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Meal Planning for Managing Your Diabetes

The importance of meal planning when you have diabetes

You can control your blood sugar levels to a certain extent by eating a good diet, exercising, and staying at a healthy weight. A healthy lifestyle can also help control or lower your blood pressure and blood fats (cholesterol). This lowers your risk for heart disease.

For steady blood sugar, space smaller meals throughout the day. That will help spread out your carbohydrate intake. Eating a big meal only once or twice a day can cause very high or low blood sugar levels.

Also, if your activity level has changed, you may need to change your diet as well. This will help you stay at a healthy weight and control your blood sugar levels.

What is the MyPlate plan?

Whether you have diabetes or not, following the MyPlate guidelines is good for your health. The MyPlate plan can help you eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food plate to guide you in selecting foods.

MyPlate graphic showing healthy balance of foods.

MyPlate has 5 food group categories:

  • Grains. Make at least half the grains you eat each day whole grains. Whole-grain foods include oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. Check the food label on processed foods. The words “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before the specific grain in the product. Refined grain products can be enriched with some of the nutrients that were lost in processing, though some nutrients, like fiber, are not.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green- and orange-colored kinds, legumes (lentils, peas and beans), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Healthier choices include buying fresh, low-sodium, or no-salt added canned versions, or plain, frozen vegetables that have no added sauces or seasonings.

  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. They may be whole, cut up, or pureed. Choose fruits without added sweeteners or sugars.

  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium. Milk is also often fortified with vitamins A and D. Fortified soy milk and yogurt are also part of this food group because they have nutrients similar to dairy milk and yogurt.

  • Protein. Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group. Yet some, such as nut and other plant oils, contain essential nutrients and should be included in the diet.

The MyPlate Plan also advises eating and drinking less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.

  • Sodium. Limit your intake to 2,300 mg per day, or as directed by your healthcare provider. Reduce the amount of sodium in your diet by choosing fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables that are low-sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added products and without added sauces. Choose to cook more at home instead of eating out. And season your food with herbs and spices instead of salt.

  • Saturated fat. This type of fat is most often found in animal products such as beef and pork. Choose leaner animal products, such as skinless chicken breasts or pork loin. They contain less saturated fat. Foods that have more saturated fat are often solid at room temperature. They are often called “solid” fats, such as butter.

  • Added sugars. These are in many processed foods and drinks, including regular soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, flavored coffee beverages, cookies, cakes, pastries, candy, ice cream, icing, jams, and syrups. Limit the amount of added sugars you eat by choosing water or milk over sweetened beverages. You can have fruit for dessert or share a sweet treat with a friend or family member. Or purchase products with no added sugar like plain yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, or plain dried fruit.

Also include exercise and every day physical activity with a healthy dietary plan as directed by your healthcare provider.

For more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025  and to find the right dietary advice for your age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the site and 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines site. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed for people who don't have chronic health conditions.

Although the MyPlate plan promotes health, including the prevention of diabetes and its complications, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises individualized meal plans for people with diabetes. People with diabetes should talk with their healthcare providers and registered dietitians (RD) for guidance with meal planning and physical activity.

The number of servings from each food group may differ for a person with diabetes, based on their treatment plan, diabetic goals, calorie intake, and lifestyle. There are many tools available to help you follow a diabetes meal plan, including, exchange lists, and carbohydrate counting. Always talk with your healthcare provider or dietitian for dietary recommendations and daily physical exercise needs for your situation.

Food group

Nutrition benefits


Grains provide the body with energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Although filled with carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels, grains are essential to a healthy diet. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain fiber and have less of an effect on blood sugar levels, compared to refined grains. Examples of grains include:

  • Bread

  • Oatmeal

  • Pasta

  • Cereal

  • Rice

  • Cornmeal

  • Tortillas


Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals essential to the body. Many vegetables also contain fiber. Because they are low in calories when eaten raw or cooked, people with diabetes are encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables. However, people with diabetes may still need to count carbohydrates when they eat certain vegetables, because even non starchy vegetables contain some carbohydrates.


Fruit can provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fruit also contains natural sugars, which can raise blood sugar levels. How and when to eat fruit or drink fruit juices for a person with diabetes is very specific to that person. Certain fruits can affect blood sugar levels differently in different people. Even 100% fruit juice can raise blood sugar levels very quickly. This is because it doesn't contain the fiber found in whole fruit. You may need to experiment to find how a certain fruit affects your blood sugar.

Milk and yogurt

Fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt provide energy, protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Fat-free milk is also a good food to treat low blood sugar levels, since 8 ounces contains around the same amount of carbohydrates as 1 serving of fruit or starch.


Foods that contain protein help build muscles and body tissue, and provide vitamins and minerals. Due to the increased risk of heart disease in people with diabetes, the ADA recommends that people cut down on animal protein foods. Animal protein foods, like meats, whole-milk products, and high-fat cheeses contain saturated fat. Other examples of protein foods include poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and tofu.


The total fat and oil intake should be based on your cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and lifestyle. Limit the amount of saturated fats you eat and stay away from trans fats. Trans fats are often found in processed foods likes pastries, cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, shortening, and stick margarines.

Some examples of healthier fats and oils (lower in saturated fats and higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats) include fish, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, canola oil, avocado oil, and avocados.


Because diabetes is associated with glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, some people think they should not eat any sugar at all. However, table sugar and other sugars in your diet don't increase blood glucose levels any higher than other simple carbohydrates, according to the ADA. Choose natural sugars (like those in milk and whole fruit), when possible, and limit the amount of added sugars in your diet.

How much sugar you eat depends on your personal diabetes treatment and nutrition plan, and how well you control your blood sugar levels and blood fats. Always talk with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for more specific recommendations.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brittany Poulson MDA RDN CD CDE
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
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