What is an ADA Diet?

Simone Lawson

An American Diabetic Association diet (ADA diet) is an eating plan set forth by the ADA that is considered best suited for diabetics needing to control blood glucose levels. These diets do not necessarily follow a strict and regimented plan, but the association does encourage diabetics to limit their daily caloric intake, include a variety foods, and limit the intake of certain foods, such as fruits, alcohol, and fried foods. The most defining characteristics of a diabetic diet are the regulated amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and foods high in processed sugars that are allowed.

Grains should make up 6 to 11 servings a day.
Grains should make up 6 to 11 servings a day.

An ADA diet typically recommends between 1,600 and 2,800 calories per day. Women are generally encouraged to aim for the lower range, or mid-range if they are very active. It is suggested that men consume the mid-range amount of calories, but if they are very active, they may need to consume up to 2,800 calories per day.

Fried foods, along with alcohol, cookies, and candy, should be limited.
Fried foods, along with alcohol, cookies, and candy, should be limited.

It is suggested that grains and starches fall between six and 11 servings per day, depending on one’s daily caloric needs. A single grain or starch serving may include one slice of bread, 1/3 cup (about 75 g) of pasta, 1/2 cup (about 85 g) of beans or 1/2 cup (around 65 g) of potato. Foods falling in the grain and starch group are categorized as carbohydrates and need to be regulated when following this type of diet.

High fiber vegetables are recommended.
High fiber vegetables are recommended.

Three to five servings of high-fiber vegetables are recommended every day. A single vegetable serving is 1 cup (30 g) of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup (around 90 g) of cooked vegetables; note that the metric weight measurements will vary, depending on the vegetable eaten. Starchy vegetables are excluded from this category, but other vegetables included are kale, spinach, tomatoes, and cabbage.

Someone on an ADA diet should limit fruit to two to four servings a day.
Someone on an ADA diet should limit fruit to two to four servings a day.

Fruits also contain carbohydrates and are generally limited to two to four servings per day. One serving of fruit may include an orange, apple, banana, or 1 cup (about 144 g) of blackberries or strawberries. Fruits are an essential part of adding fiber to the diet, but should be taken in moderation.

Kale can be part of an ADA diet.
Kale can be part of an ADA diet.

Low-fat milk and dairy products are included as part of the ADA diet in two or three daily servings. A single serving in this group is 1 cup (236.5 ml) of milk or yogurt. Cheese is excluded from this food group and included in the protein portion of the ADA recommended serving plan.

Soy-based foods like tofu are a great source of protein.
Soy-based foods like tofu are a great source of protein.

Proteins, such as meat or meat substitutes, are typically limited to four or six servings per day. A single serving of protein may include such items as one egg, 1 ounce (28.3 g) of chicken or fish, 1 tablespoon (16 g) of peanut butter or 1/2 cup (126 g) of tofu. Cheeses are also included in this protein group and are recommended in the low-fat variety.

Alcoholic beverages, fried foods, cookies, or candies should be limited. Experts recommend that these foods be limited to single servings and be avoided as a regular part of the diet. Servings generally should not exceed two or three times per week.

Making sure that meals fall with in the appropriate carbohydrate range is another important component to the ADA diet. The ADA recommends that one meal contain between 45 and 60 grams of carbohydrates. Monitoring carbohydrate levels is essential to maintaining healthy glucose levels.

Spinach and tomatoes may be featured in an ADA diet.
Spinach and tomatoes may be featured in an ADA diet.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


The ADA diet is not and never was endorsed by the American Diabetes Association. It was made up by hospitals as a means to manage blood sugars in hospitalized patients. The ADA diet limits the amount of carbohydrates served at any one meal time. It allows for about 50 percent of calories to come from carbohydrates. For example, the 1800 ADA allows 60g of carbs at each meal, with a 15-30g snack in between meals. However I will reiterate, this was never created by the American Diabetes Association.


Why would you give grains to someone with diabetes? This is madness!


I believe that most diets in this vein that are for non-diabetics emphasize carbohydrates as a primary calorie source. This diet restricts carbs because they are processed by the body into glucose and that becomes a problem.


When starting on the ADA diet, do people usually just go cold turkey from a normal diet to the ADA diet?

I would think that it would be really hard to switch over immediately from a normal American diet of say, 2500 to 3000 calories a day to the ADA 1800 calorie diet.

But maybe the condition is so serious that you do have to switch over like that -- I don't know. I don't have any kind of ADA diet manual or anything so I don't know.

Can you clue me in?


My mother was diagnosed as being diabetic two years ago, and although she's pretty good about following her ADA 1800 calorie diet plan, she still slips up every now and again when it comes to the sweet stuff.

I think that that's pretty understandable though -- I mean, even with all the ADA diet menus out there and all the no-sugar sweets, it can still be hard to turn down the temptation for some good, old-fashioned sugar every now and again.

Of course, I'm not recommending that at all -- but I think that most diabetics "cheat" a little bit when it comes to diet anyway.

What about you guys? I know I totally would sneak the odd candy bar if I had to be on the ADA diet all the time -- I've got no self-control at all as far as Mars Bars are concerned ;)


How does this differ from the normal diet that most people are supposed to have? To me, this looks like the basic food pyramid diet, with slightly fewer calories.

Although I can definitely see how this would be an extremely healthy diet, I fail to see how the ADA diabetes diet is particularly suited for diabetes.

Could you explain this a little more to me, and clarify as to how the ADA diet plan is different from the normal food pyramid diet?

Post your comments
Forgot password?