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What is diabetes?
If you have diabetes, your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from foods you eat. The cells of your body need glucose for energy. A hormone called insulin helps the glucose get into your cells.
With type 1 diabetes, your body doesn't make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in your blood and causes high blood sugar levels.
Prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. If you have prediabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
How do the foods I eat affect my blood sugar levels?
The sugar in your blood comes from certain foods called carbohydrates, or "carbs." Foods that are high in carbs include candy and sweets, sodas, breads, tortillas, and white rice. The more carbs you eat, the higher your blood sugar level will be.
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, making the right food choices is an important way to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. When you control your blood sugar, you lower your chance of having serious health problems from diabetes, such as vision loss and heart problems.
And if you have prediabetes or are at risk for diabetes, eating foods that keep your blood sugar levels healthy may help prevent type 2 diabetes later on.
What's the best diet for diabetes?
There isn't a specific diet or meal plan that works for everybody. Your health care provider may have you see a registered dietician (RD) or a diabetes educator who can help design the best eating plan for you. The plan will consider:
- Any medicines that you take
- Your weight
- Any other health conditions you have
- Your lifestyle and tastes
- Your goals
All eating plans for diabetes have a few things in common, including eating the right foods in the right amounts at the right times.
What foods should I eat if I have diabetes?
Eating the right foods for diabetes means eating a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oats
- Proteins, such as lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, and tofu
- Nonfat or low-fat dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
What foods should I limit to control my blood sugar?
To keep your blood sugar under control, you may need to cut back on foods and drinks that are high in carbs. This doesn't mean that you can never enjoy them. But you will need to have them less often or in smaller amounts.
The high-carb foods and drinks you should limit include:
- Sugary foods, such as candy, cookies, cake, ice cream, sweetened cereals, and canned fruits with added sugar
- Drinks with added sugars, such as juice, regular soda, and regular sports or energy drinks
- White rice, tortillas, breads and pasta - especially those made with white flour
- Starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, corn, and peas
You may also need to limit how much alcohol you drink, as well as how much fat and salt you eat.
What else do I need to know about diabetic diets?
If you have diabetes, it's important to eat the right amount of food every day. Your eating plan will include how much to eat, so that you get the right amount of carbs in each meal or snack. You'll learn how to count carbs and measure your food.
Eating at the right times is also important. You will want to plan for regular, balanced meals to avoid high or low blood sugar levels. Eating about the same amount of carbs at each meal can be helpful.
Your eating plan will also teach you how to stick with your plan at home and when you eat out.
Eating healthy to control your blood sugar does take some effort. But the reward is a chance to live your healthiest life with diabetes.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- Diabetes and Nutrition (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Eat Well (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- How an RDN Can Help with Diabetes (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Recipes & Nutrition (American Diabetes Association)
- Tasty Recipes for People with Diabetes and Their Families (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- Carb Counting and Diabetes (American Diabetes Association)
- Diabetes and Your Diet (American Heart Association)
- Meal Planning (American Diabetes Association)
- Diabetes and Dietary Supplements (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes Nutrition: Eating Out when You Have Diabetes (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Making Sense of Food Labels (American Diabetes Association)
- Reading Food Labels: Tips If You Have Diabetes (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Vegetarian Diet: Can It Help Me Control My Diabetes? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes and Cultural Foods (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes Diet, Eating, and Physical Activity (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes Nutrition: Including Sweets in Your Meal Plan (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes Superstar Foods (American Diabetes Association)
- Fiber: The Carb that Helps You Manage Diabetes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Healthy Food Choices Made Easy (American Diabetes Association)
- Non-Starchy Vegetables (American Diabetes Association)
- Protein (American Diabetes Association)
- Understanding Carbohydrates: Get Smart on Carbs (American Diabetes Association)
Health Check Tools
- MyFoodAdvisor (American Diabetes Association)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Diabetic Diet (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Low-Glycemic Index Diets as an Intervention in Metabolic Diseases: A Systematic...
- Article: 'Old Is Gold': How Traditional Indian Dietary Practices Can Support Pediatric...
- Article: Nutrition in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: Present Knowledge and Remaining...
- Diabetic Diet -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- American Diabetes Association
- Find a Diabetes Educator (Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists)
- Find a Nutrition Expert (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- NIDDK Information Clearinghouses and Health Information Center (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
- Counting carbohydrates (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Diabetes type 2 - meal planning (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Glycemic index and diabetes (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Snacking when you have diabetes (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Sweeteners - sugar substitutes (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish