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Healthy Eating for Diabetics

Contributed by Gloria Brien, RD, CDE and Jacqueline Roos, RD, CDE

Eating healthy is the first step in controlling diabetes. The following are some helpful tips for healthy eating.

healthy saladEat three meals a day

  • Eat your meals at the same time each day and do not skip meals

  • Eat about the same amount of food each day

  • The plate method is a good way to control your portions

    • One-half of your plate should be covered with low starch vegetables

    • One quarter of your plate should be covered with starchy foods

    • One quarter of your plate should be covered with protein. Include baked, broiled, or grilled lean meats, low fat cheeses, eggs, or vegetarian protein choices like beans and lentils, as part of your meal

    • Add a small glass of low fat milk and a piece of fruit, and your meal is complete!

illustration showing healthy balance of fruit, vegetables, bread, starch and dairy

Add low starch vegetables to your meals

  • Low starch vegetables are low in carbohydrate and high in fiber. Add vegetables to your meals for variety, and to help fill you up.
    Examples include:

Asparagus

Brussel Sprouts

Cauliflower

Green beans

Spinach

Yellow Squash

Beets

Cabbage

Celery

Lettuce

Tomato Juice

Broccoli

Carrots

Cucumbers

Onions

Tomatoes

Zucchini

Eat more fiber

  • Fiber can help slow down the rise in blood sugar following a meal. To get more fiber in your diet, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, choose whole grain bread/cereal and eat more beans or legumes.

healthy pasta saladControl your eating of carbohydrates

  • Carbohydrate is the main nutrient that affects blood sugar levels. When you eat a carbohydrate, it is turned into sugar by your body. Therefore, it is important to control the amount of carbohydrate that you eat each day.

  • Carbohydrates consist of sugars, starches, and fiber. Common sources of carbohydrates include:

    • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas)

    • Beans and lentils

    • Bread, cereal, pasta, rice

    • Milk, yogurt, pudding

    • Fruit and fruit juice

    • Desserts, candy, ice cream, doughnuts, sugar sweetened beverages

  • You should eat about 60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal. If you eat snacks, eat about 30 grams of carbohydrate at each snack. Read the Nutrition Facts label on the food package to find the Total Carbohydrate.

Limit your sweets

  • Eat less candy, desserts, pastries and jelly

  • Limit intake of fruit juice and drink sugar free beverages such as diet soda, water and unsweetened tea instead

  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar

Limit your use of alcohol

  • Drink alcohol only with permission of your doctor. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.

Eat less fat and lose weight if you are overweight

  • Most adults who have diabetes are overweight. Even a small amount of weight loss may help improve your blood sugar control.

  • Know what is on your plate (USDA PDF). Food choices and portions can make a big difference in your success with healthy diabetic eating and weight reduction.

  • To help lose weight, reduce your portion sizes and learn to build a healthy plate.

  • Reduce intake of fried food, bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, gravy, sour cream, cheese, egg yolks and margarine/butter.

A registered dietitian can help you create a diabetic meal plan that meets your lifestyle and health needs. For more information about eating healthy with diabetes, ask your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment for you to meet with a Registered Dietitian.

Learn More

Track Health (My HealtheVet)

Eat Right (American Dietetic Association)

Healthy Eating (My HealtheVet)

Physical Activity (My HealtheVet)