Diet Principles for Diabetes

If you have Diabetes, you more than likely have encountered these reactions from your family and friends. “Oh no! It is a very dangerous disease; you are surely going to face very bad circumstances. You are prone to cardiac problems, kidney problems, and so on. Do not eat sweets at all. Cut short your food intake drastically. Avoid this, avoid that, etc.” Don’t worry. Relax. Though there is some truth to the fact that diabetes, a metabolic disease, can cause problems if badly controlled and ignored. Making a few changes in lifestyle reduces the complications of diabetes. Chief among these would be weight control, taking up regular exercise, and following a sensible, balanced diet.

There is no single dietary recommendation regarding diabetic food and calorie intake that suits everyone universally, as each person’s daily requirements of nutrients and calories vary based on their overall health, gender, age, height, weight, BMI, type of job, and lifestyle. What we discuss here are broad dietary principles to be borne in mind for food choices and diet planning in diabetes and a sample daily meal plan.

Guidelines for a proper diet for diabetes

  1. The diet should include all the essential nutrients and micronutrients like vitamins & minerals necessary for a healthy life.
  2. The diet should be rich in complex carbohydrates and proteins while being cautious about fatty foods, simple sugars, fast foods, and sugary beverages.
  3. Meals should be in small proportions and spaced out into four to six meals a day instead of two or three big meals to avoid eating more than what you need.
  4. Calorie requirements should be adjusted to achieve a healthy BMI between 20-25.

The calorie mix should approximately be
Complex Carbohydrates: 50-60% of total calories.
Total Fat of which most should be unsaturated fat: 25-30% of total calories
Protein: 15% to 20% of total calories

Also Read: Incidence of Diabetes and Prevention Procedures

List of foods to choose from:

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates or sugar is one of the main nutrients present in all foods and beverages. They are of two types complex or simple, depending on the effort and time takes for digestion and absorption. It is recommended to always choose complex carbs as they contain a higher amount of fiber and take a longer time for digestion. Whole grains like whole wheat, unpolished rice, whole millets, quinoa, etc, and whole fruits, leafy greens, and vegetables are all good choices. The Glycemic index indicates the speed with which a particular food gets absorbed and the sugar spike it causes in the blood. Foods having less GI (glycemic index of less than or equal to 55) must be selected.


Fiber is the indigestible portion of food that, due to its nature, helps you feel full for a longer period of time, thereby making you eat less and control your sugar levels. Foods high in fiber are fresh vegetables, green leafy vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains like oats and millets. It is better to consume whole fruits and avoid juices.


Proteins are essential for most body reactions, injury repair, and immunity. In the absence of kidney problems, moderate to high amounts of proteins should be consumed by a diabetic. Sources of good protein are lean meat, eggs, pulses like kidney beans, soya beans, red grams, horse grams, and lentils.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are of two types – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They help to reduce bad cholesterol. Sources include most plant-based oils like soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, etc, and seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts like walnuts, almonds, etc., and fish, such as salmon, trout, etc.

Vitamins & Minerals

These micro-nutrients are essential for most of the enzymatic reactions in the body and for energy production. Foods rich in these include most vegetables and fresh fruits.

List of foods to avoid:

Simple Carbohydrates & Refined Sugars

Foods that must avoid or taken in moderation are:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Polished rice
  • Regular jam
  • Indian sweets
  • Sweetened sodas
  • Juices
  • Sweetened tea
  • Coffee with sugar and cream
  • Chocolate drinks
  • Energy drinks
Saturated and Trans Fats

Fries, chips, deep-fried snacks and other items, fried meats, and saturated fats like lard, butter, and cheeses.

Sodium-rich food

Sodium helps maintain proper blood pressure and provides channels for nerve signaling. However, over-consumption of sodium can lead to high blood pressure which in turn leads to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Foods high in sodium include table salt, sauces, salad dressings, cured meats, bacon, pickles, roasted salted nuts, fast foods, most fried foods, and snacks.

A Sample Meal Plan:

Breakfast: Oats upma or porridge, hard-boiled eggs or an omelet with less oil, mixed nuts and seeds, and black coffee or tea.
Lunch: Unpolished rice with dal and lean chicken or tofu and veggies & yogurt.
In between snacks: Whole fruits like apple, banana, orange, melon, etc, or vegetables like carrot, cucumber, etc.
Dinner: 2 whole wheat chapattis with curry heavy on veggies and low on oil and salt.

Written by MedPlus