Build Healthy Meals for Your
Type 2 Diabetes

Creating a Meal Plan

If you're living with type 2 diabetes, a meal plan is a great way to start building healthy meals. Your meal plan can be your go-to guide for choosing what foods to eat and when. A successful meal plan can help you stay on target for your blood sugar numbers and weight goals.

Planning and shopping ahead for meals lets you take control of a key part of managing your type 2 diabetes—your diet. By following your meal plan, you'll know you're eating healthy, balanced meals that you and your family can enjoy together.

Talk to your healthcare team or dietician about designing a meal plan that works for you. Give them an honest picture of your lifestyle so they can create a meal plan that fits well with your real-life routine, eating habits, and weight goals. Learn about 2 prescription treatment options, that used along with diet and exercise, may help manage your adult type 2 diabetes.

Some meal plans use planning tools as their foundation, such as:
  • The plate method that divides up your plate into different sections for different foods
  • Carb counting that sets daily carbohydrates limits
  • The glycemic index or "GI" that ranks how quickly different foods raise blood glucose levels
  • An "exchange system" that assigns values to foods that you can exchange for others of similar value

Counting Carbohydrates

Carb counting simply means tracking how many carbohydrates you eat every day and following the limit your healthcare team sets for you. Your team will consider things like your age, how active you are, and medicines you may be taking to set the carb amount that's right for you.

By tracking your carbs, and staying within your agreed limit, you can help keep your blood glucose numbers within your target range.

Typically, a meal plan for type 2 diabetes means following a diet that's rich in nutrients but limited in carbohydrates. Why? Because carbohydrates raise blood sugar (blood glucose).

What's the right amount of carbs for you?

As a starting point, you could aim for 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal. But talk to your healthcare team or dietician about what amount is right for you. With that carb number in mind, you can make good food and portion choices. Staying within your carb limit can pay off in helping you reach your blood sugar targets.

You'll find carbohydrates in these foods:

  • Bread, rice, cereal, crackers
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Dried beans like pinto beans, soy products like veggie burgers
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn
  • Sodas, juice drinks, cookies, cake, candy, chips


There's also a small amount of carbohydrates in non-starchy vegetables.

Glycemic Index

With the Glycemic Index (GI), as your meal-planning tool, you choose foods that have a low or medium GI ranking overall. But if you choose a food with a high GI, you can offset it by combining it with low GI foods to keep your meal balanced.

Carb foods that have a low GI of 55 or under
  • 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread, pumpernickel bread
  • Rolled oatmeal, steel cut oats, oat bran, muesli
  • Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgur
  • Sweet potatoes, yams, corn, peas, butter beans, lima beans, lentils, legumes
  • Majority of fruits, carrots, non-starchy vegetables
Carb foods that have a medium GI from 56 to 69
  • Whole wheat, rye, and pita bread
  • Quick oats
  • Brown rice, basmati rice, wild rice, couscous
Carb foods that have a high GI of 70 or more
  • White bread, bagels
  • Corn flakes, instant oatmeal, puffed rice cereal, bran flakes
  • Short grain white rice, macaroni and cheese from mix
  • Russet potatoes, pumpkin, rice pasta
  • Pretzels, popcorn, saltine crackers, rice cakes
  • Pineapple, melons

Food Exchanges

With the exchange system, foods get grouped into basic types, such as starches, dairy, fruits, meat, fats, and sweets. The system shows you what amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and key nutrients are in specific foods.

The exchange system is a simple way to count carbs. Each serving in the starch, fruit, and milk group has about the same amount of carbohydrates—about 15 grams a serving. So you can think of each of these as one carbohydrates choice.

You have the flexibility to trade foods within a group if those foods are a match for calories, carbs, and nutrients. That way, you can be sure that your food trades will have a similar impact on your blood sugar—and that you're getting the nutrition your body needs.

Your dietitian can help you figure out the right number of daily exchanges and best way to spread your exchanges throughout your meals and snacks. Following your agreed exchanges can help you keep your blood sugar level within your target range.

What's the Right Portion Size?
Use these helpful visual cues for better portion control.
Management of type 2 diabetes may include diet, exercise, and medication. Visit the 2 Treatment Options section to learn about 2 prescription medicines for adults, then talk to your doctor.

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