The main goal of a diabetic meal plan is to keep your blood glucose levels within the ideal target range. When blood sugar levels are not within the optimal range, the risk for cardiac, digestive, and kidney diseases. Luckily, along with medication management, maintaining a diabetic meal plan can regulate blood sugar spikes.
Because everyone’s lifestyle and preferences are unique, from activity, taste preferences, and diet patterns, it is best to simply plan for balanced meals to prevent extreme highs and lows. Eating about the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal by counting carbs is one of the simplest approaches to assure this happens.
Below is everything you need to know about the diabetic diet, including a 16-page diabetes meal plan!
The Diabetic Diet
By following a diabetes diet, you are giving yourself a greater chance at avoiding the devastating complications of diabetes from not managing your blood sugar levels.
The best diabetes diet meal plan should take a few specific factors into account. Some key factors include adequate fiber intake to manage blood sugar, limiting consumption of processed carbs, and the proper balance of carb intake with activity and insulin use.
Planning ahead for what you will eat each day ensures you are taking control of your own health and being your own advocate.
Foods to Eat
When planning diabetes-friendly meals, make sure all your calories are adding to your health and not taken away from it. To do so, there are certain nutrient-rich foods you should include, like the following:
Healthy carbohydrates include fruit, especially berries which are low in sugar, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and legumes.
Good fats for a diabetes diet are heart-healthy fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon as well as avocados, nuts, and plant oils like olive, peanut, and canola oil. Natural peanut butter is another source of good fats.
These all contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are easily broken down by the body.
Many healthy carbs like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains will contain adequate fiber to help the body efficiently manage blood sugar levels. Fiber helps avoid unwanted blood sugar spikes.
- Brussel Sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Split Peas
- Cooked Black Beans
- Cooked Edamame
- Cooked Lima Beans
- Baked Beans
- Chia seeds
Fats & Others
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Canola Oil
Nuts and seeds are added to just about any recipe possible, and legumes are a primary source of plant-based protein. Whole grains are essential for fiber and to complete the amino acid makeup of many plant-based meals, including brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and other whole-grain foods.
The diabetic diet’s heart health benefits should be predominantly accredited to the fiber from the focus on whole grains.
Foods to Avoid
The food you leave out of your diabetic eating plan is just as important as the healthy foods and food types you allow in.
There are two specific nutrients that are important to be aware of when making a diabetes meal plan aside from carbohydrates.
Because diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, the type of fat and amount of sodium you take in is important.
Avoid Trans Fat
Trans fats are primarily in processed snack foods, fried foods, margarine, shortening, and baked goods/pastries. This fat was developed to help lower fat intake but has since been strongly connected to heart disease.
Avoid Saturated Fats
Foods like high-fat animal products, high-fat dairy, and some plant oils like coconut should be avoided on a diabetes-friendly balanced diet. Specifically, butter, processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and most beef should be left off or limited.
A diabetes meal plan should aim for 200 mg or less of cholesterol a day. Cholesterol is found in foods like high-fat dairy, egg yolks, high-fat animal sources, liver, and other organ meats.
Tip: Foods that are high in saturated fats are usually high in cholesterol, too.
This mineral can increase one’s risk of hypertension and heart disease, making it important to aim for 2,300 mg a day or less.
- Red Meat
- Egg Yolks
- Organ Meats
- Processed Meat
- White bread
- White pasta
Fats & Others
- Trans fat
- Refined oil
- Maple Syrup
- Agave Nectar
- Salty Crackers
What to Drink
The right drink choices can help manage your diabetes as well as potentially cause harmful side effects. Beverages that are ideal to drink include water, unsweetened tea or coffee, sugar-free sports drinks, tomato juice, and sugar-free carbonated beverages.
The plate method is a method offered by the American Diabetes Association to help make meal planning simple and effective in managing blood sugar.
In short, it relies on increasing vegetable intake with non-starchy vegetables. It recommends filling half your plate with a veggie like green beans to begin building any meal.
A quarter of the plate is then reserved for lean protein, with the remaining quarter being whole-grain carbs like brown rice or starchy vegetables.
Adding healthy fats to the plate in small amounts and a serving of fruit throughout the day is also recommended.
It is important to understand the difference between a portion and serving sizes because they are not always the same. Portion size refers to the amount of food you eat at once, and a serving is a specific amount of food the nutrition label references for calories and nutrient content.
When eating a meal at a restaurant, it is almost always more than one portion in size. For those following a diabetic meal plan, it is best to take half the meal home for later.
Eating out typically is associated with special beverages as well. Sugary-alcoholic beverages and soda cause extreme spikes in blood sugars, so at the restaurant, opt for a sugar-free selection.
Types of Diabetic Meal Plans
Ideal diabetes meal plans will meet the needs of a variety of individuals with diabetes. The two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2, will need to follow different diabetes meal plans.
Additionally, those needing to lose weight or restrict their calories should also be considered by offering a meal plan at around 1200 calories, and those who eat a vegetarian diet should also have a diabetes-focused healthy meal plan to follow.
Type 2 Diabetes Diet Meal Plan
A type 2 diabetes-friendly healthy eating plan should include complex carbs like whole wheat bread, brown rice, sweet potato, oatmeal, quinoa, legumes, and vegetables.
However, it is important to note that processed carbs should be avoided, like white bread, pasta, and baked goods, as they cause rapid glucose spikes when the carbohydrates break down too quickly into glucose.
A steady supply of lean and low-fat proteins like grilled chicken breast or fish will have little impact on blood sugar and should be included in a type 2 diabetes meal plan.
Diabetic 1200 Calories Healthy Nutrition Plan
Some diabetes patients may require weight loss to get to a healthy weight or calorie restriction for various reasons other than preventing weight gain.
A diabetic 1200-calorie diet plan may range from 1200 calories to 1600 calories depending on the day and how many calories your body is burning.
Regardless, planning meals for a low-calorie, the carbohydrate-controlled diet should include three meals and two snacks from high-fiber, low-fat, low glycemic index healthy food choices.
As an example, a meal might be skinless chicken over fresh spinach and sauteed bell pepper with quinoa and an unsweetened iced tea. A breakfast idea includes a smoothie with plain greek yogurt, soy milk, berries, avocado, and kale!
Vegetarian Diabetes Diet Meal Planning
Diabetes-friendly plans should be available for those who follow other special diets, like vegetarian or vegan dieters. Diabetic, vegetarian, or vegan plan meals will simply lack animal foods and items sourced from animals, like eggs or dairy, while still including all other elements.
However, vegan dieters can replace eggs and dairy with tofu and green leafy vegetables high in calcium to have a wider variety of choices.
Type 1 Diabetic Meal Plan
The food included in meal planning for those with type 1 diabetes is as important as meal timing for them.
Those following this way of eating should include low-glycemic index foods like complex carbs and avoid simple carbs like fruit juice, trans fat, and sodas.
It’s also important to eat smaller food portions more often to keep blood sugars as even as possible. Portion control helps make counting carbs easier, too.
Diabetic Diet Meal Plan
Our Registered Dietician has created a 16-page full week of meals for the ideal Diabetic Diet meal plan, including:
- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, & Snacks for each day of the 7-Day meal plan
- Full Macronutrients for each day of the week including calories, protein, fats, and carbs
- Diabetic Diet recipes
- Shopping List
Moderate Blood Sugar
By following a diabetes-friendly, high-fiber diet most individuals can control their blood sugar levels quite well, which is just what the doctor ordered!
Having a plan in place and knowing when and what you will eat can prevent last-minute decisions where poor choices are typically made. This is why many like to meal prep a few times per week.
Even for those not following the diabetic 1200-calorie meal plan, weight loss is almost certain by following a diabetes meal plan.
This is because these healthy eating plans decrease bad fat, almost completely remove refined carbs, and amp up the nutrient density of meals.
These characteristics will naturally lead to weight loss, and even moderate amounts of weight loss can improve overall health.
Those with uncontrolled diabetes and blood sugar place a lot of stress on their kidneys and are at high risk for kidney diseases.
This is primarily due to the increase in ketones in the blood of those not controlling the number of carbs they take in; excess ketones being processed by the kidneys can cause damage and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
Following a carbohydrate-controlled diet ensures moderate carbohydrate intake rather than the two extremes.
What is an ideal meal for a diabetic?
An ideal meal for a diabetic includes a lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a complex carb. For instance, grilled chicken breast with sweet potato and a fresh spinach salad is an ideal meal for a diabetic.
What foods are unlimited for diabetics?
Lean proteins and green vegetables are healthy food choices for diabetics that can be consumed in unlimited amounts without drastically changing blood sugar levels.
What breakfast is good for diabetics?
Plain Greek yogurt with whole wheat toast is a good breakfast for diabetics. A veggie egg white omelet with sweet potato home fries is another good breakfast for diabetics.
By integrating a diabetic meal plan you are personally taking control of your health and being your own advocate.
Following a meal plan is one of the best ways to keep your blood glucose under control and avoid unnecessary, life-altering diabetes complications.
It does not have to be restrictive but can be modified, within reason, to meet the needs of individuals based on food preferences and calorie needs. Utilizing portion control and meal timing are important factors in creating and following a diabetic meal plan.
Your healthcare provider or dietitian are great resources in creating a meal plan to meet your unique needs.
Trista K. Best, RD
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in Public Health for 10 years focusing on nutrition and health promotion. As a Dietitian she seeks to provide her clients with the skills necessary to take control over their health, one decision at a time.