Nutrition plays a significant role in the overall management of diabetes. It is possible to take good care of yourself, eat foods you enjoy, and manage your diabetes if you understand what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. Choosing nutrient-rich foods in appropriate portion sizes and healthy sources of carbohydrates can help keep your blood sugar levels in your target range. Frequent self-monitoring of blood glucose can also be used (with proper instruction) to keep track of the effects of meals and physical activity on your blood sugar levels.1
Carb counting is key
Carbohydrates turn into glucose in the body and affect blood glucose levels more than fat or protein. This does not mean that you have to give up all carbs; however, monitoring your total carbohydrate intake is essential. Choose carbs that come from nutrient-dense sources like fruit, vegetables, dairy, legumes, and whole grains, along with controlled portion sizes. If these foods are not handy or if you have a hard time selecting balanced food choices, nutritional drinks like BOOST Glucose Control® Drink can be a convenient way to manage your carb intake while getting protein and other essential nutrients. Each bottle contains 16 g carbs (including 4 g sugars), 16 g high-quality protein, and 25 vitamins & minerals. Lastly, consider working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for a plan that fits your needs, preferences and goals.1-3
Choose sources of lean protein
Protein is an essential nutrient that is needed every single day, and unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein cannot be stored in the body. As we get older, experts recommend we consume higher amounts of protein to help maintain muscle. Protein can also help manage hunger and promote satiety. Protein is found in a variety of foods that are either animal- or plant-based, including chicken, beef, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts, soy, and whole grains like quinoa.4-7
Focus on healthy fats
When incorporating fat into a diabetes meal plan, you should focus on foods that supply “healthy fats” while limiting “unhealthy fats” such as trans fats. Choose from mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Examples of healthy fat food sources include avocado, oils (olive and flaxseed), olives, nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, walnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flaxseed), and fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna.8
People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure, which can be affected by sodium intake. Aim to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt) by limiting processed foods high in sodium. Some examples of high-sodium foods include canned soups and vegetables, cold cuts, pizza, savory snacks, salted nuts, cereals, and condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.2,9
Simple steps to help lower your risk of diabetes
While you can’t change the genes you inherit and how that influences your risk of developing diabetes, you can make some positive behavioral and lifestyle changes. If you are overweight, make a plan to lose weight and get moving. Achieving a 7% weight loss goal and taking a brisk walk for 30 minutes each day can significantly reduce your risk in developing type 2 diabetes. Also, if you smoke, quit, as smokers are up to 40% more likely to develop diabetes compared to nonsmokers. Finally, getting too little or too much sleep is associated with increased risk for diabetes, so aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.1,10-12
Set an action plan
When you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it is important to test your blood sugar regularly, have an action plan and set small goals with your healthcare team. Talk with your doctor and meet with an RDN regularly to help keep your meal plans in check, maintain your blood sugar levels in your target range, and provide encouragement to achieve a healthy lifestyle.1,2
1. American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes 2020. Diabetes Care 2020;43(S1):S1-S212.
2. Evert AB et al. Diabetes Care 2019;42:731-754.
3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Carbohydrate Counting. 2016.
4. Hamdy O, Horton ES. Curr Diab Rep. 2011;11(2): 111-9.
5. Campbell AP, Rains TM. J Nutr 2015;145:164S-9S.
6. Bauer J et al. JAMDA 2013;14:542-559.
7. American Diabetes Association. Healthy Food Choices Made Easy – Protein. 2020. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/healthy-food-choices-made-easy/protein
8. American Diabetes Association. Healthy Food Choices Made Easy – Fats. 2020. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/healthy-food-choices-made-easy/fats
9. Franz MJ et al. JAND. 2017; 117(10): 1659-1679.
10. Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source. Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes. 2020.
11. Maddatu J et al. Transl Res 2017;184:101-107
12. Shan Z et al. Diabetes Care 2015;38:529-537.
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