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Nutrition Recommendations for People with Diabetes

People with diabetes have similar nutritional requirements to everyone else. However, eating well-balanced meals in the correct amounts helps to keep blood sugars in the goal range and helps to keep metabolism from becoming destructive. There isn’t one “diabetes diet.” Your doctor will probably suggest that you work with a registered dietitian to design a meal plan. A meal plan is a guide that tells you what kinds of food you can choose at meals and snack time and how much to have.

Diabetic Meal Plans

A healthy balanced meal plan is recommended for all patients with diabetes (both Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes). A balanced meal plan means that every meal has a recommended portion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each component is defined as follows:

  • Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in cakes, fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy foods and starchy foods such as breads. Try to have fresh fruits rather than canned fruits (unless they are packed in water or their own juice), fruit juices or dried fruit. Condiments such as nonfat mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard are also carbohydrates. Candy and cakes contain simple carbohydrates, and breads and starches contain complex carbohydrates.
  • Protein. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans and some vegetables. Poultry and fish have less cholesterol than red meat.
  • Fat. Butter, margarine, lard and oils add fat to food. Fat is also in many dairy and meat products. Fried foods, mayonnaise-based dishes (unless they are made with fat-free mayo), egg yolks, bacon and ice-cream have high levels of bad fats (saturated fats). Your doctor or dietitian will tell you how many grams of fat you may eat each day. When eating fat-free versions of foods (like mayonnaise and butter), check the label to see how many grams of carbohydrates they contain. Keep in mind that these products often have added sugar.

Guidelines for Diet Components

For most people with diabetes (and those without, too), a healthy diet consists of 40% to 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein and 30% or less from fat. Fiber and salt content are also important for your overall diet but are not specific to diabetes.  Each component is summarized as follows:

Carbohydrates: 40-60% of total calories per day

  • No longer a need to distinguish between simple sugar carbohydrates (sucrose) vs. complex carbohydrates (starch)
  • Sugar (or sucrose) may be substituted, in moderation, for other carbohydrates on a gram-for-gram basis (yes, you can still eat sugar!)

Fat: Limit total fat to 25%-35% of total calories per day. Of this:

  • Saturated fats less than 7%
  • Polyunsaturated fats up to 10%
  • Monounsaturated fats up to 20%
  • Cholesterol < 200 mg/day

Protein: 10-20% of total calories per day

Fiber: 20-30 gm per day

  • Both soluble and insoluble fiber
  • Use fiber from a wide variety of food sources.

Sodium Chloride:

  • If normal blood pressure: <2400-3000 mg/day
  • For mild to moderate high blood pressure: <2400 mg/day
  • For severe high blood pressure or kidney problems (nephropathy): <2000 mg/day

< stands for “less than”

For a complete position statement, refer to Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes, 2006, a position statement by the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care,Vol. 29, Supplement S4-S42, 2006.

For more information:

Go to the Diabetes health topic.