass of milk as included in your meal plan.
You can find many different combinations of food and more details about using the plate method from the American Diabetes Association’s Create Your Plate External link.
Your daily eating plan also may include small snacks between meals.
- You can use everyday objects or your hand to judge the size of a portion.
- 1 serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
- 1 3-ounce serving of fish is a checkbook
- 1 serving of cheese is six dice
- 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta is a rounded handful or a tennis ball
- 1 serving of a pancake or waffle is a DVD
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is a ping-pong ball
Carbohydrate counting involves keeping track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat and drink each day. Because carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, they affect your blood glucose level more than other foods do. Carb counting can help you manage your blood glucose level. If you take insulin, counting carbohydrates can help you know how much insulin to take.
Carbohydrate counting is a meal planning tool for people with diabetes who take insulin, but not all people with diabetes need to count carbohydrates. Your health care team can help you create a personal eating plan that will best meet your needs.
The amount of carbohydrates in foods is measured in grams. To count carbohydrate grams in what you eat, you’ll need to
- learn which foods have carbohydrates
- read the Nutrition Facts food label, or learn to estimate the number of grams of carbohydrate in the foods you eat
- add the grams of carbohydrate from each food you eat to get your total for each meal and for the day
Most carbohydrates come from starches, fruits, milk, and sweets. Try to limit carbohydrates with added sugars or those with refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. Instead, eat carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk.
What is medical nutrition therapy?
Medical nutrition therapy is a service provided by an RD to create personal eating plans based on your needs and likes. For people with diabetes, medical nutrition therapy has been shown to improve diabetes management. Medicare pays for medical nutrition therapy for people with diabetes External link If you have insurance other than Medicare, ask if it covers medical nutrition therapy for diabetes.
Will supplements and vitamins help my diabetes?
No clear proof exists that taking dietary supplements NIH external link such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, or spices can help manage diabetes. You may need supplements if you cannot get enough vitamins and minerals from foods. Talk with your health care provider before you take any dietary supplement since some can cause side effects or affect how your medicines work.
Why should I be physically active if I have diabetes?
Physical activity is an important part of managing your blood glucose level and staying healthy. Being active has many health benefits.
- lowers blood glucose levels
- lowers blood pressure
- improves blood flow
- burns extra calories so you can keep your weight down if needed
- improves your mood
- can prevent falls and improve memory in older adults
- may help you sleep better
If you are overweight, combining physical activity with a reduced-calorie eating plan can lead to even more benefits. In the Look AHEAD: Action for Health in Diabetes study, overweight adults with type 2 diabetes who ate less and moved more had greater long-term health benefits compared to those who didn’t make these changes. These benefits included improved cholesterol levels, less sleep apnea, and being able to move around more easily.
Even small amounts of physical activity can help. Experts suggest that you aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity 5 days of the week. Moderate activity feels somewhat hard, and vigorous activity is intense and feels hard. If you want to lose weight or maintain weight loss, you may need to do 60 minutes or more of physical activity 5 days of the week.
Be patient. It may take a few weeks of physical activity before you see changes in your health.
How can I be physically active safely if I have diabetes?
Be sure to drink water before, during, and after exercise to stay well hydrated. The following are some other tips for safe physical activity when you have diabetes.
Talk with your health care team before you start a new physical activity routine, especially if you have other health problems. Your health care team will tell you a target range for your blood glucose level and suggest how you can be active safely.
Your health care team also can help you decide the best time of day for you to do physical activity based on your daily schedule, meal plan, and diabetes medicines. If you take insulin, you need to balance the activity that you do with your insulin doses and meals so you don’t get low blood glucose.
Prevent low blood glucose
Because physical activity lowers your blood glucose, you should protect yourself against low blood glucose levels, also called hypoglycemia. You are most likely to have hypoglycemia if you take insulin or certain other diabetes medicines, such as a sulfonylurea. Hypoglycemia also can occur after a long intense workout or if you have skipped a meal before being active. Hypoglycemia can happen during or up to 24 hours after physical activity.
Planning is key to preventing hypoglycemia. For instance, if you take insulin, your health care provider might suggest you take less insulin or eat a small snack with carbohydrates before, during, or after physical activity, especially intense activity.
You may need to check your blood glucose level before, during, and right after you are physically active.
Stay safe when blood glucose is high
If you have type 1 diabetes, avoid vigorous physical activity when you have ketones in your blood or urine. Ketones are chemicals your body might make when your blood glucose level is too high, a condition called hyperglycemia, and your insulin level is too low. If you are physically active when you have ketones in your blood or urine, your blood glucose level may go even higher. Ask your health care team what level of ketones are dangerous for you and how to test for them. Ketones are uncommon in people with type 2 diabetes.
Take care of your feet
People with diabetes may have problems with their feet because of poor blood flow and nerve damage that can result from high blood glucose levels. To help prevent foot problems, you should wear comfortable, supportive shoes and take care of your feet before, during, and after physical activity.
What physical activities should I do if I have diabetes?
Most kinds of physical activity can help you take care of your diabetes. Certain activities may be unsafe for some people, such as those with low vision or nerve damage to their feet. Ask your health care team what physical activities are safe for you. Many people choose walking with friends or family members for their activity.
Doing different types of physical activity each week will give you the most health benefits. Mixing it up also helps reduce boredom and lower your chance of getting hurt. Try these options for physical activity.
Add extra activity to your daily routine
If you have been inactive or you are trying a new activity, start slowly, with 5 to 10 minutes a day. Then add a little more time each week. Increase daily activity by spending less time in front of a TV or other screen. Try these simple ways to add physical activities in your life each day:
- Walk around while you talk on the phone or during TV commercials.
- Do chores, such as work in the garden, rake leaves, clean the house, or wash the car.
- Park at the far end of the shopping center parking lot and walk to the store.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Make your family outings active, such as a family bike ride or a walk in a park.
If you are sitting for a long time, such as working at a desk or watching TV, do some light activity for 3 minutes or more every half hour.5 Light activities include
- leg lifts or extensions
- overhead arm stretches
- desk chair swivels
- torso twists
- side lunges
- walking in place
Do aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise is activity that makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe harder. You should aim for doing aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day most days of the week. You do not have to do all the activity at one time. You can split up these minutes into a few times throughout the day.
To get the most out of your activity, exercise at a moderate to vigorous level. Try
- walking briskly or hiking
- climbing stairs
- swimming or a water-aerobics class
- riding a bicycle or a stationary bicycle
- taking an exercise class
- playing basketball, tennis, or other sports
Talk with your health care team about how to warm up and cool down before and after you exercise.
Do strength training to build muscle
Strength training is a light or moderate physical activity that builds muscle and helps keep your bones healthy. Strength training is important for both men and women. When you have more muscle and less body fat, you’ll burn more calories. Burning more calories can help you lose and keep off extra weight.
You can do strength training with hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines. Try to do strength training two to three times a week. Start with a light weight. Slowly increase the size of your weights as your muscles become stronger.
Do stretching exercises
Stretching exercises are light or moderate physical activity. When you stretch, you increase your flexibility, lower your stress, and help prevent sore muscles.
You can choose from many types of stretching exercises. Yoga is a type of stretching that focuses on your breathing and helps you relax. Even if you have problems moving or balancing, certain types of yoga can help. For instance, chair yoga has stretches you can do when sitting in a chair or holding onto a chair while standing. Your health care team can suggest whether yoga is right for you.
What Is the Type 2 Diabetes Diet?
A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes—or even prediabetes—usually comes with the suggestion that you make some changes to your diet or the diet of someone you care for. This is a good time to become wiser about how you are eating on a regular basis.
Fortunately, following a diabetes diet doesn’t mean giving up the joy of eating or avoiding your favorite foods and special family meals. You can still enjoy “pizza night,” celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and partake in holiday meals and vacation dining. This is more about your routine, daily food choices and meal planning.
How Can a Healthy Diet Help You Manage Type 2 Diabetes?
Eating to control and prevent diabetes is much more about making wise food adjustments than it is about denial and deprivation. A better way to look at a diet when you have diabetes is one that helps you establish a new normal when it comes to your eating habits and food choices.¹
In truth, a diet aimed at reducing the risks of diabetes is really nothing more than a nutritionally balanced meal plan aimed at helping maintain blood sugar levels within range and supporting a healthy weight.
For those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, the main focus of a diabetes-focused diet is being attentive to your weight. That said, a diabetic diet is simply an eating approach that works to keep you healthy and so is not reserved only for people with diabetes. Your whole family can enjoy the same meals and snacks, regardless of whether others have diabetes or not.
Yes—there are a few food decisions that will matter more if you do have diabetes. We’ll provide you with some general guidelines to help you understand how much and how often to eat in order to maintain steady blood sugar levels.FEATURED
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when you develop insulin resistance and your blood sugar levels become elevated.
What Is Diabetes?
More than one in 10 Americans now have diabetes, and many more are at risk of it. From types of diabetes to symptoms, causes, treatments, and more, here’s what to know.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when you can’t produce insulin, the hormone required to adjust your blood sugar levels.
Do You Have Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance occurs when cells in your muscles, body fat, and liver start ignoring instructions from the hormone insulin to ferry glucose out of the bloodstream.
Goals of a Type 2 Diabetes Diet
There are 3 main goals of a diabetes diet plan, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA):
Goal 1: Achieve a Healthy Body Weight
Body mass index (BMI) uses your height and weight to determine how much body fat you carry. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered to be a healthy weight range with a healthy amount of body fat.
Another measure, waist circumference, is considered by many to be a better indicator of excess abdominal body fat. A waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men and above 35 inches in women has been shown to increase the risk of developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The closer you are to a healthy body weight or at least an acceptable waist circumference, the more likely you will be able to control, prevent, and possibly reverse your risks of diabetes.
“Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking about how much total weight you have to lose,” advises Sandra Arévalo, MPH, RDN, CDE, a diabetes expert and spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Studies have shown that losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight will significantly improve your blood sugar levels as well as your cardiovascular health, so set short-term goals of losing just 5 to 10 pounds to start.”
Goal 2: Attain Normal Lab Results
Your physician will work with you to establish individual goals for blood glucose, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure. Regular testing will help ensure that your diet plan, exercise strategies, and medication, if necessary, are all working together to keep your blood sugar, lipids, blood pressure, and your body weight in healthy ranges.
Goal 3: Avoid Complications of Diabetes
Lifestyle changes, including adjustments to your diet and the addition of regular physical activity (even if only a 30- to 45-minute daily walk), can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, stroke, eye disease, and other long-term health problems that can commonly occur in people with diabetes.
Results of Following a Type 2 Diabetes Diet
It’s hard to overstate how much diet matters when it comes to diabetes. In fact, if you were recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, by decreasing your weight by about 10%, you may actually reverse your diabetes, putting it into remission. You are considered in remission from type 2 diabetes when you have had normal blood sugar levels for a year without medication.
In prediabetes, your blood sugar levels are slightly above the normal range because your body is no longer responding to insulin effectively, but they are not yet high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. By making adjustments to your current food patterns and increasing your level of physical activity, it is possible, even likely, that you can prevent or delay the progression to diabetes, as well as reduce your risk of heart disease and other complications associated with poorly controlled diabetes.
How to Get Started With a Type 2 Diabetes Diet Plan
For many people, at least initially, following a diabetes diet may seem harder than it should be. That’s understandable; after all, it can seem very, very challenging to change current eating habits and find the right food rhythm to fit your lifestyle. It may ease your mind to know you will still be able to incorporate your favorite foods into a healthy diet while being mindful of your diabetes diet goals (e.g., healthy weight, steady blood glucose levels, good blood pressure).
“While the idea of changing your diet can be confusing and overwhelming at first, research shows that making healthy lifestyle choices can help you manage your blood sugar levels in the short term and may even prevent many of the long-term health complications associated with diabetes,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, author of The Diabetes Cookbook and Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed.
You don’t have to go it alone: Seek advice from a registered dietitian (RD) or certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES; formerly certified diabetes educator, or CDE) who has the right training to help you come up with an individualized meal plan that will help you meet your self-management goals, get the nutrition you need, and show you how you can incorporate some of your favorite foods into your diet so that you continue to enjoy eating.
Hopefully, your doctor has someone on the team, but if not, call your health insurer to ask for the names of a few in-network RD/CDEs.
There are also virtual coaching programs that appear to be effective; this means you can get individualized dietary guidance at home or at work. Most health insurance companies will cover the cost of diabetes diet counseling. Ask your doctor for a prescription so cost doesn’t hold you back.
“An RD or CDE can look at your usual diet and help you identify where there’s room for improvement,” Arévalo says. “These diet experts can also help you create a diabetes diet plan tailored to your personal needs and food preferences.”
When you meet with a dietitian or CDE/CDCES, she will consider all of your health concerns, your weekday and weekend schedules, any cultural or religious preferences, and your likes and dislikes, as well as anyone else who usually eats with you. By taking into account all of these factors, you will have the best chance of establishing a workable new approach to eating that will support your ability to manage your diabetes with the least disruption possible.
Key Components of a Type 2 Diabetes Diet
Contrary to popular belief, a type 2 diabetes meal plan is not necessarily a low-carb diet, nor should it be a high-protein or very low-fat meal plan. In fact, the ADA recommends less emphasis on specific requirements for proteins, carbs, and fats, and more emphasis on eating a high-quality diet based around whole, unprocessed foods. The key components of a type 2 diabetes meal plan are:
The Right Calories and Portions
The food portions in a type 2 diabetes meal plan are geared toward meeting your energy needs but not consuming excess calories, which get stored as fat, leading to undesirable weight gain.
For people with diabetes, the exact number of calories to consume each day is based on the amount and timing of food that assures you can keep your blood sugar levels stable and your weight within a healthy range. That number can change, depending on your age, activity level, frame size, current versus preferred weight, and other factors.
“When the goal is a healthy weight and blood sugar control, a good starting point for a woman is 1,400 to 1,600 calories a day, with main meals containing up to 30 grams of fiber-rich carbohydrates and snacks containing 10 to 20 grams of fiber-rich carbohydrates,” Zanini advises. “For men and more physically active women who are already at a healthy weight, you may start with a 2,000 to 2,200 calorie meal plan, in which you may increase your carbs proportionately.”
Shifting most of your calorie intake to earlier in the day can also be helpful. Recent research suggests that by eating a big breakfast and a modest lunch, so you get most of your calories in by 3 p.m., you will find it easier to lose weight and achieve better blood sugar control.
Carbs that Keep Blood Sugar Steady
Our wide variety of food products contain different levels and types of carbohydrates, making it harder to eat wisely with diabetes. In general, you will want to choose carbs that have the least impact on your blood sugar. That means selecting items that are high in fiber (see next section) and low in sugar since these are absorbed more slowly and so have little impact on blood sugar changes. Think whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products without added sugar.
Combining carbohydrates with either protein or some fat within each meal or snack is an important trick (maybe the most important trick) for controlling blood sugar and keeping it steady. “When meals are well-balanced (including some protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbs), they are generally more satisfying,” Zanini says, which means you won’t get hungry between meals and go looking for a quick fix that will cause your blood sugar to soar and your body to store those unneeded calories as fat.
“You don’t necessarily have to follow a strict food regimen and avoid all kinds of foods when you’re diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes,” Arévalo says. “You just have to learn how to combine different types of foods in the same meal and measure those foods so you eat appropriate amounts.”
Eating Less Prepared and Processed Food
The ADA recommends minimizing the intake of processed, refined, prepared, and fast foods in favor of whole, unprocessed foods. This generally means making more of your own food and eating at home. Moving toward eating more home-cooked meals may seem daunting, but it just takes a little planning. Resources like the ADA’s Diabetes Food Hub can be a big help.
Dietary fiber is the basis of a healthy diet, as well as the key to a diabetes diet plan or any good diet for weight loss.
In fact, the one factor that separates healthy carbs from all other carbs is the presence or absence of dietary fiber. Only plant foods contain fiber. Those with the most fiber include dried beans, peas, and lentils, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
A high-fiber diet—meaning one that contains at least 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day—is essential for good health. And it is key for people with diabetes because fiber helps slow down the absorption of all sugars in your bloodstream—both those that are naturally forming, like in fruits and starches, as well as any refined sugars you consume.
When you have diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing other chronic health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. That’s why it’s important to watch your intake of saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease and numerous other conditions, and aim instead for unsaturated fats that are good for your heart. Good sources of healthy fat include avocado, fatty fish (e.g., sockeye salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout), nuts and seeds, olive oil, and oils made from nuts (e.g., walnut oil, peanut oil).
Protein Choices That Are Low in Saturated Fat
People who eat animal-derived foods can get high-quality protein from lean meats, poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy, and eggs. Vegetarians, vegans, and non-vegetarians alike should look to plant sources for some or all of their protein needs. Plant foods like soy-based tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of non-animal proteins and fit quite well into a diabetes meal plan because they are also low in carbs.
The same can be said for nuts and legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and edamame, as well as some whole-grain foods such as quinoa, kamut, and teff. Even couscous and wild rice contain some protein.
Foods to Eat With Type 2 Diabetes
Although you can include most foods in a diabetes diet, you do need to pay most attention particularly to the types of carbohydrates you choose in order to control and prevent spikes, or unhealthy increases, in your blood sugar. The glycemic index ranks foods based on the effect they have on blood sugar levels: Low glycemic foods (near the “1” on a range from 1 to 100) have less effect than high glycemic foods like white rice, breakfast cereals and cereal bars, and sweetened dairy products.
Foods high in simple carbohydrates—mostly from added sugars (i.e., cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey) and refined grains (especially white flour and white rice)—are high on the glycemic index. This means they will cause your blood sugar levels to rise more quickly than foods that contain fiber, such as 100% whole wheat and oats, which have a lower glycemic index.
Examples of healthy lifestyle–promoting carb choices for people with diabetes include:
- Whole-grain breads and cereals and foods made with 100% whole wheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, corn, and cornmeal
- Dried beans, lentils, and peas
- Fresh (or frozen) fruits like berries, apples, pears, and oranges
- Vegetables. Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables are healthy carbs that have less (glycemic) effect on your blood sugar
- Dairy products including yogurt, milk, and cheese. The best yogurt is Greek-style or strained yogurt since these contain triple the level of protein. (Avoid yogurts labeled “fruit-sweetened,” which are mostly added sugar. Instead stir in some fresh or frozen berries, banana, or your favorite seasonal fruit to plain yogurt; you might even add some granola or chopped walnuts.)
One of the best changes anyone with diabetes can make is to switch from white food products—white bread, white potatoes in any form, and white rice—that can also cause notable spikes in blood sugar to similar products made from whole grains, like multigrain sourdough bread, shredded wheat or sweet potatoes, and roasted red potatoes that still have the skin on.
For breakfast, you can learn to prepare your favorite pancakes or waffles with oat flour or almond flour. Check out our handy More or Less guide to help you make healthy swaps and promote balanced blood sugar management.
The Top Diabetes-Friendly Foods
Although a type 2 diabetes diet can accommodate many foods, the American Diabetes Association recommends certain “superstars.” Think of these as the items that should form the cornerstones of your diabetes diet (provided you like eating them):
- Beans, including kidney, pinto, navy, and black
- Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Citrus fruit
- Fish high in omega-3s: salmon, albacore tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel, and trout
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Milk and yogurt (watch the sugar content of yogurts)
Foods to Avoid With Type 2 Diabetes
Flour and sugar represent 2 ingredients most likely to wreak havoc for people with diabetes because they typically add unnecessary calories and end up leading to a boost in blood sugar and your weight; a double whammy. While you don’t have to avoid white flour (a.k.a. refined flour, all-purpose white flour) and sugar altogether, be aware that foods made with them—including sugar-sweetened cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and other baked goods and sugar-sweetened drinks—have little nutritional value and are likely to send your blood sugar soaring.
It’s also important to steer clear of processed foods when possible. The more a food has been mechanically handled and refined, the greater the likelihood that its nutritional value will decrease, and such foods are often high in sugar, refined flour, or saturated fats. By eating foods considered highly refined (i.e., empty calories), you are filling up on foods that will make it harder to manage your weight and your blood sugar levels.
While a diabetes diet is more about avoiding certain types of foods—i.e., empty carbs and foods with little nutritional value—than cutting out any single “bad” food, there are some clear items to avoid or minimize:
- White breads and pastries
- Pasta made from white flour
- Processed foods made with added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup
- Foods high in saturated fat (fatty meats, butter, sausage, bacon, cured meats, cheese, and ice cream)
- Candy and soft drinks that contain sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
A Cautionary Word About Salt
Some people are sensitive to salt, which causes higher blood pressure when too much sodium is consumed. Since we have no way of testing who is salt-sensitive and who isn’t, the best precaution is to limit salt and avoid sodium-containing foods if you may be at risk for high blood pressure.
Simply put, the excess salt in most people’s diets comes from processed foods, so check the package for sodium content. By adopting a diabetes diet that contains mostly whole foods, this issue will no longer present a problem. Also, foods that are flash frozen are as good as fresh.
Canned vegetables usually have added salt as a preservative. Your best bet when buying is to check the food labels for sodium content. You’ll want to stay well below the upper recommended limit of 2,300 mg/day, and you can certainly look for low-sodium varieties of canned and processed prepackaged food products.
Diabetes-Safe Drinks (and Those to Avoid)
Sugars are important to look out for in drinks as well. Your best bets for liquids include:
- Water. Plain or fizzy is great—just watch out for any added sugars or sweeteners.
- Tea, including green and herbal. Opt for lemon to give it a boost instead of sugar or honey.
- Unsweetened coffee.
- Low-fat or non-dairy milk (unsweetened).
- Vegetable juice.
If you have low blood sugar, sipping on orange, apple, or grape juice is OK, just be sure to look for 100% real fruit juices—no “fruit drinks,” “cocktails,” or unpronounceable ingredients on food labels—and drink in moderation.
Same for alcoholic drinks—they can be enjoyed in moderation, and ideally with food.
Watch out for drinks that use sugar substitutes, such as sugar-free (“diet”) sodas or energy drinks, as they are not necessarily “good” for people with diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes Diet Sample Menus
Now that you know what foods are better if you have diabetes, putting the right foods on your plate is a matter of portions. The key to a balanced diet is planning meals using the diabetes plate method—divide the plate into quarters: ¼ protein or meat, ¼ carbs, and ½ vegetable and fruit. If you want to lose weight, use 9-inch dinner plates and bowls so you aren’t piling the food on to a large dinner plate.
For example, fill half the plate with non-starchy veggies such as salad greens or steamed broccoli, and fill the remaining half of the plate with equal portions of a grain or starchy vegetable like mashed sweet potato and a heart-healthy protein such as broiled salmon.
Here are some sample dinner menus to give you an idea of reasonable portion sizes that make up a healthy meal for someone with diabetes (or anyone, for that matter!). These menus will also give you an idea of the variety of delicious and balanced meals that can fit into a diabetes meal plan. In addition, the infographic above features a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas consistent with a diabetes diet plan.
Sample Dinner Menu 1
- 5 or 6 ounces roasted chicken (skin removed)
- ½ cup multigrain pasta (or Banza chickpea pasta), cooked, tossed with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups sautéed zucchini and/or summer squash and sliced mushrooms
Sample Dinner Menu 2
- 6-ounce salmon fillet, broiled with lemon
- ½ cup lightly steamed broccoli and ½cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup baby kale and spinach, lightly sautéed in olive oil with chopped garlic and onion
Sample Dinner Menu 3
- 6 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) sautéed tofu seasoned with Chinese Five Spice powder
- ⅓ cup quinoa
- ¼ avocado, sliced and topped with sesame seeds and a squeeze of lime
- 1 cup cucumber, snow pea pods, arugula, and radish salad dressed with vinegar and light soy sauce
Best and Worst Diet Plans for Type 2 Diabetes
According to the ADA, a Mediterranean-style diet, a plant-based diet, and a diet known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) are all good starting points for a type 2 diabetes meal plan that can be modified to accommodate your personal eating preferences.
These diet approaches have 2 important factors in common: mostly whole foods and meals built around vegetables and fruit. The ADA also now recommends low-carb diets as an option for people with type 2 diabetes.
If you like following a formal diet plan, you can talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about which plan or combination of plans might make sense for you. Here is more information on the plans mentioned above as well as other popular diet plans that have been studied for the prevention or treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Designed to help lower blood pressure, the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a well-rounded eating plan that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, seafood, and poultry and is low in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. In addition to reducing high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, following the DASH eating plan has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity⁹, improve cholesterol levels, and promote weight loss, all important for managing type 2 diabetes.
800 Calorie Diet
In a 2018 study in The Lancet, called the DiRECT trial (Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial), U.K. researchers found that adults with type 2 diabetes who followed a medically supervised 800-calorie-a-day diet plan for 3 to 5 months were more likely to achieve substantial weight loss than those who got standard diabetes care. And nearly half the participants in the 800-calorie-diet group (46%) saw their blood sugars return to normal during the study, compared to 4% of the control group.
The benefits were maintained for at least a year and in some people were still present at the 2-year mark. The study included 298 adults who had been diagnosed with diabetes in the past 6 years, were overweight or obese, and were not taking insulin.
A British physician markets a do-it-yourself version of the 800-calorie diet, called The Fast 800, that’s essentially a hybrid of the DiRECT diet and intermittent fasting and is designed to produce quick weight loss and get blood sugars out of the diabetes range. For the first 2 weeks, you consume 800 calories a day, then you switch to a “5:2” regimen where you eat normally (but healthfully) 5 days of the week and eat 800 calories on the other days.
Note that the 800-calorie diet in the DiRECT study was done under medical supervision, with nutritionally balanced meal-replacement products provided by the study. Don’t undertake any plan of extreme calorie restriction on your own without consulting your doctor first.
Eating a high-fiber diet is undoubtedly good for people with type 2 diabetes, since fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugars in your bloodstream. Plus it helps you feel full and satisfied. Only plant foods contain fiber. So if your eating plan includes plenty of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds—as the Mediterranean, DASH, and plant-based vegetarian or vegan diets all do—then you’re likely getting lots of fiber. People with type 2 diabetes (and everyone) should aim for 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an umbrella term for various eating protocols in which you abstain from all food and caloric beverages or substantially reduce your calorie intake for some set period of time. Popular methods of IF include 5:2 fasting, in which you restrict caloric intake to only 500 or 600 calories on 2 non-consecutive days of the week and eat normally on the other days, and time-restricted feeding, in which you limit caloric intake to a certain time window each day and consume only water, coffee, or tea during the other hours.
Keto is a very-low-carb diet plan that focuses on eating foods that are high in fat. In a standard keto diet, about 55% to 70% of your daily calories come from fat, 25% to 35% come from protein, and 5% to 10% (or 50 grams per day in a 2,000 calories-per-day diet) come from carbohydrates, including carbs from veggies and fruits. The goal is to get you into “ketosis,” a metabolic state in which your body is burning fat (instead of carbs) for energy. There are variations of the keto diet that tweak the amount of allowed carbs.
In an updated consensus statement released in 2018,¹⁰ the ADA and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) included low-carbohydrate diets along with DASH, Mediterranean, and vegetarian (plant-based) diets among their recommended lifestyle management interventions for people with type 2 diabetes. There are different definitions of what constitutes a low-carb diet; in one study¹¹ cited in the consensus statement, the low-carb regimen was defined as providing no more than 25% of daily energy (calories) from carbs.
Named the overall best diet for 2022 by US News & World Report,¹² the Mediterranean diet isn’t really a diet but rather an eating pattern that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, seafood, healthy fats (especially olive oil), and whole grains. As the name suggests, this style of eating is rooted in the olive-rich southern European countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy.
An abundance of research supports numerous health benefits of the Mediterranean eating pattern, including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death. The Mediterranean diet may benefit people with type 2 diabetes specifically through its high content of fiber (via legumes, produce, and whole grains, for example), which can improve blood sugar levels by slowing digestion, thus reducing spikes.