Type 2 Diabetes and Food Choices

You make food choices every day. Whole wheat or white bread? A side of French fries or fresh fruit? Eat now or later? Choices about what, when, and how much you eat affect your blood sugar (glucose), and also your blood pressure and cholesterol. Understanding how food affects blood glucose is the first step in managing diabetes. And following a diabetes meal plan can help you keep your blood glucose levels on track.

Prevent problems

Having type 2 diabetes means that your body doesn’t control blood glucose well. When blood glucose stays too high for too long, serious health problems can develop. It's important to control your blood glucose through diet, exercise, and medicine. This can delay or prevent kidney, eye, nerve, and heart disease, and other complications of diabetes.

Control carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are foods that have the biggest effect on your blood glucose levels. After you eat carbohydrates, your blood glucose rises. Fruit, sweet foods and drinks, starchy foods (such as bread, potatoes, and rice), and milk and milk products contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important for health. But when you eat too many at once, your blood glucose can go too high. This is even more likely if you don't have or take enough insulin for that food.

Some carbohydrates may raise blood glucose more than others. These include potatoes, sweets, and white bread. Better choices are less processed foods with more fiber and nutrients. Good choices are 100% whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and nonstarchy vegetables.

Learn to use food labels that show added sugar. And try to find healthier choices, particularly if you are overweight. 

Food and medicine

Insulin helps glucose move from the blood into your muscle cells, where it can be used for energy. Some diabetes medicines that are taken by mouth help you make more insulin. Or they help your insulin work more efficiently. So your medicines and food plan have to work together. If you take insulin shots, you need to be very careful to match the amount of carbohydrates you eat with your insulin dose. If you have too many carbohydrates without adjusting your insulin dose, your blood glucose might become too high. If you have too few carbohydrates, your blood glucose might be too low. Your healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you match your food choices to your medicine.

Have a meal plan

With certain medicines, it's best to eat the same amount of food at the same time every day. That keeps your glucose levels stable. And it helps your medicine work best. Physical activity is an important way to control blood glucose, too. Try to exercise at the same time every day. That way you can build the extra calories you need for exercise into your meal plan. With other medicines, you may have more choices about how much you eat and when.

If you want to change your medicine to better fit your lifestyle, talk with your healthcare provider.

Eat smart

You can eat the same foods as everyone else, but you have to carefully watch for certain details. That’s where your diabetes meal plan comes in. A personal meal plan tells you the time of day to eat meals and snacks, the types of food to eat, and how much. It should include your favorite foods. And it should focus on these healthy foods:

  • Whole grains, such as 100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal

  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy products, such as nonfat milk and yogurt (but be sure these products don't have sugar added to make up for the fat removed)

  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dried beans and peas

  • Foods and drinks with no added sugar

  • Fruits and vegetables

At first, it may be helpful to use measuring cups and spoons to make sure you’re really eating the amount of food that’s in your plan. You can also use standardized portion sizes on food labels, such as 1 serving of meat being the size of a deck of cards. By checking your blood glucose 1 to 2 hours after eating, you can learn how your food choices affect your blood glucose.

To create a diabetes meal plan or change a plan that’s not working for you, see a dietitian or diabetes educator. Let them know if you have any new health concerns or if your medicines have changed. Having a meal plan that you can live with will keep you at your healthy best.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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