What should I eat?

People with diabetes should follow the same general guidelines as everyone else.

Eating the right kinds of foods in the right amounts can help you to control your diabetes. One way to ensure a healthy meal is the plate method.

You can use this method by:

  • Filling 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, carrots and green beans.
  • Filling 1/4 of your plate with protein foods (3-4 ounces of fish, poultry or lean meat).
  • Filling 1/4 of your plate with starchy carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or starchy vegetables.
  • Adding a small piece of fruit or 8 ounces of skim or low-fat milk, which are additional carbohydrate choices.
  • Using 1-2 teaspoons of heart-healthy vegetable oil or tub margarine.

For breakfast, fill 2 quarters of the plate but not the other half. For lunch and dinner, fill the entire plate.

When should I eat?

Eat 3 well-balanced meals per day. Meal times should be 4 to 6 hours apart. Try to avoid eating between meals unless a snack is included in your meal plan. DO NOT SKIP MEALS. Eating the same amount of food at the same time every day will prevent your blood glucose from going too high or too low.

Nutrition facts: Reading a food label

Use the following guidelines to make the food label more meaningful:

  • Start with the serving size. This information is printed on the food label.
  • Look at the "Total Fat" line. If this amount is 3 g or less, the food is considered low-fat. Please note that saturated fat is part of the total fat content and should be strictly limited. Talk to your registered dietitian to find out how much fat is right for you.
  • Look at the "Cholesterol" line. Your cholesterol intake for the day should be less than 200 mg.
  • Look at the "Sodium" line. If the number is less than 140 mg, the food is considered low in sodium. Limit your daily sodium intake to 2300 mg.
  • Look at the "Total Carbohydrate." This amount includes sugar, sugar alcohol, fiber, and other carbohydrates. Divide the total carbohydrate amount by 15 to calculate the number of carbohydrate choices in the serving. (See the handout "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar Control.")
  • Look at the "Protein" line. This amount will be important to you if you have kidney problems. Your dietitian can help determine how much protein is right for you.

The goal of nutrition therapy

The goal of nutrition therapy in diabetes is to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight based on Body Mass Index (BMI), to get blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible, and to attain optimal lipid (fat) levels in the blood. You should know your body mass index (BMI), which should be equal to or less than 25. Your doctor or dietitian can help you calculate your BMI.

Sizing up your portions

3 ounces of meat = Deck of cards

A medium apple or peach = Tennis ball

1 ounce of cheese = 4 stacked dice

½ cup of ice cream = Tennis ball

1 cup of broccoli = Your fist

1 teaspoon of butter or peanut butter = Your thumb

1 ounce of nuts or small candies = One handful

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/29/2013.

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