Medical News Today: Diabetic diet: Quick recipe ideas and healthful meal plans

A diabetic diet is a way of eating healthily and choosing the best foods to manage the symptoms of diabetes.

Healthy eating is also one of the most important factors in preventing the development of diabetes.

A healthful diabetic diet includes foods that are rich in nutrients, low in unhealthy fats and calories, and that manage carbohydrates.

It also involves carefully planning meal times and exercising portion control. This helps people with diabetes to manage their symptoms, avoid complications of diabetes, and enjoy a better quality of life.

Contents of this article:

  1. Why diet is important for diabetes
  2. Foods to eat and foods to avoid
  3. What to drink
  4. Meal planning methods
  5. Meal timing and portion control
  6. Five day menu plan

Why diet is important for diabetes


For people with diabetes, if glucose is not carefully monitored it may increase the risk of stroke, vision loss and kidney failure.

Eating the right foods is one of the primary ways of regulating blood sugar, or glucose, levels.

Glucose is the main source of energy for the body, and it comes from carbohydrate in our foods. When blood glucose levels rise, the hormone insulin is released from the pancreas into the bloodstream. This helps the body use glucose effectively.

People with type 1 diabetes don't make enough insulin and those with type 2 are unable to use insulin properly.

If not carefully monitored and managed, this can allow glucose to build up in the blood. This increases the risk of:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • vision loss
  • kidney failure
  • amputation of the feet and toes

Healthy eating also helps with weight management and reduces the risk of heart disease. Both of these things are linked to diabetes.

Foods to eat and foods to avoid

It's possible to include most foods in a diabetic diet, although some need to be eaten sparingly or in moderation. Some foods can be considered "diabetes superfoods". This is because they are rich in important vitamins and minerals, along with fiber and have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels.

Foods to eat regularly

The American Diabetes Association lists their top 10 superfoods as:

  • beans
  • berries
  • citrus fruit
  • dark green, leafy vegetables
  • fat-free dairy, such as yogurt
  • fish, not fried or breaded
  • nuts and seeds
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • whole grains

Other foods to enjoy regularly include:

  • avocados
  • eggs
  • fruits
  • lean meat and poultry
  • olives and olive oil
  • fofu and tempeh
  • vegetables

Foods to eat sparingly or not at all


It is recommended to limit the intake of deep-fried, fatty, and processed foods.

Several foods should be limited on a diabetic diet, especially those high in sodium and fats. These increase the risk of heart disease. This is of particular concern for those with diabetes.

Examples include:

  • fatty and processed meats
  • high-fat dairy products
  • processed snacks and foods
  • deep-fried foods
  • baked goods
  • high-sodium and salty foods
  • refined grains, such as in white bread

In addition, it's important to moderate the intake of carbohydrates, even from healthy food sources. This is because carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to rise if eaten in large quantities.

What to drink

Food isn't the only concern when it comes to planning a healthful diabetic diet. Drinks also play a role in affecting blood glucose levels.

Non-alcoholic drinks

The best non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy are:

  • still or sparkling water
  • black tea
  • herbal teas
  • water infused with fruits and herbs

Other drink options that can be enjoyed in moderation include:

  • coffee
  • fruit juice

If drinking fruit juice this should be in quantities of 4 ounces or less and the carbohydrate amount this equates to should be kept in mind.

It is best to avoid regular sodas, energy drinks, and other sweetened beverages. Diet sodas should also be avoided as they have been shown to increase sugar cravings, and can still cause an insulin response.

It's always a good idea to check blood sugar levels to see how your body responds to different foods and drinks.

Alcoholic drinks

Most people with diabetes can enjoy alcohol in moderation. That means a maximum of 1 drink per day for women, or 2 for men.

It is not advisable to drink on an empty stomach, or when blood glucose is low. It is a good idea to try to only drink alcohol with a meal, and take some alcohol-free days every week.

Meal planning methods

It may be helpful to see a registered dietitian for help planning meals, as there are a different ways to do so. The most popular methods are:

Plate method

This method helps with portion control, and works best for lunch and dinner. It involves using a 9-inch plate as follows:

  • approximately 50 percent of the plate has non-starchy vegetables
  • 25 percent has a protein food
  • 25 percent has whole grains and starchy vegetables
  • include a serving of fruit or dairy

Non-starchy vegetables include:

  • leafy greens
  • peppers
  • tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • cucumber
  • asparagus

Starchy vegetables include:

  • potatoes
  • peas
  • sweet potatoes
  • winter squash.
  • corn

Protein sources are eggs, fish, meat, tofu, and beans.

Counting carbohydrates


Healthful carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, and legumes.

This involves tracking daily carbohydrate intake to manage blood glucose levels. It can be useful for those who take insulin, as it may inform how much insulin is needed.

The amount of carbohydrates required varies for each person, depending on their activity levels and medication use.

Healthful sources of carbohydrates are:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • low-fat milk.

Limit or avoid carbohydrates from refined grains and sugary foods.

Exchange lists system

The exchange lists system groups foods together in different categories based on similar amounts of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories.

All choices on each list are equal and so can be exchanged for any other food on the same list.

Glycemic index (GI)

Under this system, foods are ranked according to their effect on blood sugar. People who follow this method should generally choose their foods based on those with the lowest GI score, and avoid those with the highest.

Meal timing and portion control

Well-timed meals and portion control are both important parts of any healthy eating plan for diabetes.

Having three meals a day and two snacks, at regular intervals, helps the body regulate its use of insulin. This is especially important for those taking diabetes medications.

Research suggests people taking fixed daily insulin doses experience better blood sugar control if they time and monitor their carbohydrate intake.

Five day menu plan

The following sample meal plan is suitable for those on a 1,400-1,500 calorie diet. It is based on 3 meals and 2 snacks daily.

People can change quantities or eat additional snacks if they need to increase calorie intake. This should be based on specific needs and goals.

As well as the food from the sample menus, people trying this plan may have unlimited quantities of water or unsweetened herbal teas.

Day 1

Breakfast

Make a porridge, mixing together:

  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup fat-free milk or dairy-free alternative

Lunch

Make a salad by combining:

  • 3 ounces tuna (no added salt)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup green olives
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mixed seeds

Serve with 1 slice wholegrain bread.

Dinner

Make a healthful chicken dish, including:

  • baked chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup beans of choice
  • 1 cup dark leafy greens
  • chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat salad dressing

Snacks

Try making your own snacks, such as:

  • 1 apple and 2 tablespoons unsalted nut butter
  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn with herbs or spices

Day 2

Breakfast

  • whole-wheat English muffin with 1 tablespoon unsalted nut butter
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup fat-free milk or dairy-free alternative

Lunch

Make a salad by combining:

  • 2 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • 1/2 cup beans of choice
  • 1 ounce reduced-fat cheese

For a sweet thing after, have a nectarine. Or you could try adding it to the salad.

Dinner

Make a healthful salmon dish, including:

  • 3 ounces foil-baked salmon with herbs
  • 1 cup non-starchy vegetables
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato
  • drizzled with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Snacks

For today's snacks, try mixing your own nut and berry yogurt:

  • 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
  • 2 chopped Brazil nuts
  • 6 ounces fat-free yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 8 almonds

Day 3

Breakfast

Make tasty avocado and egg on toast:

  • 1 slice whole-grain rye bread
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 1 poached egg

Serve with an apple and 1 cup fat-free milk or dairy-free alternative.

Lunch

Make a round of sandwiches, with:

  • 2 slices rye bread
  • 3 slices turkey
  • 1 cup leafy greens
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • and mustard

Dinner

Try making a healthful stir-fry, with:

  • 5 ounces tempeh or tofu, stir-fried
  • 2 cups non-starchy vegetables of choice
  • 2 tablespoons reduced sodium sauce

Serve with 3/4 cup brown or wild rice, cooked separately.

Snacks

Snack on:

  • 1 orange and 10 almonds
  • 6 ounces fat-free yogurt and 1 cup blueberries

Day 4

Breakfast

Make a classic bagel:

  • 1/2 whole-grain bagel
  • 1 tablespoon low fat cream cheese
  • 2 ounces smoked salmon

Serve with a drink of 1 cup fat-free milk or dairy-free alternative.

Lunch

  • veggie burger in whole-grain bun
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • sliced tomato
  • 1/2 cup lettuce leaves

After the burger, have a peach for dessert.

Dinner

Make a healthful seafood and rice salad:

  • 3 ounces grilled shrimps
  • 1/3 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 2 cups salad greens
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat salad dressing

Serve with 1 slice of rye bread.

Snacks

For snacks, try:

  • 1 apple and 2 tablespoons unsalted nut butter
  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn with herbs or spices

Day 5

Breakfast

Try making healthful granola with:

  • 1/3 cup granola
  • 6 ounces fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • ground cinnamon

Lunch

Make a mexican-inspired wrap, using:

  • corn tortilla with 1/2 cup black beans
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cheese
  • 1 cup leafy greens
  • 1 tomato

Dinner

Stir-fry a healthful chicken and rice dish using:

  • 3 ounces chicken
  • 2 cups non-starchy vegetables of choice
  • 2 tablespoons reduced sodium sauce

Served with 3/4 cup of brown or wild rice.

Snacks

For today's snacks, try:

  • 1 orange and 10 almonds
  • 6 ounces plain fat-free, or low-fat yogurt and 1 cup blueberries
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