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The Common Sense Diabetes Diet

Nan Kuhlman Nan Kuhlman
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

No one likes to be told what to eat, but unfortunately diet is an important aspect of properly managing diabetes. There are a lot of dietary options to consider. Intentionally eating more healthfully can seem intimidating, but it can deliver big rewards. Not only will your blood glucose and blood pressure levels stay within their recommended ranges, but you’ll feel better and have more energy. You may even prevent diabetes complications and lose some excess weight. However, you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific formula to achieve good results. Using good common sense when it comes to a healthy diet will go a long way.


Dr. Merri Pendergrass, endocrinologist and director of the UA Diabetes Program, suggests that the diet for someone with diabetes should be a healthful diet for anyone – not just someone who has diabetes. She makes the point that watching your diet doesn’t mean you can never enjoy the foods you once did, like chocolate or wine. It just means that you must choose to eat healthfully more often than not if you want to keep your blood glucose levels in range.


Here are two common-sense guidelines to help you make more healthful dietary choices:

1. Try to choose from all the food groups every meal.


The main food groups include vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and low fat dairy. Nonstarchy vegetables should be emphasized, like spinach, romaine lettuce or other lettuces, and broccoli. Berries, cherries, and other low glycemic fruits are good choices as they offer antioxidant benefits. Whole grains (not refined) can be eaten as bread, pasta, or in a side dish like quinoa or brown rice. Protein should be lean, like chicken, fish, or turkey, and it can include non-meat options like beans or tofu. In addition, try to use heart-healthy oils, like olive oil or avocado oil, instead of butter or lard.


2. Monitor your portion sizes by dividing your plate.


Counting calories gets old. Instead, mentally divide your plate (preferably one no bigger than 9 inches in diameter) into quarters. Two quarters (or one half) of the plate will be nonstarchy vegetables. In one quarter, you’ll put a starch (like a whole grain pasta or a starchy vegetable such as potato or corn). The last quarter of the plate is for your lean protein. For dessert, you can have a small bowl or one piece of a low glycemic fruit.


Another way to keep an eye on portions is to compare them to the size of familiar objects. Check out this list from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders:


  • One serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • One 3-ounce serving of fish is a checkbook
  • One serving of cheese is six dice
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta is a rounded handful or a tennis ball
  • One serving of a pancake or waffle is a DVD
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter is a ping-pong ball. (NIDDK, 2016)


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Healthy Eating Habits

If it’s easier for you to stick to stricter guidelines, consider meeting with a registered dietician who can help you develop a plan that you can faithfully carry out. Medical nutrition therapy takes into account your food preferences, and Medicare covers it for diabetic patients.


Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’ll never get to enjoy your favorite foods again. By following a common sense diet emphasizing healthy foods and appropriate portions, you’ll be able to manage your blood glucose and have your favorite foods as a treat once in a while.



  • Diabetes diet, eating, & physical activity. (2016). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved from
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Nan Kuhlman


Nan Kuhlman has been a freelance writer for over two decades with her most recent publications appearing in the Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, Christianity Without Religion, and on the parenting website She also is a contributing writer for Grace Communion International’s denominational publications and videos.

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