Healthy Eating Basics
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2021. | Last updated: July 2022
The kinds of foods you eat and how much play a key role in managing your type 2 diabetes. Food has a direct effect on blood glucose and weight management, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. While it may seem overwhelming at times, small and steady changes to your eating can make a big difference in how you feel.
Find Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES)
Ask your doctor to refer you to a certified diabetes educator or dietitian who specializes in working with people who have diabetes. These health professionals can help you develop a custom eating plan based on your needs.
Medicare and most private health insurance plans will cover DSMES services if you have type 2 diabetes.1
The basics of healthy eating you will learn, include:2
- Eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, whole grains, fruits, non-fat dairy foods, healthy fats, and lean meats or meat substitutes
- Try not to eat too much
- Try not to eat too much of any one type of food
- Space your meals evenly throughout the day
- Avoid skipping meals
Make a game plan for grocery shopping
If you wing it when you go to the grocery store, you are more likely to come home with less healthy foods. Planning your meals can help you avoid this by following these steps:3
- Pick 3 to 4 of your favorite healthy meals and snacks.
- Check your refrigerator and pantry for supplies.
- Make sure your list includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains.
- Make a list so you only buy what you need. Remember, if you do not buy it, you will not eat it.
Pick the right time to shop. Avoid shopping while hungry or rushed. You need to give yourself time to read food labels and compare brands. This will help you buy the lowest salt, lowest fat options that fit your budget. Consider trying online grocery shopping if you have trouble sticking to your shopping list.3
Look for nutrition, not just calories
Your healthy eating plan should provide the nutrients (vitamins, minerals) that your body needs to stay healthy while satisfying your cravings for the foods you love.
A good rule of thumb when meal planning is to think about how many colors of food you will eat. Generally, the more colorful your meals, the more fruits and vegetables you are eating.
Count those carbs
Carbohydrates make the greatest impact on your blood sugar, so counting the carbs you eat is an important skill you will learn. Your doctor or dietitian will give you an idea of how many carbs you can eat per meal and per day. Everyone is different, but adults with diabetes are generally told to eat 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal and 15 to 30 grams of carbs per snack.4
Make friends with non-starchy vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables do not raise blood sugar levels very much when eaten. These vegetables also provide many important nutrients without many calories, compared to other types of food. According to the diabetes plate method, you should fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies like:5
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage (green, red, napa, bok choy, chinese)
- Leafy greens such as kale, collards, mustard greens, or Swiss chard
- Green beans, pea pods, snow peas, and sugar snap peas
- Peppers such as bell peppers and hot peppers
- Salad greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, endive, and other salad mixes
- Squash such as zucchini, yellow squash, chayote, spaghetti squash
Ways to reduce fat in your diet
Fat is higher in calories than any other type of nutrition. That is why so many meal plans recommend reducing fat from your diet. There are many ways to lower the amount of fat you eat, including:6
- Choose lean meats over fattier meats. Fish, seafood, and chicken (without the skin and not fried) tend to have less fat than beef.
- Remove any visible fat and skin from the meats you eat. Skim fat from broths, soups, and drippings.
- Bake, poach, or broil rather than fry.
- Eat smaller portion sizes of the meat you do consume. A serving size is around the size of a deck of cards.
- Processed meats tend to be high in fat. You may need to avoid salami, bologna, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon.
- Avoid full-fat dairy products, gravies, lard, coconut oil, cream sauces, and palm oil.
- Choose fat-free or reduced-calorie salad dressings.
Keep in mind that you need some fat in your diet to help your body run properly. When cooking with oil, remember that plant-based oils are your healthiest options. This includes olive, canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, corn, and walnut oils. Non-stick cooking sprays can be a good way to cut back on the amount of oil you use when cooking.
Eat at the same times every day
Consistent meal and snack times are especially important for people who take drugs to control their blood sugar. Eating at roughly the same times every day helps prevent big, sudden increases or decreases in your blood sugar. Plus, the medicines you take depend a certain amount on being able to predict blood sugar changes that happen after eating.4
Remember, you are changing habits you have had your whole life and this takes time. Be kind to yourself as you learn new ways of eating.