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Eat Healthy – Diabetes

Source: Nutrition Education for New Americans Project,  Georgia State University

Eat Healthy – Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that changes sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.

How is diabetes managed?

The management of diabetes has three parts:

Healthy Eating
Physical Activity
Medication (if needed)

How can I control my diabetes?

You can help control your blood sugar (also called blood glucose) and diabetes when you eat healthy, get enough physical activity, and stay at a healthy weight.

A healthy weight also helps you control your blood fats (cholesterol) and lower your blood pressure.

Many people with diabetes also need to take medicine to help control their blood sugar.

Eat Healthy

Using the Food Guide Pyramid helps you eat a variety of healthy foods. Variety means eating food from each of the food groups every day. When you eat different foods each day, you get the vitamins and minerals you need.

Here is an example of getting a variety of foods each day.

  Day 1 Day 2
Grains: Tortilla Brown Rice
Fruit: Apple Mango
Vegetable: Broccoli Tomatoes
Dairy: Milk Yogurt
Protein: Chicken Beans

Eat From All The Food Groups

Buy whole grain breads and cereals. Some examples are whole grain breads, bran flakes, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur and amaranth.

Eat fewer fried and high fat starches such as pastries, biscuits or muffins.

Fresh fruit is the best choice. When buying canned fruit look for the words, “canned in its own juice”.

Buy smaller pieces of fruit, and drink fruit juices in small amounts.

Eat raw and cooked vegetables with very little fat.

Use mustard instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich.

Use vegetable cooking oil spray instead of oil, shortening, butter or margarine, or lard when cooking.|

Cooking techniques that are good for you are: baking, broiling, boiling, stir-frying, roasting, steaming, stews and grilling. Avoid cooking foods in large amounts of oil.

Choose lower fat cuts of meat such as: chicken, turkey. When buying pork, beef and ham, trim off the extra fat.

Choose fat free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk, or dairy foods.

Grains, Beans and Starchy Vegetables

What are starches or carbohydrates?

Starches are breads, grains, cereal, pasta, beans or starchy vegetables. Eat some starches/carbohydrates at each meal. People might tell you not to eat many starches/carbohydrates but that is no longer correct advice. Eating starches/carbohydrates is healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes.

How many starches/carbohydrates do I need each day?
6-11 servings each day. The number of servings you should eat each day depends on:

The calories you need.

Your diabetes treatment plan.

What do starches and carbohydrates do for my body?

Starches give your body energy, B vitamins, minerals and fiber. Whole grains are healthier because they have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fiber helps you have regular bowel movements. They also help you better control your blood sugar.

How much is one serving of starch/carbohydrate?

1 slice of bread
l small potato, casaba or plantain
1/2 cup cooked cereal such as oatmeal or cream of wheat
3/4 cup dry cereal such as corn flakes
1/3 cup of cooked rice
l small tortilla, roti bread or enjira bread

You may need to eat one, two or three starch/carbohydrate servings at a meal. If you need to eat more than one serving at a meal, choose different foods from this food group. For example:

Breakfast: 3/4 cup dry cereal and l slice of bread – 2 servings
Lunch: 1/3 cup of rice and 1/2 cup of cooked plaintains – 2 servings
Dinner: 1/2 cup of pasta and one bread stick – 2 servings
Snack: 6 crackers – 1 serving
Total for the day: 7 servings. Notice that the carbohydrates are balanced at the meals. This can help you control your blood sugars.


Vegetables are healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes. Eat raw and cooked vegetables everyday. Vegetables give you vitamins, minerals, and fiber with very few calories. Look for vegetables that are bright in color. A few examples are: carrots, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach.

You should have 3 to 5 servings every day.

How much is a serving of vegetables?

1/2 cup cooked vegetables, like cooked green beans, eggplant, spinach and squash
1 cup raw vegetables, like salad, carrot sticks or cut up cucumbers
1/2 cup vegetable juice, like tomato juice or carrot juice

You might need to eat one, two or three vegetable servings at a meal. If you need to eat more than one serving at a meal, choose different types of vegetables or have two or three servings of one vegetable.


Fruit is healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes. Fruit gives you energy, vitamins and minerals and fiber.

How many servings of fruit do I need?
2 to 4 servings

What is a serving of fruit?

1 small apple or pear (approximately the size of a woman’s fist)
1/2 cup of apple or orange juice
1/2 of a grapefruit
1 small banana or 1/2 of a large banana
1/2 cup of chopped fruit
1/4 cup of raisins or dried fruit (approximately what would fit in the palm of your hand)

You might need to eat one or two servings of fruit at a meal.

How should I eat fruit?

Eat fruits raw, or as juice with no sugar added.

Buy smaller pieces of fruit.

Milk and Yogurt Foods

Fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt are healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes. Milk and yogurt give you energy, protein, calcium, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals.

Drink fat-free (skim or nonfat) or low-fat (1%) milk each day. Eat low-fat or fat-free yogurt. They have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.

How many servings do I need each day?
2 to 3 servings each day. Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, eat four to five servings of milk and yogurt each day.

How much is a serving of milk and yogurt?

1 cup fat-free plain yogurt (look for yogurts flavored with aspartame also)
1 cup skim or low-fat milk

Note: Avoid yogurts that say, “fruit on the bottom”. They contain high amounts of added sugar.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Nuts

This food group contains meat (beef,pork,lamb), chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, nuts, and tofu or soy products. Eat small amounts of some of these foods each day. All these foods provide our bodies with protein.

Protein foods help your body build tissue and muscles. They also give your body vitamins and minerals.

How many protein foods do I need each day?
2 to 3 servings

How much is a serving of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts?

2 to 3 ounces of cooked fish
2 to 3 ounces cooked chicken
3 to 4 ounces tofu 1/2 cup
1 egg (equals one ounce of protein)
1 slice of cheese or one ounce of cheese (approximately the size of a D battery)
2 tablespoons of peanut butter (equals one ounce)

Helpful Tips:

The serving size you eat now may be too big.

Take a look at a deck of cards. This size is equal to 2 to 3 ounces.

Buy cuts of beef, pork, ham and lamb that have only a little fat on them. Trim off the extra fat.

Eat chicken or turkey without the skin.

Cook, protein foods in low fat ways: broil, grill, stir-fry, roast, steam, boil or stew.

Use only small amounts of oil when cooking meats, or using a cooking spray instead of oil.

Have a meal without meat. Try beans or tofu as your protein source.

Fats, Oils and Sweets

Fats and oils include butter, margarine, lard and oils that we add to foods and use to cook foods. Some oils are canola, olive and vegetable. Fats are also found in meats, dairy products, snack foods and some sweets. To control your diabetes, it is best to eat foods with less fat and less saturated fat (fat we get from meat and animal products).

Sweets are sugary foods that have calories but not very many vitamins and minerals. Some sweets are also high in fat – like cakes, pies and cookies.

Eating too many sugary and high fat foods makes it hard to control your blood sugar and weight. If you do eat fats and sweets, eat small portions.

How much is a serving of fats, oils and sweets?

1 teaspoon oil
1 tablespoon regular salad dressing
2 teaspoons light mayonnaise
1 strip of bacon
1 cookie
1 plain doughnut
1 tablespoon syrup
10-15 chips