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What Can Diabetics Eat? Enjoy Food as a Diabetic!

Updated on April 15, 2014

Healthy Food Choices

Natural and unprocessed foods are the best source for nutrients.
Natural and unprocessed foods are the best source for nutrients. | Source


Food can be seen as more than just sustenance; it can be seen as something that is enjoyable to not only prepare but also to eat. But what happens when food becomes a problem – when our body is unable to properly utilize the nutrients or if our body is unable to process the foods into energy? What happens when the broken down components of food just circulate around the body? This is an everyday problem that people with type 1 diabetes face.

Type 1 Diabetes is a condition of the body (specifically the pancreas) where it is no longer able to produce insulin, a hormone that is used to convert sugar, starches and various types of food into energy that is needed for everyday activities. When eating starchy foods or foods rich in carbohydrates, a type 1 diabetic’s insulin level can rise dramatically (hyperglycemia). This hub will explain various types of food that are healthy choices for a type 1 diabetic as well as aid in future meal planning for people with type 1 diabetes to better manage their diabetes for a healthy lifestyle.

What Can Diabetics Eat

Diabetics can eat anything to their heart's desire!

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Proper Meal Planning Techniques: Carb Counting

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and are easily broken down to circulate in the body through the blood stream, however because diabetics are unable to utilize the carbohydrates in the blood stream without insulin, blood glucose levels increase. Eating too many carbohydrates in a meal can cause a spike in blood glucose which is detrimental to the body.

To better manage a spike in blood glucose levels, a common meal planning technique called “carb counting” can be utilized in the managing of blood glucose levels. This technique helps to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates eaten by setting a limit for the maximum amount of carbs that are allowed to be eaten for each meal.

Please note that each individual’s body varies at how they handle carbohydrates but a good place to start is at 45-60 grams. Reading food labels is a great way to know how many grams of carbohydrate are in a food item. Carbohydrates are found in the following types of food:

  • grains
  • grain-based foods; bread, cereal, pasta
  • starchy vegetables; potatoes, peas, corn
  • fruit & juice
  • dairy products; milk, yogurt, ice cream
  • dried beans and soy products
  • sweets and snack foods like chips

Whole Grains

Whole grain breads
Whole grain breads | Source

Grains and Starchy Vegetables

The main food that diabetics need to be aware of are grains and starch vegetables as they are easily broken down by the body and circulated in to the blood stream. Grains and starchy vegetables are full of carbohydrates and it is best to pick items that offer the most nutritional value.

When selecting grain type foods, it is best to select whole grains as they are plentiful in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (natural chemicals found in plants). When eating grains that are processed, these nutrients become lost in the processing of the food. Whole grain wheat for instance uses the entirety of the wheat grain, while refined flours such as white and enriched wheat flour include only the starchy part of the grain, thus losing many of the nutrients.

Starchy vegetables offer a wide selection of vitamins, minerals and fiber but the best choice for eating these vegetables is choosing those without added fats, sugar or sodium.

Animal Protein



Foods rich in proteins consist of fish, meat poultry or soy are great choices to include in meals for diabetics. The biggest concern in regards to protein foods is how much saturated fat is in one serving of animal protein, and how many carbohydrates meat substitutes such as soy or legumes contain.

The best choice of protein foods are also the ones that are low in saturated fat like chicken breast or beans as well as containing high levels of omega-3 fats such as fish. It is important to note when meal planning that animal based proteins have no carbohydrates while plant based proteins (beans, legumes) have carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates get all the attention when managing diabetes but the types of fat ingested are also in important in the overall diet. Fats are an essential part of the body's energy needs, boosting energy and supporting cell growth. Fats can be categorized as “healthy” and “unhealthy”.

Unhealthy Fats

Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. This is an important consideration as people with diabetes are at high risk for heart disease. The amount of saturated fats should be limited to about 20 grams per day, for people with and without diabetes.

Trans fat also increase cholesterol levels and are considerably worse than saturated fats. All trans fats should be avoided. In regards to food labels, anything labeled with hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil contains some amount of trans fat. A label can claim 0 grams of trans fat if it has less than 0.5 grams per serving, so be warned!

Cholesterol is made naturally by the body and the rest comes from foods that are eaten. Animals are sources of dietary cholesterol and it is a good idea to eat less than 300 mg per day.

Healthy Fats are unsaturated and are labeled healthy because they help lower bad cholesterol known as LDL.

Monounsaturated are not required to be labeled, but many foods that are a good source list them. They are typically liquid at room temperature but turn solid when chilled.

Polyunsaturated are also healthy fats; typically liquid at room temperature and when chilled

Omega-3 Fatty Acids help to prevent the arteries from clogging. These types of fats are often found in fish as well as plants.

So What Can a Diabetic Eat?

So after looking at the various food groups that are available, what can a diabetic eat? A diabetic can eat anything they wish, but they need to remember to properly plan their meals by counting carbohydrates. Through proper meal planning, a diabetic can enjoy the wonders of food just like anyone else. Bon appétit!


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