Diabetes Meal Planning 101: Tips for a Balanced Diet

Diabetes meal planning starts with eating a well-balanced diet that includes carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fat.

Carbs are found in starches, fruit, vegetables, milk, yogurt, and sweets. They turn into sugar (glucose) in the body. The body needs carbs for energy. Therefore, it’s important to eat,

Eating too many carbs can raise blood glucose levels too high, but it’s important not to cut out these foods completely. Eating too few carbs may cause your blood glucose to go too low. Therefore, it’s important to eat.

A moderate amount of carbs at each meal, combined with a balanced intake of protein and fat, helps your blood glucose stay in a healthy range.

The number of servings for people with diabetes is:

  • Women with diabetes should have about three to four carb choices per meal.
  • Men with diabetes should have about four to five carb choices per meal.
  • Both men and women can have one to two carb choices for an evening snack.

Use these Eat Smart: Picture Your Plate guidelines for healthy meal planning and portion control.

Healthy Eating Tips for People with Diabetes

  • Eat three well-balanced meals a day and a small snack at night. Each meal should contain both carbs and protein. When planning meals, select a variety of foods from each food group and watch your portion sizes.
  • Do not skip meals. It’s best to space meals four to five hours apart.
  • Increase your fiber intake. Choose whole grain breads and cereals. Eat plenty of vegetables and choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices. When you look at food labels, look for products that contain at least three grams of fiber per serving.
  • Reduce fat intake by baking, broiling, and grilling your low-fat foods.
  • Stay active. Your blood glucose level will improve if you keep active. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise or walking program.
  • Lose weight. If you’re overweight, losing weight gradually — even a small amount (five to 10 pounds) — can help improve your blood glucose level.
  • Check with your doctor or dietitian about alcohol intake if you’re taking medicine for your diabetes.
  • Read “Nutrition Facts” labels. Sugar-free products may still contain carbs.

Limit your intake and portion sizes of these high-sugar foods to two or three times a week or less:

  • Cakes, pies, and cookies
  • Candy
  • Jelly, jam, and preserves
  • Regular ice cream, sherbet, regular and frozen yogurt, fruit ices, and popsicles
  • Sugar coated cereals, granola, breakfast or snack bars
  • Dried fruit, fruit roll-ups, candied fruit
  • Iced sweet breads, coffee cakes, breakfast rolls, and donuts

Avoid the following:

  • Table sugar, honey, molasses, and syrup
  • Regular soft drinks, fruit drinks (canned or concentrated), and drink mixes with sugar added
  • Milkshakes, chocolate milk, and hot cocoa mix
  • Canned fruits with heavy syrup

Diabetes Meal Plan: Foods to Choose

Starches

One serving = 15 grams of carbs.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Whole-grain breads, rolls, muffins, or bagels
  • Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, noodles
  • Oatmeal and bran cereals
  • Starchy vegetables (peas, corn, Lima beans, and potatoes)
  • Dried beans (kidney beans, lentils, baked beans)
  • Soup (broth and cream style)
  • Popcorn, pretzels, graham crackers, and vanilla wafers
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 small roll or muffin
  • 1/2 bun
  • 1/2 small bagel or English muffin
  • 1/3 cup of cooked pasta, rice, or baked beans
  • 1/2 cup hot or ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup starchy vegetables
  • 4 large or 6 small crackers
  • 1 cup of soup
  • 3 cups of popcorn
  • 3 graham cracker squares
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, dry cereal
  • 3 cups light or low-fat popcorn

Fruits

One serving = 15 grams of carbs.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Fresh fruit
  • Unsweetened fruit juice
  • Canned fruit in natural juice or water
  • 1/2 cup water-packed fruit
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 1 small piece of fruit (size of a tennis ball)
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 cup fresh fruit

Vegetables (non-starchy)

One serving = 5 grams of carbs. Eat a minimum of two to three servings per day.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Any cooked or raw non-starchy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw vegetables

Milk and dairy

One serving = 12 grams of carbs.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Low-fat buttermilk
  • Lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk
  • Plain soy milk
  • Light yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 ounces light yogurt

Sweets, desserts, and other carbs

One serving = 15 grams of carbs.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Sugar-free pudding, custard, low fat ice cream, or sherbet
  • Small cookies
  • Frozen juice bar
  • Gingersnaps or small sugar-free cookies
  • 1/2 cup sugar free dessert
  • 2 to 3 small cookies
  • 2-inch square piece of cake
  • 1/8 of 9-inch pie
  • 1/2 to 1 small ice cream bar

Protein, Fats, and Other Foods for Diabetics

Protein: meat and meat substitutes

One serving = 0 grams of carbs.

Recommended number of servings:

  • Breakfast = 0 to one serving (1 ounce)
  • Lunch and dinner = three servings (3 ounces) for women and four servings (4 ounces) for men. Three ounces of meat is roughly equal to the size of a deck of cards
Foods to choose Servings
  • Lean meat, skinless poultry, fish
  • Eggs, egg substitutes
  • Low-fat cheese, cottage cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Tofu
  • Dried beans
  • 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup tuna fish or cottage cheese
  • 1 slice of cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

Fats

One serving = 0 grams of carbs. Eat one to two servings per meal.

Foods to choose Servings
  • Margarine
  • Canola or olive oil
  • Light mayonnaise
  • Reduced-fat salad dressing
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese and sour cream
  • Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans
  • 1 teaspoon oil, margarine, butter, or mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons gravy
  • 1 tablespoon light mayo or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat dressing
  • 6 to 10 nuts

Other food and drink choices for a diabetes meal plan

Eat three servings per day.

Unlimited foods and drinks Limited foods: 1 piece or 1 tablespoon
  • Sugar-free popsicles
  • Sugar-free Jell-o®
  • Diet soda, diet club soda
  • Sugar-free drink mixes
  • Regular or decaf coffee and tea
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar-free hard candy and gum
  • Low-sugar jelly
  • Light syrup
  • Whipped topping
  • Fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 cup raw vegetables

Sample Menu for a Diabetes Diet

Breakfast
  • 1/2 medium banana = 1 carb
  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal = 1 carb
  • 1 slice whole-wheat toast = 1 carb
  • 1 scrambled egg or egg substitute = 1 protein
  • 1 teaspoon margarine = 1 fat, and sugar-free jelly
  • 1 cup milk (skim or 1 percent) = 1 carb
  • Coffee or tea
  • Artificial sweetener
Lunch
  • Turkey sandwich: 2 slices whole wheat bread = 2 carbs. 3 ounces of turkey = 3 proteins Lettuce and tomato = free vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise = 1 fat
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding = 1 carb
  • 1 apple = 1 carb
  • Unsweetened iced tea with lemon
  • Artificial sweetener
Dinner
  • 3 ounces of sliced roast beef = 3 proteins
  • 1 cup whipped potatoes = 2 carbs
  • 1 teaspoon margarine = 1 fat
  • 1/2 cup corn = 1 carb
  • 1/2 cup broccoli = free vegetable
  • Tossed salad = free vegetable. 2 tablespoons reduced-fat salad dressing = 1 fat
  • 1/2 cup peaches packed in own juices = 1 carb
  • Coffee or tea
  • Artificial sweetener
Snack
  • 6 ounces of light yogurt = 1 carb

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