Dietary Guidelines for Diabetics

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder affecting how the body processes glucose from food; it affects nearly three in 100 people worldwide. Learn how to plan meals for diabetics and which foods are diabetes-friendly with this guide from Giant Eagle®.
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For a person reliant on medications or insulin, special considerations, including meal timing and specific meal content, must be taken into account when planning to eat.

Causes of Diabetes

  • Type I diabetes, like celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis, is considered to be an autoimmune condition with undefined environmental and genetic triggers
  • Type II diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes in the United States, can be caused by lifestyle risks and choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control, risk factors include being older, having a family history of diabetes, having had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes), having impaired glucose tolerance, being obese, and not exercising. With proper diet and exercise, as well as the correct medication regimen if needed, Type II diabetes can be controlled.

Safe Eating Strategies

The diabetes dietary guidelines recommended by The American Diabetes Association and The American Heart Association mirror those for most Americans. Proper eating begins with reasonable portions to fit calorie needs, and physical activity is critical to keeping the disease in check. For a person reliant on medications or insulin, special considerations, including meal timing and specific meal content, must be taken into account when planning to eat.

  • Think “balance” at every meal. Fill half of your plate with veggies and fruit – with an emphasis on leafy greens, up to one quarter with lower-fat protein sources (lean meat and fish are great choices) and the rest with grains, preferably whole grains, pasta or starchy vegetables like potatoes
  • Visualize your plate or use sample suggested meals to plan each day; for example, choose one serving each of lean beef, pasta with grated cheese, green beans and salad
  • Put fiber on the menu. Add vegetables, fruit and grain; high-fiber black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils are also a great source of protein
  • Keep protein sources low in fat and within portion guidelines; a serving the size of a deck of cards fits your requirement at each meal
  • Check the sodium content of prepared and processed foods if high blood pressure is an issue for you, and choose salt substitutes instead of added salt when possible
  • Change your cooking method to broiling, roasting, grilling, or steaming rather than frying
  • Avoid fat-laden extras like gravy, dressing, mayonnaise and butter. Make these savvy substitutions:
  1. Skim the fat from gravy made from broth or pan liquids: bring liquids to a boil and drop in ice cubes to help remove fat; the fat will solidify on the cube so you can remove it quickly
  2. Choose low-fat dressings for salads, or use balsamic vinegar with a touch of olive oil spray and your favorite seasonings
  3. Keep mashed potatoes lower in fat and saturated fat with low-fat milk and only a little butter or margarine, or cook them in low-fat chicken broth; add a touch of cinnamon to your sweet potatoes to bring out flavor
  4. Look for lower calorie “maple-flavored” syrup and brown sugar replacements
  5. Choose heart-healthy margarine, light butter or butter-canola blend spread
  • Watch your total carbohydrate intake – especially sweets:
  1. Keep portions small or have just a taste
  2. Include a lower fat or lower sugar topping; some “creamy” types of desserts taste great with yogurt rather than whipped topping
  3. Eat fruit as your dessert or use fruit as a key dessert ingredient as in one-crust pies or fruit crisps; a touch of vanilla brings out the flavor of fresh berries
  4. Look for low-fat, low-sugar options like “lite” frozen desserts
  • Choose complex carbohydrates like whole wheat pasta, wild rice and whole-wheat bread
  • Control sugar
  1. Look for sugar-free versions of your favorite sweet treats and drinks; products made with aspartame, sucralose, stevia, or saccharine taste sweet – without the added sugar. (Editor's note: Some people experience allergic reactions or intestinal discomfort after consuming artificial sweeteners, so always check with your physician before trying new foods.)
  2. Remember that naturally occurring sugars, such as the lactose in milk products and fructose found in fruits count toward your daily carbohydrate intake.
  3. Read labels and check ingredient lists to limit added sugars.

Always discuss changes in diet with your physician; consult a Giant Eagle registered dietitian or pharmacist for tips on meal planning. For more information on eating with diabetes, contact

Brought to you by the Registered Dietitians at Giant Eagle and Market District® 

Important Physician Advice Disclaimer: The content provided by Giant Eagle®, including but not limited to, website, recipe and health information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician for professional guidance before changing or undertaking a new diet program. Advance consultation with your physician is particularly important if you are under the age of 18, pregnant, nursing or have health problems.