What is a Diabetic Diet?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2019
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A diabetic diet is a diet used by a patient with diabetes to help control blood sugar. Some people are able to manage their diabetes through a diabetic diet alone, while others must also take insulin. Other measures which can be used to manage diabetes include integrating exercise routines into the patient's lifestyle and eating a diet which is designed to control for related health problems such as cardiovascular disease.

People with diabetes lack the ability to produce insulin, or are nonresponsive to it. As a result, their blood sugar gets out of control, leading to a variety of problems ranging from permanent damage to the blood vessels to coma. Treatment of diabetes involves making permanent lifestyle changes which are designed to manage the disease. Diabetic diets do not have to be restrictive or dull when they are carefully administered, and someone with diabetes can eat out at social events just like everyone else.

Someone who needs a diabetic diet can get basic advice from a doctor, but it is also advisable to go to a nutritionist or dietitian. These healthcare professionals can provide detailed and highly specific advice, and they can help design a diet which a patient will be able to stick with. Nutritionists and dieticians can also help with things like shopping, meal planning, and so forth. Even long-term diabetes patients can benefit from periodic nutritional advice as their diabetes may change over time.


The goal of a diabetic diet is to keep blood sugar low. One important aspect of the diet is an adjustment to eating frequent small meals, rather than infrequent large ones. Consumption of carbohydrates, including sugars, is kept low, because they can raise blood sugar. Patients are usually encouraged to eat lots of fresh food, and to focus on whole grains and lean sources of proteins.

There are a number of different ways to structure a diabetic diet. Some patients use exchanges, in which foods with similar impact on blood sugar are grouped together, and the patient mixes and matches to achieve desired dietary goals for the day. Others eat a low glycemic index diet. Other approaches to a diabetic diet are also available.

A good diabetic diet is diverse, with room for flexibility provided through “free foods” which can be eaten in abundance. If a patient finds one approach hard to stick with, he or she should ask about other diabetic diets to see if a better system can be found.


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Post 10

@alisha - I find it really interesting that you mentioned exercise too. Many people forget this, but just as diet and fitness go hand in hand in non-diabetics, the same holds true for people with diabetes. Simply following one without the other can easily still result in health problems or deficiencies.

I do wonder about a gestational diabetes diet though. Many pregnant women alter their diets since they are so sensitive to certain foods and smells, and they probably can't do a lot of heavy exercise in their state. Are there any recommended foods to either help ward off gestational diabetes or help cope with it?

Post 9

@GreenWeaver - You're right, many sugar-free foods still contain high levels of fats or carbs. There are tons of diabetic diet recipes and meal plans freely available online and they're as easy to make as regular meals.

The main difference is that instead of sugar, they might call for a sugar substitute, such as stevia (which is a natural plant-based product) or Splenda. On most sugar substitute product websites, you can also find recipes that are specifically adjusted to adapt to the lack of sugar. Try this out with some healthy ingredients for some meals that are diabetic-friendly and still tasty for the rest of the family!

Post 8

@LisaLou - Having reduced sugar cravings after gradually weaning yourself off of sugary foods is something that non-diabetics also experience. Whether it is for a diabetic diet plan or part of a healthier way of life, one way to very gradually cut out sugar is to reduce it slightly in your daily tea or coffee.

It sounds simple enough but it makes a huge difference, and it's hard to tell the difference in sweetness if you reduce the sugar a little at a time.

Post 7

My aunt has been a diabetic for many years. She has to check her blood sugar readings several times throughout the day. If she really wants to eat something sweet, she will check before and after she eats it to see how her body responds.

She also has become very good at knowing which exchanges she can make for something else. Following a diabetic diet takes a lot of discipline. There are so many sweet food choices all around us, and it can be hard to eliminate them from your diet.

This has become a way of life for her, and she knows what she can and can't eat. Since she started following this diet and cut out most of her sugars, she said she doesn't crave the sweets as much as she used to.

Post 6

The last time my husband had his fasting blood work done, they told him he was not diabetic, but his numbers were higher than they liked. His doctor said he needed to start taking steps to lower his glucose readings.

The first thing they told him to do was to lose some weight and see if that made a difference in his levels. He also cut out a lot of the pop he had been drinking and began drinking more water.

We have friends who are diabetics and have to closely follow a diabetic diet. He has seen them do this, and getting the high blood sugar readings was a big motivation for him to make some lifestyle changes.

Post 5

I think equally important as diet, is physical activity for diabetics.

I read about this recently and was really surprised. It was an article in the health issue of a magazine and it said that the fat around our waist area increases insulin resistance. So I have to burn the fat in that area and make sure that I don't regain.

Along with eating right, I think paying attention to calorie and fat intake and getting regular exercise is very important.

Post 4

@sunshine31, @GreenWeaver-- As far as I know, being a diabetic doesn't mean that you cannot have any sugar in your diet. If you take insulin or medications to treat your diabetes, you can eat some sugar in moderation.

Type 2 diabetes runs in my family and practically all of the previous generation have it and are using tablets to control it. The reason they have to take tablets is because the insulin in their body is not in the right "shape" meaning that it isn't recognized and used. This causes the sugar to accumulate in the blood, raising blood sugar.

The tablets help fix the "shape" of the insulin and allow the body to recognize it and use

it. So technically, if you are taking medicines and they are working correctly, you can have sugar as it will be taken and used by the insulin. Plus, most of the foods we eat, including all carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body anyway.

Of course, there are good and bad sugars. You're better off having brown cane sugar and fructose (fruit) in moderation than you are having white sugar and corn syrup.

Post 3

@sunshine31-- I heard a doctor on TV say the same thing. He said that people who live in a household with a diabetic are very lucky. If they eat the same things, they will be very healthy and can prevent diabetes in the future.

My mom is a diabetic and since she does most of the cooking, I am benefiting from it as well. We eat a lot of vegetables, beans, whole grains and yogurt. I have a sweet tooth and sneak that in once in a while, but overall I am eating much better than I would have if I lived on my own.

I've also been to the dietitian to loose weight. The diet list that she gave me is practically the same as the one that my mom has for diabetes.

Post 2

@Sunshine31 -I know what you are saying but some sugar free foods have a high fat content which is why they still taste really good. I used to buy some shortbread cookies that were sugar free that tasted fantastic until I read the label.

They contained more than 60% fat and I stopped buying them. I just started buying regular cookies and just eating them in moderation. I think that a lot of sugar free food is delicious but like with everything else you really have to watch how much you eat and not go overboard.

I think that baking your own desserts and using sugar substitutes might be better because you can control the fat content in the food. I also think that any diabetic diet also requires daily exercise because exercise has also been shown to control diabetes as well.

Post 1

I think that a lot of people could benefit from diabetic diets that are not diabetic. Eating foods with a lower glycemic index like vegetables and lean protein foods not only keep you fuller longer but they also take away your cravings for sweets in the long run.

Eating foods like beans also helps to regulate your blood sugar and cut your cravings for sugary foods. I am not diabetic, but I did try a diet specifically designed for diabetics and it has done wonders for me. Aside from losing weight rather steadily I also developed more energy and do not have the dips in my blood sugar that made me feel sluggish.

I know that many contemporary diets are based on the diabetic diet and there are also a lot of sugar free foods that taste great and you really can’t tell that they are sugar free.

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