Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig).
No single diet is right for all people with diabetes. In fact, a plan designed just for you might be best. Whichever meal plan you choose, cutting calories and carbohydrates can help you keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
Depending on your height, weight, age, and activity level, a 1,200-calorie meal plan may be a good fit. This article explains how to balance carbs, fat, and protein. It also shows you what a day’s worth of food looks like on a 1,200-calorie diet.
Carbohydrates: Carbs are the body’s main source of energy. They impact blood sugar more than other nutrients. Some people with diabetes need to track their carb intake. This is especially true if you take insulin at mealtimes.
There are three types of carbs:
Watch out for white, refined, processed, and sugary foods. These carbs can cause weight gain and sharp spikes in blood sugars. When thinking about carbs, consider portions as well as type.
Choose carbs that are rich in fiber, such as:
Most people do well with 30 to 45 grams of carbs per meal and 15 to 20 grams per snack. The amount you need will depend on your:
A registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator can help you decide how many carbs are right for you. Keep in mind that every gram of carbs has about four calories. If you eat 45 grams of carbs per meal and 30 grams per snack, that’s 660 calories from carbs per day.
Protein: Protein is a macronutrient and another form of energy for the body. It boosts immunity, wound healing, and muscle recovery. It can also help you feel full longer. With a calorie-controlled diet, it’s important to choose lean protein. It has fewer calories and less fat.
Lean protein sources include:
For vegans and vegetarians, beans and soy-based protein such as edamame and tofu are also sources of protein. They also contain carbs.
Protein has four calories per gram. Some studies show that a higher-fat, higher-protein breakfast can reduce hemoglobin A1C in people with diabetes. 
Fat: Fat is another macronutrient. It helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, can reduce inflammation. They are the building blocks of hair, skin, and nails. These fatty acids also help support brain health.
When choosing fats, look for unsaturated fats such as:
Limit saturated fat and trans fat as often as possible, including:
Keep an eye on the fats you eat, even healthy ones. Fat calories can add up quickly. One gram of fat has nine calories. 
No matter how many daily calories your meal plan has, be sure you're getting enough lean protein and fiber-rich vegetables. For many people with diabetes, limiting carbs and saturated fats can make it easier to keep blood sugar in a healthy zone.
A word of warning: A 1,200-calorie diet is not a good option for every person with diabetes. For example, this calorie level may be low enough to disrupt your metabolism. This number of calories may not give you enough carbs for your medication dosage. And it may not prevent hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
However, 1200 calories will meet the energy needs of some people with diabetes. It's probably best for those who are:
If you have a prescription for a 1,200-calorie diet, your diabetes care team will have planned with these factors in mind. If you’ve been prescribed a different diet, there are many meal plans to choose from.
This meal plan provides around 1,200 calories a day, with 30 to 45 grams of carbs per meal and 15 to 30 grams per snack.
Total carbs per meal: 30 grams
Total carbs per meal: 40 grams
Total carbs per snack:  15 grams
Turkey broccoli wrap:
Total carbs per meal: 45 grams 
Total carbs per meal: 25 grams
Open-faced turkey sandwich:
Total carbs per meal: 35 grams
Total carbs per snack: 18 grams
Grilled shrimp quinoa bowl:
Total carbs per meal: 40 grams
Total carbs per meal: 17 grams
Total carbs per meal: 40 grams
Total carbs per meal: 30 grams 
This menu is a three-day example of delicious foods you can fit into one day with a 1,200-calorie diet. If you need more variety, there are many nutritious foods you can enjoy. A simple online search will help you calculate their nutritional value.
You can use a recipe nutrition calculator to take the guesswork out of meal prep. Just input the recipe you'd like to make and read the nutrition label. You can also use it for side dishes, snacks, and drinks.
If the results for your recipe show it has too many calories, you can edit each ingredient. The calculator will show you healthier options.
The calculator is a useful tool when making out your shopping list. You'll have a clearer idea of which foods are lower in calories, fat, and sugar. Having a little knowledge before you hit the store can help you make better decisions.
A meal plan can help you make healthier food choices as you manage diabetes. A registered dietician or diabetes educator can help you figure out how many calories you should eat each day based on your own needs.
For some people, a 1,200 calorie per day diet is a good option. Balancing lean protein, carbs, and fats is important to keep your blood sugar safe and steady. Avoiding processed foods and sugar will also benefit you.

Check with your healthcare provider or dietitian. The right number of calories for you will depend on a number of factors, such as your age, activity level, and current weight.
If you have diabetes, experts say you should get about half of your calories from carbs. That means if you're on a 1,200-calorie diet, about 600 calories would come from carbs. Since every gram of carbs is about four calories, you would be eating about 150 grams of carbs a day. Remember to talk with your healthcare provider or dietitian to find the right amount for you.
A good meal plan will help you get the right nutrients while keeping your blood sugar levels at the target range. It should focus on whole foods, like nonstarchy vegetables and lean protein, rather than processed foods.
Brazeau AS, Mircescu H, Desjardins K, et al. Carbohydrate counting accuracy and blood glucose variability in adults with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2013;99(1):19-23. doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2012.10.024
Van Wyk HJ, Davis RE, Davies JS. A critical review of low-carbohydrate diets in people with Type 2 diabetes. Diabet Med. 2016;33(2):148-57. doi:10.1111/dme.12964
Rabinovitz HR, Boaz M, Ganz T, et al. Big breakfast rich in protein and fat improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetics. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014;22(5):E46-54. doi:10.1002/oby.20654
Balić A, Vlašić D, Žužul K, Marinović B, Bukvić Mokos Z. Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Skin DiseasesInt J Mol Sci. 2020;21(3):741. doi:10.3390/ijms21030741
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Carb counting.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes meal planning.
By Stacey Hugues
Stacey Hugues, RD is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach who works as a neonatal dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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