A diabetes diet is a healthy eating plan that helps to manage blood glucose levels. Blood glucose is created when we digest carbohydrates (carbs), and is also created in the liver. Carbs are found in a wide range of different foods, including starches and grains, fruit, milk, yoghurt, some vegetables, and table sugar.
Managing the amount and type of carbohydrates in the diet is a valuable tool that people with diabetes can use to help meet diabetes management goals.
Because people with diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease and other complications, it is also important to eat more heart-healthy foods and less fats, salt and calories.
The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that all people with diabetes should consult with a registered dietitian when first diagnosed. A dietitian will help develop a personalized meal plan for the person you support. This will be based on three important factors:
- Understanding when to eat
- Understanding what to eat
- Understanding how much to eat
The good news is that this generally doesn’t mean eating totally differently from other people who are trying to eat healthily. By and large, a healthy diabetes diet reflects Canada’s Food Guide, with some extra attention paid to portion control and regular meal scheduling.
Foods to eat more of
Follow Canada’s food guide and encourage a diet based on these nutritious foods:
- Healthy carbs like whole grain cereals and breads and brown rice and pasta
- Vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes (beans, peas and lentils)
- Low-fat dairy products
- Heart-healthy fish
- Healthy fats in foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil and canola oil
A registered dietitian will help explain how the person you support can use the glycemic index to choose healthier foods. This especially applies to carbohydrates.
Foods to eat less of
A diabetes diet will generally aim to cut back on:
- Saturated fats and trans fats. Aim to reduce high-fat proteins like red meat, hot dogs, bacon, processed snacks, hard margarine and baked goods. Limit fried foods, chips and pastries.
- Sugars and sweets found in candy, cakes, regular pop and desserts.
- Sodium. Controlling salt intake is important to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and other complications.
- Cholesterol. High-fat animal proteins and high-fat dairy products can all increase unhealthy cholesterol levels, contributing to the risk of heart disease.
The Plate Method
The plate method can make meal planning easy for people with diabetes and their caregivers.
It is based on a very simple plate portioning:
- Fill ½ a regular dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables. These include most vegetables except potatoes, peas, corn and winter squash.
- Fill ¼ of the plate with whole grain foods or starch foods. These include whole grain cereals, breads, rice, pasta and cooked starchy vegetables like the above.
- Fill the remaining ¼ of the plate with foods from the meat or meat alternatives group. These include poultry with the skin removed, lean beef and pork, fish and seafood, and meat alternatives such as eggs, low-fat cheese, or tofu.
For more information about the role of carbs in a diabetes diet, read our expert blogger’s article Carbs and Healthier Carbs.