Diabetes Diet: Build Your Healthy Meal Plan

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on August 12, 2022
9 min read

While there is no specific diet for people with diabetes, your diabetes diet is an eating plan that covers three important areas: Healthy foods in healthy amounts, eaten with healthy timing in mind. 

It helps you control your blood sugar, maintain a healthy weight, and keep your risk of heart disease low. 

This way of eating can prevent, control, and may even reverse the disease -- and it’s not just for people with diabetes. 

There are four types of nutrients in food that can affect your blood sugar:

  1. Carbohydrates (the sugars, starches, and fiber in food)

  2. Protein

  3. Fat

  4. Fiber

Carbohydrates raise blood sugar faster than proteins or fats. They also have the biggest effect on your blood sugar. Fiber, protein, and fat may curb the rise in blood sugar after a meal.

So aim for variety. Eat a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to manage your blood sugar better and stay full longer. But make sure to choose quality carbohydrates and smart fats that are:

  • Fiber-rich: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, whole grains

  • Heart Healthy: Fish like salmon and tuna

  • Healthy carbs: Vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruit

  • Smart fats: Fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, olives, extra virgin olive oil, and canola oil

 Check your blood sugar after meals. Look for patterns between what you eat and drink and your blood sugar levels after. You also may want to track how many grams or servings of carbohydrates you eat with each meal and try to keep it about the same from meal to meal. This can also help you take charge of your blood sugar.


Saturated Fats: Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol. You can find it in high-fat animal protein like bacon and sausage, high-fat dairy like butter, full-fat cheese, and ice cream, plus coconut oil and chicken skin.

Trans Fats: Also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, trans fats are liquid oils that become a solid fat. Ingredients like stick margarines and shortening contain trans fats, as do processed foods like some chips, cookies, and fast food French fries. 

Cholesterol: Your cholesterol count is made up of the natural cholesterol in your blood, plus the cholesterol that comes from food. Watch out for high-fat dairy and high-fat animal products, plus egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats.

Sodium: Don’t forget to watch salt, too. That's part of healthy eating with diabetes. Eating less sodium has been shown to help prevent and treat high blood pressure. Read labels and choose foods that are low in sodium. Learn more about reading food labels and grocery shopping with diabetes.


Eating a healthy, balanced diet when you have diabetes doesn't mean you can't eat foods that taste good. In the sample menu and recipes below, the meals have a good balance of protein and fat and a great source of fiber. You can plug them into your diet -- in the right portion sizes -- along with the other fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein, or fats in your plan.


Here's how you might work in a high-fiber carbohydrate along with some lean protein and "good" fat.

High-fiber carbs:

  • Whole-grain cereal (hot or cold) with fruit

  • Whole-grain bread, English muffin, or bagel

  • Whole-grain waffles or pancakes with fruit

Lean protein (low in saturated fat):

  • A higher omega-3 egg blended with 2 egg whites for an egg dish. Add vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, or tomatoes.

  • Low-fat milk or soy milk for your cereal or as a beverage

  • Part skim-milk cheese added to your omelet

  • Low-fat or nonfat yogurt with fruit or cereal, or in a smoothie

Smart fats:

  • Avocado added to your omelet

  • Nuts for cereals or a yogurt parfait

  • Extra virgin olive oil used in omelet

  • Canola oil used in whole-grain muffins, pancakes, or waffles


A sandwich or wrap with whole-grain bread or tortilla and a lean protein such as:

  • Roasted turkey, skinless chicken, or lean beef or pork

  • Part skim-milk cheese or soy cheese

  • Water-packed tuna dressed in vinaigrette, yogurt, or light mayo

A bean-based lunch such as:

  • Bean burrito with whole-grain tortilla

  • Hummus with whole grain-bread or vegetable dippers

  • Vegetarian or lean-meat chili or bean stew

Main-course salad made with:

  • Dark green lettuce

  • Lots of vegetables

  • Lean meat, fish, beans, or cheese plus avocado and nuts, if desired

  • Dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, or yogurt


High-fiber carb choices:

  • Cooked grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, or amaranth

  • Whole wheat bread, tortilla, pita bread, or buns

  • Colorful vegetables on the side or in the main course

  • Dark green lettuce for a side or dinner salad

  • Fresh fruit on the side or with the entrée

Lean protein (low in saturated fat):

  • Grilled or baked fish, by itself or in a mixed dish such as tacos

  • Skinless poultry -- grilled, baked, or stir-fried

  • Lean beef or pork -- sirloin, tenderloin -- with no visible fat

  • Part skim-milk cheese in entrees, such as eggplant parmesan, vegetarian pizza on whole wheat crust, vegetable lasagna, or enchiladas

Smart fats:

  • A sensible amount of extra virgin olive oil or canola oil used for cooking

  • Nuts added to entrée or side dishes

  • Avocado or olives with entrée or side dishes

Healthy Snacks

  • Cucumber slices with hummus

  • Canned tuna on whole grain crackers

  • Frozen grapes 

  • Apples with peanut or almond butter

  • Popcorn is a whole grain


Homemade Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich

To add a couple of servings of higher-fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains, serve this chicken salad on two slices of 100% whole-grain bread or in a whole-wheat pita pocket. Or make a wrap sandwich with a whole-wheat flour tortilla.

Makes four or more servings.

3 cups shredded roasted or rotisserie chicken, skin removed

1 cup red grapes, cut in half

2/3 cup finely chopped celery

1/3 cup sliced almonds, honey roasted or plain roasted


1/2 cup low-fat or light mayonnaise (or nonfat plain Greek yogurt)

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish (optional):

8 leaves romaine lettuce

8 slices of tomato

  1. In a medium bowl, combine shredded chicken, grapes, celery, and almonds.

  2. In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients with whisk or spoon until smooth and blended. Drizzle dressing over the chicken and grape mixture and stir to blend.

  3. Spoon chicken mixture onto bread to make four or more sandwiches. Garnish with lettuce and tomato, if desired.

Per serving, including bread (if four per recipe): 500 calories, 42 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 2.6 g saturated fat, 6 g monounsaturated fat, 5 g polyunsaturated fat, 96 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 764 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.4 gram, omega-6 fatty acids = 4.5 grams.

Spinach & Mushroom Bagel Pizza

Compared to a personal pan pizza at a popular pizza chain, a serving of these spinach and mushroom bagel pizzas has about half of the calories, fat, and sodium. It also has two-thirds less saturated fat and cholesterol and three times the fiber.

Makes two servings (two bagel pizzas each)

2 whole wheat bagels

1/3 cup pizza sauce (or 2 tablespoons pesto or light garlic & herb spreadable cheese)

2/3 cup shredded, reduced-fat mozzarella cheese

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (button, crimini, or baby portobello)

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Black pepper to taste

  1. Cut whole wheat bagels in half with a serrated knife to make four pizza crust circles. Place them cut side up on a baking sheet. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of pizza sauce (or 1/2 tablespoon of pesto or light garlic & herb cheese spread) over each pizza half.

  2. Top each bagel half with 1/4 of the shredded cheese.

  3. Heat a medium nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. When oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, until lightly browned. Stir in the spinach leaves and minced garlic. Stir and sauté until the spinach is bright green and shrunken down (about 1 minute). Add black pepper to taste.

  4. Spread the spinach and mushroom mixture evenly over the pizza halves and broil about 4 inches from the heat until the cheese is bubbling. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn.

Per serving (using pizza sauce): 452 calories, 25 g protein, 62 g carbohydrate, 12.5 g fat, 4.7 g saturated fat, 4.8 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 11.5 g fiber, 836 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.2 grams, omega-6 fatty acids = 2.8 grams

Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Chicken Casserole

This provides you with veggies, whole grains, and lean meat all in one delicious dish. You can use light coconut milk instead of the fat-free half-and-half and coconut extract.

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or canola oil)

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Ground pepper

Salt to taste (optional)

2 cups fat-free half-and-half

2 teaspoons coconut extract

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons red curry powder

3/4 cup uncooked brown rice

2 small red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), cut into thin strips or 1-inch pieces

3 cups fresh or frozen green beans (stem ends removed), cut into 1-inch long pieces

Garnish: 2 tablespoons toasted coconut, natural unsweetened or flaked (optional)

  1. Heat olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with pepper and salt (if desired) and add to skillet. Brown well on both sides (about 3 minutes each).

  2. While chicken is browning, combine fat-free half-and-half, coconut extract, chicken broth, red curry, and brown rice in slow cooker dish. Add browned chicken on top and arrange bell pepper and green beans over it. Cover the slow cooker and heat on low for 4 to 6 hours, or until rice is tender.

  3. Serve chicken with some of the rice, vegetables, and curry coconut sauce. Sprinkle on some toasted coconut, if desired. (To toast coconut on a stove, spread it in the bottom of a nonstick skillet or frying pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the coconut is golden brown.

Per serving: 371 calories, 36 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 4 g monounsaturated fat, 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 5.5 g fiber, 271 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 18%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.1 gram, omega-6 fatty acids = 1.3 grams.