Seven Steps for Eating Healthfully With Diabetes

It’s no picnic having diabetes. And having a picnic with diabetes may not seem all that easy, either. In a day and age when everyone has their own ideas about what and what not to eat, trying to eat healthfully can seem downright hard. Gluten is bad, sugar is bad, while coconut oil, quinoa, and kale are good, according to “experts” who may or may not have credentials backing them up.

It’s not surprising that people get frustrated about what’s good to eat, especially with a chronic condition like diabetes. The science of nutrition is ever evolving — this we know for sure. And while we may not exactly know what the “best” food is or whether eating butter is really all that bad, there are a few things that nutrition and health professionals feel fairly certain about. There are also some easy tips to get you started on a healthy diet…today!


Track what you’re eating for a couple of weeks. No doubt you’ve kept (or been asked to keep) food records before. Record keeping isn’t the most fun thing to do, but your journey towards healthful eating starts with a single step, which is to learn about how and what you’re eating. Tracking lets you learn about your eating habits and the types of foods that you reach for, which, in turn, can help you pinpoint where you may need to make some changes.

How: You can track using good old-fashioned paper and pencil or you can go all high-tech and use an app, such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It!.

Eat plenty of produce. One can argue the merits of kale versus spinach, or whether you should spend your hard-earned dollars on organic fruits and vegetables. What’s most important, however, is to eat a variety. You don’t have to like arugula or kumquats. But if you can eat different colored fruits and vegetables (red, orange, green, white, purple, etc.), then you’re golden. With summer right around the corner, eating fruits and veggies is pretty easy to do.

How: Set a goal to eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable with each of your meals — or at your snacks. Frozen is OK, too. Start checking out local farmer’s markets for good deals. And think about growing your own — try container gardening if space is an issue.

Fit in fish. Fish is an excellent source of protein, and if you choose higher-fat seafood, such as salmon or mackerel, you’ll get the added benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood fats.

How: Fish can be pricey, but frozen fish is a good choice if fresh doesn’t quite fit into your budget. Even canned fish, such as tuna or salmon, fits well into a healthy diet (just buy it packed in water, not oil).

Be carb conscious. Yes, carbohydrate affects blood sugar levels. But despite what some naysayers believe, carbs are not bad. It’s all in the choosing. Refined and processed carbs, like white bread, chocolate chip cookies, and potato chips, are not good for anyone, diabetes or not. There are plenty of healthful carbs to choose from, however, and if you keep an eye on your portions, they can surely fit into your eating plan.

How: What’s a healthful carb? Quinoa, amaranth, spelt, brown rice, barley, black beans, and lentils are just a few examples. They’re rich in nutrients and will help to fuel your body.

Include protein at your meals. Aim to eat a protein-rich food at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Doing so may help keep both your weight and your blood sugars in check.

How: It’s easy to fit in some protein — and you don’t need a lot. Protein foods include nut butters, cottage cheese, reduced-fat cheese, poultry, fish, lean meat, tofu, and tempeh.

Use the C.A.N. principle. Researchers at Cornell have healthy eaters pegged. They’ve discovered that folks who eat well do so when healthy food is convenient (C), attractive (A), and normal (N). For example, keeping a bowl of juicy green apples on your counter fits the C.A.N. principle because it’s so easy and obvious to grab a piece of fruit on your way in or out of the kitchen.

How: Stocking your fridge and cupboards with nutritious foods, planning your menu for the week, and enlisting the help and support of your family are ways to make healthful eating a convenient, attractive, and normal part of your routine.

Drink plenty…of water, that is. Staying hydrated is especially important when you have diabetes. But many beverages are laden with calories and carbs; sugar-free drinks are OK in moderation, but not everyone cares for nonnutritive sweeteners. Learn to love water, whether plain, carbonated, or naturally flavored. And don’t overlook unsweetened black, green, or herbal tea, as well, to help meet your daily fluid needs.

There are many ways to eat more healthfully with diabetes. These are just a few. Even choosing one or two will get you on your way. If you feel like you need more help or more ideas, consider meeting with a dietitian.

Is there a way to healthfully fit carbohydrate into your diabetes meal plan? Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to find out from Type 2 veteran Martha Zimmer.

  • Trace

    HELP!!! I have just been told I have diabetes, and it’s so hard changing my eating habits. I’m trying to read up on what’s good and what’s not. I guess I know what’s not, that’s how I got here.

  • acampbell

    Hi Trace,
    Finding out that you have diabetes can be overwhelming. But as the saying goes, all journeys start with a single step. Think about your current habits and decide on one or two things that you might want to work on or change. Maybe that means starting to count carbs or choosing healthier snacks, for example. Pick something that seems doable, otherwise, you’ll end up getting discouraged. Read the articles on this website for guidance. I’d also encourage you to meet with a dietitian who can give you more personalized guidance. Ask your doctor for a referral if you’re interested in doing this.