Diabetes Dietary Guidelines: How to Eat with Diabetes?

by admin

“What kinds of food can I eat?”

“How much of that can I have?”

People with diabetes often ask these dietary questions during consultations. What dietary guidelines should they follow? Should they avoid rice and fruits? Are there some other dietary habits that they should develop? Let’s look into some dietary guidelines for people with diabetes!

Diabetes Dietary Tips & Food Groups

People living with diabetes often wonder what they can eat and if having certain food will lead to a blood sugar spike. However, people with diabetes can in fact enjoy delicious meals if the following are kept in mind during meal planning:

  1. Portion control
  2. Meal frequency
  3. Food substitution
  4. Calorie management
  5. Balanced meals

A balanced diet includes the following:

    1. Vegetables
    2. Fruits
    3. Whole grains
    4. Preferably lean proteins, such as beans, fish, eggs, and meat
    5. Dairy, dairy alternatives, and other reduced fats

Each group provides different nutrients, so having a wide variety of food ensures balanced intake of nutrients.

For portion control, it’s best to discuss with your healthcare provider to better understand what your ideal portions of different food groups are since everyone’s daily caloric needs and health conditions differ. 

By following your dietitian’s advice on balanced diet and portion control and doctor’s medication instructions, you will be able to keep your blood sugar levels within the target range.

3 Food Groups That Are High in Carbs

Among the aforementioned five major food groups, there are three of them with high carbs of which people with diabetes need to be mindful.

These are whole grains, fruits, and dairy products. Food under these groups are carbohydrate-rich foods that directly affect blood sugar levels. It’s therefore important to keep track of how much of these you consume closely.

Whole Grains and Cereals

This group is commonly referred to as “carbs” or “staches” and includes:

  • Refined carbs: white rice, toast, noodles, bread, and pasta
  • Unrefined carbs: oats, brown rice, quinoa, multigrain rice, red beans, and green beans.

People with diabetes should choose unrefined carbs, which are higher in fibers and vitamin B compared to refined carbs. Aside from having more nutritional value, they also have a lower glycemic index (GI), which is better for stabilization of blood sugar levels. 

Note that people often take foods like pumpkin, yams, potatoes, and corn as side dishes. However, some dietary guidelines actually classify them as grains or starchy food since they are high in starch.

When consuming these as side dishes, adjust the portion of your main carbs accordingly. For example, if your meal includes both rice and corn, reduce the amount of rice to avoid excessive carb intake.

While it’s important to monitor carbohydrate intake, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid it completely. Unrefined carbs, or complex carbohydrates, that haven’t been ground into flour release digest slowly, resulting in stable blood sugar. As a result, having moderate amounts of whole, unprocessed carbs can facilitate blood sugar management.


All fruits contain fructose that can raise blood sugar levels; however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have them at all. Fruits are rich in fiber and vitamin C, which help boost the immune system. It’s recommended for people with diabetes to choose fruits with a lower GI and limit intake to 1-2 servings per day, with one serving being about the size of a baseball. 

One serving of fruit = one baseball-sized portion = 1/3 of a guava = one small apple.

Dairy Products

Lactose in dairy products can also lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. Whether it’s milk or other dairy products like yogurt or lattes, even if they don’t have added sugar, you should measure and control your portion size. It’s advised to consume 1 – 2 servings per day.

One serving of diary = 240 ml of milk = 3 tablespoon of milk powder = 240 ml of unsweetened yogurt = 120 ml of sweetened yogurt

Diabetes Dietary Guidelines

  1. Understand food substitution: Control the amount of carbohydrates in each meal.
  2. Choose vegetables over carbs: Including high-fiber vegetables in your meal helps stabilize your blood sugar levels
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight: Overweight individuals who lose more than 5 – 10% of their body weight can improve their diabetes condition. Those in the pre-diabetes stage may have the chance to reverse it with proper weight management.
  4. Eat regularly and control portions: Develop the habit of eating regularly, measured meals. 
  5. Choose high-fiber foods: These include unprocessed beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, such as oats and brown rice.
  6. Reduce consumption of high-fat or fried foods: Avoid fried, deep-fried, or greasy foods.
  7. Avoid refined carbs: Avoid or limit consumption of refined carbs like candies, condensed milk, honey, soda, juices, canned fruits, crackers, etc. 
  8. Manage salt intake: The recommended daily intake of salt is 2,300 – 2,400 mg (approximately 6 g of salt) per day. In addition, reduce the use of seasonings with too much sodium and avoid salty, heavily seasoned processed foods. 
  9. Always stay hydrated: Drink 1,500 – 2,000 ml of water every day.
  10. Minimize alcohol consumption: If you must drink, adhere to the daily limits: 2 drinks per day for male, 1 drink per day for female.

1 drink = 15 g of alcohol = 360 ml beer = 150 ml brewed wine = 45 ml distilled spirits

Common Questions About Eating With Diabetes

Question 1: How to Eyeball/Estimate Portion of Foods

You can easily measure servings of foods with items you’ll find in the kitchen or your hands:

  • 1 serving of vegetables ≒ 2 fists
  • 1 serving of carbs ≒ 1/4 bowl (1 bowl is about 300 ml)
  • 1 serving of fruit ≒ the size of a woman’s fist
  • 1 serving of dairy ≒ 1 mug
  • 1 serving of beans, fish, meat, and eggs (proteins) ≒ the size and thickness of half your palm
  • 1 serving of reduced fats like nuts ≒ the first joint of your index finger

Question 2: What’s the Advised Order to Eat?

The order in which you eat different groups of food can also affect how your blood sugar levels fluctuate. Here’s a recommended eating order for people with diabetes. 

1. Start with high-fiber, vegetables with low GI

Consuming an array of vegetables not only help regulate bowel movements but also increases satiety and effectively slows down the increase in blood sugar.

2. Next comes protein rich foods like beans, fish, meat, and eggs

Proteins are digested more slowly and can help you feel full faster. Choose low-fat options rich in unsaturated fats, such as fish, tofu, and chicken.

3. Finally, eat whole grains, starchy foods.

It’s recommended to choose fiber-rich carbs like brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole wheat bread, and sweet potatoes with skin. These choices have lower GI, making you feel full longer and slowing the rise in blood sugar.

Question 3: Should I Graze or Not?

Grazing is a type of eating pattern involving having small, frequent meals rather than three large meals per day.

Many have debated on whether grazing is a better for people with diabetes. In theory, if you eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than big ones, the blood sugar spike after your meal should be much lower and your body will not have to produce much insulin.

However, people who lose track of their calorie intake might end up eating more than they should when gazing. As a result, it’s advised to consult your healthcare team and dietitians and follow regular meal plans to stabilize your blood sugar levels. 

At the same time, you can also monitor your blood sugar to understand the effects of dietary changes on your blood sugar levels. If you don’t usually monitor your blood sugar, start by measuring it three times a week, doing it at different times (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to test blood sugar before and after meals.

In the end, the most important thing is to maintain a balanced diet with the five major food groups mentioned above, do portion control, and follow the dietary guidelines. This way, you will not only be able to enjoy delicious meals but also make sure your blood sugar levels are in the target range.

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