Diabetes Nutrition Guidelines

Eating right is essential to the treatment and management of diabetes. While type 1 and type 2 diabetics may have slightly different dietary needs, the basic guidelines for proper nutrition cut across all forms of diabetes.

The key is carb management. Diabetes, at its core, can be thought of as a disease caused by the body’s inability to properly process carbohydrates. Here’s how it works: insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps break down carbohydrates by enabling the body’s cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar). In a diabetic’s body, however, cells do not respond properly to insulin. Or, in some cases, the body simply does not produce enough insulin to properly deal with all the glucose being consumed. The result is that glucose levels become abnormally high, and glucose molecules get stuck circulating in the bloodstream, causing serious tissue damage.

To limit damages, it is beneficial for a diabetic to limit carbohydrate intake from the start—and thus lessen the amount of glucose the body needs to deal with.

What Makes a Diabetes-Friendly Diet 

The key is creating a carb-friendly diet. While the source of carb does have an affect on your overall health, the most important thing to watch is your total carb intake per day.  In doing so, you will ease the burden your body carries of absorbing glucose, make managing diabetes easier, and limit your risk for the various complications caused by poorly glucose absorption.

You should also limit your sodium intakeavoid saturated fats, and incorporate healthy amounts of fiber into your diet. 

Our recipe search tool helps you find new and delicious recipes that fit these guidelines for a diabetes-friendly diet. It takes these basic guidelines and drills down into the fine details, utilizing the latest recommendations from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as well as those offered by the American Diabetes Association. 

The tool takes the guesswork out of determining whether a recipe is okay for a diabetic or not. Read on to see a rough guide of how our search tool categorizes a recipe as “diabetes-friendly. 

What to Avoid

Certain foods should be avoided entirely, as they can have immediate adverse effects on your ability to manage your glucose. Our diabetes-friendly recipes will never include any of the following as an ingredient: 

  • bad fat—peanut oil, bacon, canola oil, lecithin, butter, animal lard, suet, safflower oil, canola and corn oils, sunflower oil, pastry dough (which is not a fat, but does contain a lot of fats), cream sofrito, margarine, shortening, trans fat, shortening, castor oil, grapeseed oil, nut oils
  • MSG
  • pasta
  • added sugar—granulated sugar, cane sugars, bakers sugar, confectioner's sugar, superfine sugar, cane crystals, yellow sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, refiner's syrup, raw sugar, table sugar, caster sugar, sugar cubes, frosting, ice creams, milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, whipped topping, syrups (corn, maple, brown rice, fructose), glucose, glucose solids, dextrose, diastatic malt, maltose, galactose, dextrose, dextran, dextrin, maltose, fructose,  sweetened condensed milk, packaged confections, packaged pastries.
  • pheasant
  • parsnip
  • chocolate
  • corn
  • alcohol
  • dates
  • banana
  • yam
  • carrot
  • beet
  • fatty poultry
  • consumer packaged ingredients (or prepared ingredients) that may contain added sugar, sodium, and preservatives. 

What to Limit

Carbohydrates. Your goal should be to limit your carb intake to between 45 and 65 percent of total calories per day. In other words, if you are consuming 2200 calories per day, no more than 1430 of that should come from carbohydrates.

In addition, you should aim to eat at least 130 grams of carbs every day, split evenly throughout the day.

To help you decided whether a recipe will help you stay on track, we’ve developed some useful guidelines:

Carb-friendly: less than or equal to 30g/serving

Low-carb: less than or equal to 15g/serving

Very low-carb: less than or equal to 3g/serving

Carbohydrate Choice System

To make things even easier, our recipe filter uses a point system, whereby every 15 grams of carbohydrates are worth 1 “carbohydrate choice.” The idea is that you can then determine how many carb choices you get per day, and “use” them as you like. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 large bagel= 60g carbs= 4 carb choices
  • 1 cob corn= 15g carbs= 1 carb choice
  • 1/3 cup pasta, cooked= 15g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1 cup cooked squash = 15g carbs= 1 carb choice
  • 1 apple, orange, peach = 15g carbs= 1 carb choice
  • 1/2 cup grapefruit or orange juice = 15g carbs= 1 carb choice
  • 1/4 cup raisins= 30g carbs= 2 carb choices
  • 1 cup milk= 15g carbs= 1 carb choice
  • 1 slice pizza, frozen, thick crust, medium=30g carbs= 2 carb choices
  • 1 doughnut= 30g carbs= 2 carb choices
  • 1 tbsp syrup= 15g carbs= 1 carb choice 

Certain foods are considered “free” and do not take up any carbohydrate choices. These include anything that is 5 grams or less of carbohydrate and fewer than 20 calories per serving, such as:

  • club soda
  • coffee
  • gelatin, sugar free
  • seasonings
  • soft drinks, diet
  • sugar substitutes
  • tea, hot or iced, unsweetened
  • water, plain or unsweetened

You can consume as much of these as you want every day. 

Our recipe search tool scours recipes across the web and gives them each a carb choice score. A diabetes-friendly recipe will always be between 0 and 3 carb choices (i.e., will have only between 0 and 45 grams of carbohydrates).

Other Considerations

Besides limiting carbs, you should be sure to also keep your diet low in saturated fat and low in sodium. Type 2 diabetics are at significantly higher risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease than the general population, so it is important to take these risks into consideration when planning meals. Our search tool includes these as a secondary consideration to the primary goal of limiting carb intake.

What to Include

Studies have shown that high fiber diets can improve your health and help manage diabetes. Our diabetes-friendly recipes tend to have higher amounts of soluble fibers (which come from ingredients like legumes, fruits, vegetables, oats, etc.). In fact, if a recipe has a significant amount of soluble fiber, our algorithm will actually subtract that fiber from the total carb count—in this way, we are helping to ensure that you reach your daily fiber goals:

Women: 25 grams of fiber per day

Men: 38 grams of fiber per day