Nutrition for people with Diabetes

Nutrition for people with Diabetes

Nutrition is one of the key factors for treating people with Diabetes, since the nutrients you ingest are absorbed in the intestine and pass into your bloodstream where they’ll be distributed to the organs that need them, to provide energy or for cell construction and turnover. To achieve this distribution of nutrients, the body produces several hormones, and one of the main ones is insulin, which is involved in carbohydrate metabolism.

If you have Diabetes, your body won’t be able to produce enough insulin, or the insulin produced won’t act properly, so your body won’t be able to distribute or use these nutrients as it should. The main affected nutrient is glucose which, increases in the bloodstream to levels greater than normal the range (70 -110 mg/dl). The objective for people with Diabetes is to follow a nutrition plan in order to supply the energy, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, that their body could utilize properly and coordinate it with a medical treatment (insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents), and exercise.

The nutritional needs of the person with Diabetes should be calculated by a nutritionist, after a careful evaluation that includes, the individual’s body weight, height, age and eating habits along with laboratory tests.

Once these factors have been studied, the individual needs are calculated taking into account the calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.


It refers to the amount of energy the body needs to perform its basic functions (breathing, cell turnover, toxin excretion, etc.), as well as providing the energy required to grow (children and adolescents), and for physical activity. The amount of calories a person needs varies depending on their age, height, and weight. If you are overweight, you need to ingest less calories (energy) than you spend, so you can burn off the calories (energy) accumulated in your body fat. In this case, the indicated diet is called Hypocaloric or low calorie diet. If you have a healthy weight, your eating plan should be Normocaloric. If you are underweight, you’ll need to ingest more calories than you spend to gain weight (Hypercaloric diet).

 The calories or energy provided by the nutrients are:

  • Proteins: 4 calories per gram.
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram.
  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram. 

What are proteins?

These are substances formed by amino acids, which are used by the body to make cells. They are mainly found in foods from animals’ sources such as: chicken, fish, meat, eggs, milk and cheese. They are also found in some plant foods such as grains (beans, lentils, etc.).

The amount of protein needed is calculated individually and shouldn’t be ingested in excess, because although it doesn’t increase blood glucose levels, it provides saturated fat (even if we remove the chicken’s skin or the meat’s fat, it remains between the fibers) which we can’t perceive with the naked eye. On the other hand, eating an excess of foods from animal sources can overload our kidneys.

Lipids or fats

These are substances that provide a great amount of energy or calories. They shouldn’t be completely eliminated from your diet, instead you should know what kinds of fats are good, and consume them in adequate amounts.

Saturated fats are found in foods of animal origin (margarine, bacon, butter). When you heat oils, these also become saturated fats. Saturated fats have very harmful effects, because they raise blood cholesterol levels, and can lead to clogged arteries. They are also found in some vegetable fats such as, palm and coconut oil.

Unsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, sunflower, sesame oils, and margarines. It’s safe to consume these raw (unheated), and in moderate amounts (for dressing salads).

Monounsaturated fats are found in olives, avocadoes, and olive oil. These kinds of fats don’t have harmful effects on blood cholesterol levels, and can be consumed in moderate amounts.


Carbohydrates can be divided into two groups: Simple and Complex. Until several years ago, it was believed that people with Diabetes had to avoid bread, corn bread, pasta, potatoes, bananas, grapes, etc. Today, these foods are recommended in certain amounts, which vary according to the individual’s needs.

  • Simple carbohydrates are those which are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, such as white or brown sugar (sucrose), honey, etc. It should be avoided, unless your nutritionist allows certain amounts.

Fruits also contain simple carbohydrates (fructose), but because they contain fiber, their consumption is allowed daily in individually required amounts, since fiber causes glucose to be metabolized more slowly.

  • Complex carbohydrates are found in corn, wheat, oats, and derivatives (corn bread, bread, biscuits, pasta), as well as in bananas, and tubers such as potatoes, cassava, celery, and taro. All of these can be included in the diet of a person with Diabetes, based on the individual needs. They are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, and it’s always advised to consume them in their whole wheat version due to their high fiber content, however, this doesn’t mean one can’t eat white bread or cereals.

One of the most efficient nutritional ways to control blood glucose levels is by counting carbohydrates, which allows you to calculate your precise insulin dose. This and the physical activity to be performed based on your carbohydrates intake.

Sample Menu for People with Diabetes

By Lic. Cynthia Figuera

shutterstock_98055782Based on what we’ve mentioned, people with Diabetes can benefit more from a complete, and well balanced diet than if they eliminate some foods from their diet. The key is in how much each person needs and this has to be calculated by a professional nutritionist.

A sample menu is:

Whole wheat bread.
Cheese (low in salt).
Skim milk.



Spinach soup.
Chicken with onions and peppers.
Lettuce and tomato salad.
Olive oil.
Fruit salad.

Light gelatin with fruit.

Pineapple.As you can see, this sample menu doesn’t suggest any portions, because as we mentioned, each person will need an individualized meal plan based on their requirements, which has to be established by a nutritionist.

Lic. Cythia Figuera

Nutritionist specialist in Endocrinology and metabolism.

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Nutrition and Diabetes