Type 2 Diabetes and Food Choices

By Burgo, Kate 
March 21, 2017

Type 2 Diabetes and Food Choices

You make food choices every day. Whole wheat or white bread? A side of french fries or fresh fruit? Eat now or later? Choices about what, when, and how much you eat affect your blood glucose. Understanding how food affects blood glucose is the first step in managing diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, following a diabetes meal plan can help you keep your blood glucose levels on track.

Prevent problems

Having type 2 diabetes means that your body doesn’t control blood glucose well. When blood glucose stays too high for too long, serious health problems can develop. By controlling your blood glucose through diet, exercise, and medicine, you can delay or prevent kidney, eye, and heart disease, and other complications of diabetes.

Control carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are foods that have the biggest effect on your blood glucose levels. After you eat carbohydrates, your blood glucose rises. Fruit, sweet foods and drinks, starchy foods (such as bread, potatoes and rice), and milk and milk products contain carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates are important for health, when you eat too many at once, your blood glucose can go too high, especially if you do not have or take adequate insulin for that food.

Some carbohydrates—potatoes, sweets and white bread, for instance—may raise blood glucose more than others. Better choices are less processed foods with more fiber and nutrients, such as 100% whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and nonstarchy vegetables.

Learn to use food labels that indicate added sugar and try to find healthier alternatives, particularly if you are overweight. 

Food and medicine

Insulin helps glucose move from the blood into your muscle cells, where it can be used for energy. Some oral diabetes medicines help you make more insulin or help your insulin work more efficiently, so your medicines and food plan have to work together. If you take insulin shots, you need to be especially careful to match the amount of carbohydrates you eat with your insulin dose. If you consume too many carbohydrates without adjusting your insulin dose, your blood glucose might become too high. If you consume too few carbohydrates, your blood glucose might be too low. Your healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you match your food choices to your medicine.

Have a meal plan

With certain medicines, it is best to eat the same amount of food at the same time every day. That keeps your glucose levels stable and helps your medicine work best. Physical activity is an important way to control blood glucose, too. Try to exercise at the same time every day. That way you can build the extra calories you need for exercise into your meal plan. With other medicines, you may have more choices about how much you eat and when.

If you wish to change the medicine to suit your lifestyle, please discuss with your healthcare provider, first.

Eat smart

You can eat the same foods as everyone else, but you have to pay attention to certain details. That’s where your diabetes meal plan comes in. An individualized meal plan tells you the time of day to eat meals and snacks, the types of food to eat, and how much. It should include your favorite foods and emphasize these healthy foods:

  • Whole grains, such as 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal

  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy products, such as nonfat milk and yogurt

  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dried beans and peas

  • Foods and drinks with no added sugar.

  • Fruits and vegetables

At first, it may be helpful to use measuring cups and spoons to make sure you’re actually consuming the amount of food that’s in your plan. By checking your blood glucose 1 to 2 hours after eating, you can learn how your food choices affect your blood glucose.

To develop a diabetes meal plan or change a plan that’s not working for you, see a dietitian or diabetes educator. Having a meal plan that you can live with will keep you at your healthy best.


March 21, 2017


Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes - 2013. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2013;36:s11-s66.

Reviewed By:  

Hurd, Robert, MD,Sather, Rita, RN