For people with diabetes, sticking to dietary guidelines can be just as important as proper insulin management. Eating right will play a crucial role in keeping your blood sugar level in check while you sleep, even if you use basal insulin before your evening meal.

Read on to learn how certain carbohydrates, processed foods, healthy fats, and beverages can affect you and your diabetes.


According to the Mayo Clinic, carbohydrate content has the biggest effect on your blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid carbs, but you should make an effort to choose high-fiber carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI) score. These foods take longer to digest and give you steady energy. Pair them with healthy fats and lean proteins so they absorb more slowly from your gut. This can help blunt their impact on your blood sugar.

Foods with a low GI score:

  • long-grain brown or converted rice
  • quinoa
  • whole wheat pasta
  • high-fiber sprouted grain bread
  • peas and legumes, such as beans
  • nonstarchy vegetables, such as green beans
  • leafy greens, such as kale, chard, and spinach
  • steel-cut oats (not instant)
  • grapefruit

Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested more quickly. They spike your blood sugar soon after you eat them, especially if you eat them by themselves. To keep this from happening, avoid refined carbs, such as white rice, white bread, pasta, and white potatoes.

Learn more: What is the glycemic index? »

Processed foods and hidden sugars

Processed foods, such as sugary desserts, boxed cereals, baked goods, and packaged meals, should be eliminated as much as possible when trying to stick to a healthy eating plan. These foods are filled with hidden sugars and can be detrimental to a person with diabetes.

If you have diabetes, reading food labels is key. Manufacturers are legally required to list ingredients on food labels in descending order by weight. So if you find a label with sugar as one of the top three ingredients, put it back. Look for a healthier alternative.

Remember, sugar can be disguised under many names. These are all forms of sugar:

  • high fructose corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • maltose
  • agave nectar
  • malt syrup

Make a list of hidden sugars and keep it in your wallet or purse to make your grocery shopping trips less confusing.

Keep reading: Understanding food nutrition labels »

Healthy fats and proteins

According to the American Heart Association, people with diabetes, particularly type 2, have a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Adding healthy fats is another step in maintaining normal blood sugar levels and decreasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Limiting saturated fat and avoiding trans fats is another way to prevent a stroke. These are found in red meat and whole milk dairy items.

Some healthy proteins include:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • sardines
  • mackerel
  • skinless poultry
  • tofu
  • beans and other legumes

Instead of frying your meat, try grilling, baking, broiling, or stir-frying. Also, cook with healthier oils, like olive oil, rather than saturated fat-laden lard or butter.

If you’re craving an after-dinner snack, eat a handful of nuts. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and have a negligible amount of carbohydrates, much of which is healthy fiber. Nuts also make a wonderful addition to breakfast foods, including oatmeal and high-fiber cereal. But pay special attention to the amount of sodium in your foods. A good rule of thumb is to aim for no more 2,300 mg of sodium a day.


Food normally takes center stage when dealing with diabetes, but beverages can also have a major effect on blood sugar.

According to the American Diabetes Association, one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 40 grams of carbohydrates. This is equal to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Try to omit soda, fruit punch, energy drinks, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks from your diet completely. To keep your blood sugar level within the desired range, choose from these healthier options instead:

  • water
  • unsweetened tea
  • flavored sparkling water
  • coffee
  • sugar-free drink mixes

Maintaining a proper diet to help manage your diabetes doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of boring, bland food. With a little ingenuity, you can create a food plan that is both healthy and satisfying.