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Eating Well with Type 2 Diabetes

Nutrition Know-How

When you have diabetes, your diet plays a key role in controlling your blood sugar levels. SparkPeople strongly encourages everyone with diabetes to meet with a Registered Dietitian or a Certified Diabetes Educator in their area. These health professionals can assess your individual nutritional needs and develop a specific plan to meet your physical needs, work schedule and activities, medication schedule, health goals, tastes and lifestyle. You should not alter your diabetes management plan without discussing your options with your health care provider. With all this in mind, SparkPeople will still be a great resource for you. Use this article to review key points for eating with type 2 diabetes. Note: SparkPeople does offer meal plans designed for people with diabetes. Click here to learn more.

Carbohydrate Basics
Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source. During digestion, sugar (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood sugar (glucose). If you consume too much carbohydrate-rich foods at one time, your blood sugar levels may raise too high, which can be problematic.

Carbohydrates are found in cereals and grains, fruits and fruit juices, milk and yogurt, and sweets. Because they are important sources of energy, it's important to include nutritious carbohydrates at each meal and snack. But keep in mind that the healthiest carbohydrate choices are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, and low-fat dairy products.

Portion Control
Portion control is a problem for many people, but for individuals with type 2 diabetes it becomes even more important—especially when concerning carbohydrates. About half (50%) of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates--even when you have diabetes. A general recommendation is to eat about 2-3 carbohydrate servings (30-45 grams) at each meal for women and 3-4 carbohydrate servings (45-60 grams) at each meal for men. Both men and women should limit carbohydrates at snacktime to 1-2 carbohydrate servings (15-30 grams). Click here for a detailed, printable chart that shows single (15-gram) servings of carbohydrate-containing foods

Your healthcare professional will help you determine the ideal carbohydrate range that is right for you each day. If this number differs from SparkPeople's Spark*D nutrition recommendations, that's OK; follow your practitioner's advice. Note and memorize your mealtime and daily carbohydrate goals, and use SparkPeople's detailed and free Nutrition Tracker to track your foods. Even if our recommendations are different, you'll still be able to see how many carbs you're eating during every meal and snack, which will be helpful in your diabetes management.

Other Important Eating Strategies
When it comes to controlling your blood sugar, when and what you eat with your carbohydrates is just as important as the type and amount of carbohydrates you consume. Here are some other important eating strategies for type 2 diabetics:

1. Space your meals evenly. Evenly spacing out your meals and snacks throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. General guidelines say to wait at least 2 hours (but no more than 5 hours) between meals and snacks during the day. Eating at regular intervals will help to prevent your blood sugar level from going either too high or too low. You can set-up your SparkPeople Nutrition Tracker with as many meals and snacks as you'd like, using the eating schedule provided by your health care professional.  When you track your foods, you'll see your carbohydrate totals (plus calorie, protein and fat) for each meal and snack you eat throughout the day.

2. Consider adding a little lean protein to every meal and snack. Small portions of protein do not  raise blood sugar levels. They may help slow down the rate at which carbohydrates are digested, and typically help you feel full longer. The amount of protein you need should be determined by your health care professional. Protein sources include foods like meat (such as beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, deli meats, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and turkey) and meat alternatives (such as eggs, egg substitutes, peanut butter, nuts and tofu). Cheeses and cottage cheese are also protein sources but are sometimes categorized as calcium sources. When evaluating your SparkDiet for protein and carbohydrate balance, just remember that meat, meat alternatives and cheese all count as protein sources.

Your health care professional will help you determine how many grams of protein are right for you each day. If this number differs from SparkPeople's recommendations, you'll need to adjust your Nutrition Tracker to help you better monitor your intake. To make necessary changes follow these easy steps:
  • Make sure you're logged in and go to your Nutrition Tracker. At the bottom of the page under "Tools and Settings", click the link that says "Edit Nutrition Goals." Click the "edit" button next to SparkPeople's protein recommendation. Change this range to reflect the protein recommendations from your health care provider. Click "save" at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click "Save your changes" to return to your newly updated Nutrition Tracker.

3. Eat healthy fats in moderation. Fats are an important part of a well-balanced diet. Like protein, eating fats along with carbohydrates can help curb hunger. Fats are found in things like margarine, butter, shortening, cream cheese, gravy, mayonnaise, nuts, seeds, oil, salad dressings, and sour cream. While it is important that you include some fat in your meals and snacks, it is equally as important that you make wise choices about the type and amount that you consume. When you have diabetes, you are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke because diabetes can accelerate the development of clogged and hardened arteries. That is why heart-healthy eating should also be a part of your diabetes diet. Use the following guidelines when making fat selections:
  • Eat fats in moderation. Your total fat intake should make up no more than 30% of your calories daily—that's about 60 grams of fat for someone who eats 1,800 calories each day. (Your SparkDiet and Nutrition Tracker already reflect this guideline.)
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat to no more than 7% of your daily calories—that's approximately 14 grams for an 1,800-calorie diet. The following steps will help you adjust your Nutrition Tracker:
    • Make sure you're logged in and go to your Nutrition Tracker. Near the bottom of the page under "Tools and Settings", click the link that says "Edit Nutrition Goals." Click the "Add another nutrient to track" button near the bottom. Select "Fatty acids, total saturated" from the drop-down list. Change the pre-selected range to reflect the saturated fat recommendations from your health care provider. Click "save" at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click "Save your changes" to return to your newly updated Nutrition Tracker.
  • Avoid artery-clogging trans fats as much as possible.
  • When you do consume fat, choose heart-healthy fats that are monounsaturated (such as olive and canola oils) and/or polyunsaturated (found in nuts and seeds). Consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily. (Your SparkDiet and Nutrition Tracker already reflect these guidelines.)
4. Fill up on fiber. Eating fiber-rich foods at meals and snacks can also help keep your blood sugars stabilized because it slows the rate at which carbohydrates are digested. Dietary fiber comes from parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. There are actually two different types of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber (found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables) increases the movement of material through your digestive system. Soluble fiber (found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium) is more important for diabetics. It dissolves in water to form a gel-like material and can help lower cholesterol levels. Ingestion of large amounts of soluble fiber (approximately 50 grams) appears to improve blood glucose levels. However, it is unknown if regularly consuming that much fiber each day is realistic for most people.  Currently, there are no clinical practice recommendations that suggest people with diabetes should consume more daily fiber than the general public. SparkPeople recommends 25-35 grams of fiber daily, and your Nutrition Tracker already reflects this.

5. Take advantage of “free foods.”Certain foods do not tend to raise blood sugar levels and can be used to help “fill in” your meal plan with little worry about their blood sugar affects. Examples of these foods include:
  • Non-starchy vegetables, including asparagus, green and wax beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, greens, lettuce, onions, pea pods, peppers, radishes, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, and zucchini. These tend to be better choices for diabetics than starchy vegetables.
  • Foods like club soda, artificially-sweetened coffee and tea, diet soda, sugar-free gelatin, seasonings, sugar substitutes and non-dairy creamer have few carbohydrates and calories and are usually considered “free” foods that you do not have to count in your meal plan.
Meal Planning: Putting It All Together
If you have diabetes, SparkPeople highly recommends that you work directly with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator to receive personalized nutrition guidelines and meal plans. Together you can develop a diabetes meal plan, based on your health goals, tastes, and lifestyle—as well as the latest guidelines for healthy eating. Click here for examples of two different meal planning systems.
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.

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Member Comments

  • I am Pre-diabetic and have been solid seeking info. (these articles are from 2007 and there is a lot of new information out there, plus there are conflicting opinions among the articles, making it very confusing for someone who doesn't know which end is up.

    I have researched out many the medical links, asking for help only to find that, unfortunately, I cannot see a professional until after I am diagnosed with diabetes . . . because of the billing codes and insurance coverage.

  • I am following a plan, developed by me after many sessions of diabetes education, that works for me.

    I already knew how I was supposed to eat, and mostly I followed the good ideas, but once a week or so I might try buying some cookies or candy, imagining I could dole them out one a day. As soon as I ate the first cookie I would finish the whole bag! But I kept imagining I could control my cravings. Last fall I cut out all concentrated sugars (including dried fruits, honey, etc.) -- except one ounce of chocolate at the checkout when I go grocery shopping. The first couple of months were very hard--breaking the sugar addiction. Buying the tiny chocolate at the checkout counter keeps me from throwing big sugar sources into my basket.

    My blood sugar is near the normal range, and as a side benefit I have lost 12 pounds in 6 months--slow and steady, the way I want it.

    I'm having really bad allergies, and I'm going to try a teaspoon of local honey every day. If that doesn't work, if I go on honey binges, I'll give away the honey and try to get on desensitization injections.
  • great ideas thanks
  • The comments section of this article contain more beneficial information than the article. The article advocates the kind of food plan that has made many of us diabetics feel there is no hope for us. Low carb/keto has changed my life and given me confidence I can put diabetes in remission.
  • Advocating sodas and artificially sweetened products are incredibly irresponsible! Google is your friend...use it.
  • Low carb (ketogenic) is the best thing for diabetes. Sugar is the enemy and you need to avoid it and anything that raises blood sugar: grains, legumes, potatoes, carrots, milk, even fruit. I can have meat, eggs, cheese, heavy cream, almond milk, coconut milk, many vegetables and leafy greens, natural sweeteners like stevia and Swerve. There are lots of low carb groups on Spark. Most low corners keep their carbs down to 20.
  • I see a lot of articles on SparkPeople suggesting diet sodas and sugar substitutes. This is very bad advice, especially for diabetics! There are extensive studies that some of these can actually cause diabetes as the body does not know how to process these chemicals. Thank you! http://www.reelca
  • I have drastically cut the number of carbs I have been eating since I joined Spark and my blood sugar numbers are normal. I can't wait to have my next A1c. My last one was 9.2 and I know it will be better now.
  • I'm convinced that lowering my carb intake will help control my Type 2 Diabetes and maintain a healthy glucose level.
  • I was able to re-set my Carbs range on my Nutrition Tracker to match the guidelines in this article--this will help me a lot. 8-)
  • SparkPeople should provide nutrition plans for diabetics.
  • I see a lot of articles on SparkPeople suggesting diet sodas and sugar substitutes. This is very bad advice, especially for diabetics! There are extensive studies that some of these can actually cause diabetes as the body does not know how to process these chemicals. Please do more research on these issues because as a dietitian as you could be hurting more than helping some people. Thank you!
  • Very Helpful. Thank You.
  • Please rework the diabetic suggested menus. Maybe insurance problems limit what SP can suggest. I am pre-diabetic and need a simple plan to follow. I have been a SP member since 2008. I have lost 40 lbs and I am a habitual snacker! If I can do it (with SP friend support) anyone can. I want to use the SP diabetic food plan but it has major problems. Very bland and boring. Carbs for the day are too high. Not enough protein. There is much info out there for delicious and healthy diabetic meals. Could SP improve this very important menu plan. Please? chris
  • on our diabetic Group we follow LCHF and diet soda is worse than regular if you have diabetes you shouldn't be drinking any kind of soda and limit your carbs i drink flavored water but it has aspertame or sacrolose in them which isn't healthy either but i can't drink plain water if anybody finds anything better let me know

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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