Diet and Diabetes: What Should I Eat?

By Karen Omietanski, MBA, RD, LD, PMP

Nutrition is an important part of managing diabetes. Making good food choices can be challenging – even for people without diabetes! However, if you have diabetes, you need to have a greater awareness about what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat.

Foods containing carbohydrates have the greatest impact on blood glucose levels. Does this mean you should avoid “carbs” altogether? Not at all! Carbohydrates are an important part of your diet. They provide energy and essential nutrients. However, to keep blood glucose from getting too high or too low, it is important to eat approximately the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day.

Foods that have significant levels of carbohydrates include:

  • Breads, cereals, pastas, rice, and crackers
  • Fruits and juices
  • Milk, soy milk, ice cream, milkshakes, and yogurt
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, bean, peas, and legumes
  • Sweets or desserts such as cakes, cookies, candy, sweetened beverages, donuts, pastries, pies
  • Snack foods such as chips, pretzels, crackers, popcorn

In a healthy meal plan, carbohydrates should come from nutrient-dense foods that contain a high volume of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, such as milk, yogurt, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Lower nutrient foods, like table sugars, desserts and sweets contain high amounts of carbohydrates and lack the nutrients our body needs. These foods should be eaten sparingly.

Portion size is key. For example, a carbohydrate serving is approximately 15 grams. A 4 oz glass of juice is one “carb” serving because it has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Double the amount of juice to 8 oz and you double the carbs to approximately 30 grams or 2 servings. Be sure to check serving sizes with measuring cups and spoons or a food scale. Below is a table that indicates the portion size of common carbohydrate foods:

Diet and Diabetes Be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to determine the carbohydrate content. Focus on “total carbohydrates” and not sugars. Pay close attention to “diet” products. “Diet” versions of some desserts, like diet gelatin and diet pudding, are lower in total carbohydrates. But other “diet” versions have similar or slightly more amounts of carbohydrates as the “regular” version. Consider ice cream – regular ice cream has approximately 17 grams of carbohydrates per serving vs. no-sugar added ice cream has approximately 16 grams of carbohydrates. Therefore, there is no significant benefit for the “diet” ice cream in terms of carbs!

How much carbohydrate should you eat? That depends on several factors.

Individuals with diabetes not only need to pay attention to foods with carbohydrates, but also follow other general healthy eating tips that are recommended for all adults. These include eating low-fat dairy products, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, poly- or mono-unsaturated fats, lean meats, fish and poultry, and whole grains. Refer to for general tips on healthy eating.

Karen Omietanski, MBA, RD, LD, PMP, Senior Director Nutrition Services, Nursing Center Division

Karen Omietanski, MBA, RD, LD, PMP, Senior Director Nutrition Services, Nursing Center Division