Eating to Control Diabetes and Blood Sugar

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on October 14, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

What you eat -- and when you eat it -- can affect your blood sugar levels. These food tips, in addition to following your doctor’s advice, can help keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Make One Change at a Time

"When you’ve spent a lifetime developing eating habits, you can't just flip a switch and change them overnight," says Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Instead, Sandquist suggests starting with one change and working from there.

Don’t Skip Meals

For good blood sugar control, space your meals about four to six hours apart. Eating meals at around the same time each day may also help keep your blood sugar steady.

Spacing carbohydrates evenly throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar level.

Skipping meals isn't a good idea when you have diabetes. This is true even if you're planning on going to a party or event. Don't skip meals to "save" your calories for later. Instead, eat your other meals at the regular time. When you get to the party, try to eat the same amount of carbohydrates you would at a meal. It's fine to have a treat, just don’t go overboard.

Carbs: Cut Portion Size

You don’t need to cut all carbs -- such as breads, pasta, potatoes, and rice. Take a look at how much you’re eating. To keep your energy steady, you probably just need to eat a little less. Instead of your usual serving size, try having two-thirds the amount. Do this for every meal and snack.

Try cutting back your carb portions for a few weeks. You may notice that your blood sugar levels are lower, and you may even drop a few pounds.

Balance Your Plate

Counting carbs and calories or calculating the glycemic index of foods can be complicated! Here’s a simple trick that may help you to start eating better. The "plate method" helps you eat the right mix and amounts of different food groups -- carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. Eating the right mix can help you keep your blood sugar in check and keep your energy steady.


Here's how it works:

  • Start with a 9- or 10-inch plate.
  • Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as salad, greens, broccoli, green beans, or beets.
  • Fill1/4 of your plate with protein food: lean meat, fish, tofu, eggs, cheese, or poultry.
  • Fill 1/4 of your plate with a starchy food, such as bread, rice, potatoes, or pasta.
  • On the side, add a serving of fruit. Also have a cup of non-fat or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, or a roll.

This still works if you want to cut portions. It’s a visual to help you remember that even if you eat less, half of the food you eat should be vegetables. Think of meat and starchy foods as side dishes.

Fine-Tune Your Diet

Gradually, you can start to make other healthy changes once you have one or two under your belt. For example, slowly adjust your diet to swap in healthier food choices.

Instead of mashed potatoes with butter and cream, try a plain baked potato with a little cottage cheese. Or have fish or lean poultry instead of cuts of red meat with lots of fat.

Watching what you eat is one part of living better with diabetes. Be sure to still follow your doctor’s advice to control your blood sugar levels. Read more on how to manage blood sugar spikes after meals.

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American Diabetes Association: "Create Your Plate."  

Cleveland Clinic: "Nutrition Basics for People with Diabetes," "Diabetes and the Foods You Eat."

Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.



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