Diabetes Nutrition Guidelines

Eating right is essential to the treatment and management of diabetes. While people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes 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, enables the body’s cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar). In a person with diabetes, the cells do not respond properly to insulin. Or, in some cases, the body simply does not produce any or enough insulin to properly manage blood sugar levels. The result is that blood glucose levels become abnormally high and can cause serious complications in the body.

To limit damages, it is beneficial for people to learn how to manage their carbohydrate intake so that they can best manage their blood glucose levels.

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 help stabilize your blood sugar levels, make managing diabetes easier, and limit your risk for the various complications caused by poorly glucose absorption.

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

Read on to see a rough guide of how you can recognize a recipe as diabetes-friendly. 

What to Limit

Certain foods should be limited as much as possible, 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: man-made fats (also called trans fats) found in some prepared and processed foods. Listed as hydrogenated fats on a label, these are best avoided or limited to under 2 grams per day.
  • added sugar: While people with diabetes can have sugar, foods with added sugar are generally high in quick digesting carbs and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Added sugar may be found in or listed on the ingredient list as: granulated sugar, cane sugar, bakers sugar, confectioners sugar, superfine sugar, can crystals, yellow sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, refiners 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, dextran, dextrin, maltose, fructose, sweetened condensed milk, packaged confections or packaged pastries.
  • consumer packaged ingredients (or prepared ingredients): these may contain added sugar, sodium, and preservatives. These often digest quickly and may contain trans fats. 

What to Manage

Your dietitian or diabetes educator should give you an idea of how many carbohydrates you should eat at each meal and snack. A general rule of thumb is 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. Carb intake is also measured in grams. Be sure to know your target amount of carb grams for each meal and snack.

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 30 g/serving

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

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

Carbohydrate Choice System

To make things even easier, we've created "carbohydrate choice." Which means 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 or spend them as you like. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 large bagel = 60 g carbs = 4 carb choices
  • 1 cob corn = 15 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1/3 cup pasta, cooked = 15 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1 cup cooked squash = 15 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • standard size, 4 oz apple, orange, peach = 15 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1/2 cup grapefruit or orange juice = 15 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1/4 cup raisins = 30 g carbs = 2 carb choices
  • 1 cup milk = 12 g carbs = 1 carb choice
  • 1 slice pizza, frozen, thick crust, medium = 30 g carbs = 2 carb choices
  • 1 standard size doughnut = 30 g carbs = 2 carb choices
  • 1 tbsp syrup = 15 g 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.

Other Considerations

Besides managing carbs, you should be sure to also keep your diet low in saturated fat and low in sodium. People with diabetes 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.

What to Include

Studies have shown that high-fiber diets can improve your health and help manage diabetes. Make sure your diet Contains higher amounts of soluble fibers (which come from ingredients like legumes, fruits, vegetables, oats, etc.). Try to reach these daily fiber goals:

Women: 25 grams of fiber per day

Men: 38 grams of fiber per day

And check out our diabetic friendly grocery list and seven dinner recipes just for you!