[Originally published: Sept. 8, 2022. Update: Oct. 30, 2023.]
A healthy, balanced diet is key for anyone with diabetes. Good nutrition not only controls glucose (blood sugar) levels, but also improves cholesterol and blood pressure—both of which can be high for people with diabetes.
What, then, is the best diabetes diet to follow? There isn’t one single meal plan to recommend, but a registered dietician can help you design an individualized plan. Or you can follow a number of well-studied nutrition strategies, says Laura Wilson, a Yale New Haven Hospital registered dietician.
For example, it’s important to know the difference between “good” carbohydrates, which are your body’s main fuel source, and those that are less healthy, Wilson says.
“Limiting unhealthy carbohydrates, such as refined carbohydrates and sugars, is an essential tool to help minimize spikes in blood glucose,” Wilson says. “Refined carbohydrates are those made from flours or starches that have essential nutrients and fiber removed during processing and have added salt, fats, and sugars in them, and so therefore are less healthy.”
One tool for meal planning is what’s known as the “healthy plate method.” The idea, Wilson says, is to divide your plate into quarters. One quarter could be whole grains or high fiber, minimally processed carbohydrates (such as a baked sweet potato, whole grain pasta or bread, brown rice, or oatmeal). Another quarter of the plate could include a healthy protein such as fish, skinless chicken, beans, or nuts. The other half of the plate should be mostly vegetables, with a little bit of fruit.
“That side of the plate is much lower in calories and very high in fiber and plant-rich nutrients that are excellent for your immune system and overall digestive health,” Wilson says, adding that to the side of the plate could be other nuts and seeds or some healthy dairy products (such as soy or almond milk, low-fat cow’s milk, or nonfat yogurt with no added sugars).
The idea, Wilson explains, is to make sure you get all of the nutrients your body needs from a diverse meal plan with plenty of different options.
In this video, Wilson provides more details about the role of good nutrition when it comes to managing your diabetes.