Ana Maria Kausel, MD, is double board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology/diabetes and metabolism. She works in private practice and is affiliated with Mount Sinai St. Luke's/Mount Sinai West.
If you love to eat, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes means you’ll need to rethink what foods you ingest in order to keep your blood sugar, or glucose, at safe and healthy levels.
If you’re overweight, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, you may also need to reduce the number of calories you eat to aid in weight loss. The good news is losing excess pounds, along with making other lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, may help control your glucose so you don’t need to take medication. In addition, you can still eat a variety of nutritious and delicious foods without feeling deprived.
When meal planning, it's always a great idea to plan your meals around non-starchy vegetables. This method will help to improve your nutrition and reduce your intake of excess calories, carbohydrates, and fat.
A wonderful method to use is called the plate method. The plate method consists of making one-half of your plate non-starchy vegetables, such as salad, broccoli, peppers, etc. One-fourth of your plate (or about 1 cup's worth) should be dedicated to fiber-dense carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, faro, beans, sweet potato, etc. And lastly, the last fourth of your plate may contain a lean protein, such as chicken, fish, lean beef, or tofu.
Understanding the best quality sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fat will help you to keep full and improve your blood sugar control.
Carbohydrates are the bodies’ main source of energy and the nutrient that impacts blood sugar the most. People with diabetes need to monitor their carbohydrate intake because excess carbohydrates, particularly in the form of white, refined, processed, and sugary foods can elevate blood sugars and triglycerides and result in weight gain. When thinking about carbohydrates, you’ll want to think about portions as well as type.
Choose carbohydrates that are rich in fiber (such as whole grains), starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes), and low-glycemic index fruits (such as berries). The total amount of carbohydrate you should eat per meal will depend on a variety of factors such as your age, gender, weight, blood sugar control, and activity level. Generally, most people with diabetes benefit from eating around 30 to 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal, and roughly 15 to 20 grams per snack.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that about 45% of total daily caloric intake should come from carbs, but individual needs do vary. It’s always a good idea to meet with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to determine how many carbohydrates are right for you. Keep in mind that every gram of carbohydrates contains about 4 calories. Therefore, if you are eating, 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal, and 30 grams per snack, you’ll be ingesting 660 calories from carbohydrates per day. 
Adequate protein intake is important for boosting immunity, wound healing, muscle recovery, and has satiating power. When eating a calorie-controlled diet, it's important to choose lean protein (as these types will have fewer calories and fat). Protein contains 4 calories per gram, the same as carbohydrates.
Stick to sources like white meat chicken (without skin), pork, turkey, lean beef (95% lean), egg whites, and low-fat dairy. If you are vegan or vegetarian, beans and soy-based protein (such as edamame, lentils, beans, and tofu) are also sources of protein, but keep in mind they contain carbohydrate, too—and these carbohydrates should be added to the total carbohydrate amount per meal.
Some studies suggest that eating a higher fat, higher protein breakfast can reduce hemoglobin A1C in people with diabetes. 
Fat plays an important role in the body and is necessary for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 and omega 6, are building blocks of hair, skin, and nails, are important in brain health, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
When choosing sources of fat, you'll want to choose unsaturated fats such as certain oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish like sardines, and salmon. Limit saturated fat and trans fat as often as possible, such as full-fat cheese, fried foods, high-fat meats like sausage and bacon, butter, cream, and sweets such as cookies and cakes.
Portions of fat should also be monitored, even healthy fats because fat calories can add up quickly. One gram of fat contains 9 calories. A serving of fat, such as a teaspoon of olive oil, is considered to have 5 grams of fat and 45 calories.
The ADA's recommendation is to follow a diet where between 36–40% of total calories come from fat.
What will your daily diet look like as you begin to eat with your condition in mind? Here's a sample three-day meal plan to give you an idea of how easy it really is to eat healthfully without depriving yourself when you have type 2 diabetes.
It includes sample meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The entire day’s worth of food adds up to around 1,400 calories, with about 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates (this can be reduced if your blood sugars are too high). It’s a great jumping off point for planning future meals. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to alter it if your healthcare provider recommends you eat a different number of calories—1,200, say, or 2,200 each day.
Day 1
1 low-fat Greek yogurt (plain)
¾ cup blueberries
12 almonds or 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
Coffee with milk
Total carbohydrate: ~30 grams carbohydrate
1 whole grain wrap (can use corn or rice if gluten-free)
4 oz grilled chicken breast
Onions, peppers, spinach
1/3 avocado
Side of strawberries 1 ¼ cup
Total carbohydrate: ~45 grams carbohydrate
1 small apple (~4oz) with 1 tablespoon all natural peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sun butter. 
Total carbohydrate: ~ 20 grams
4 oz grilled turkey burger (made with 99% lean ground white turkey meat)
1 medium baked sweet potato topped with cinnamon
1 cup sautéed spinach with garlic and 1 teaspoon olive oil
Side salad with 1 tablespoon dressing
Total carbohydrate: ~ 45 grams
3 cups air-popped popcorn with two tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Total carbohydrate: ~ 20 grams
3 scrambled egg whites + 1 whole egg
½ cup cooked spinach (left over from the night before- you can sub spinach for another non-starchy vegetable)
¼ cup low-fat shredded cheese
2 slices whole grain bread (100 % whole wheat, rye, or oat, or gluten-free bread)
Total carbohydrates: ~30 grams
Quinoa bowl ingredients:
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup chopped tomatoes and carrots
1/3 avocado or 6 diced olives
3 oz diced roast chicken or grilled or baked fish
Total carbohydrates: ~ 50 grams
15 baby carrots with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Total carbohydrates: ~20 grams
4 oz sauteed shrimp with garlic and olive oil, lemon, spaghetti squash or zucchini ribbons
1/2 cup herb roasted potatoes
Total carbohydrate: ~30 grams
1/2 cup fruit salad
Total carbohydrate: ~15 grams
Pumpkin oatmeal bowl ingredients:
Carbohydrate: ~ 45 grams
Salmon salad ingredients:
6 ounce canned wild salmon (boneless, skinless) Serving size: 1 cup
Garbanzo beans (1/2 cup rinsed)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Total carbohydrate: ~ 30 grams carbohydrates
7 Triscuits – top with 1-2 tablespoons bean dip spread and chopped parsley. 
Total carbohydrate: ~25 grams
Lean meat/beef (3 oz) (grilled)
~1 cup roasted butternut squash or another starch
1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
Total carbohydrates: ~40 grams carbohydrate
1 cup melon with 1 slice low-fat cheddar cheese
Total carbohydrate: ~ 15 grams
Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats can improve overall health. If you have diabetes, the type and quantity of carbohydrate you eat in one sitting is important. In addition, you may need to lower your calorie intake—consuming fewer calories can help you lose weight and reduce your blood sugars.
This three-day 1400-calorie meal plan is a great place to start. But, before starting any meal plan, consult with your healthcare provider to make sure it's right for you—depending on a variety of factors you may need to consume more of fewer calories.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes diet, eating, and physical activity.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Carbohydrate counting and diabetes.
Cleveland Clinic. Carbohydrates and blood sugar control for people with diabetes.
Evert AB, Dennison M, Gardner CD, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019;42(5):731-754. doi:10.2337/dci19-0014
American Diabetes Association. Protein.
Rabinovitz HR, Boaz M, Ganz T, Jakubowicz D, Matas Z, Madar Z, Wainstein J. Big breakfast rich in protein and fat improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetics. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 May;22(5):E46-54. doi:10.1002/oby.20654
American Diabetes Association. Fats.
Maki KC, Phillips-Eakley AK, Smith KN. The effects of breakfast consumption and composition on metabolic wellness with a focus on carbohydrate metabolism. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(3):613S–21S. doi:10.3945/an.115.010314
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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