Heart-healthy eating with diabetes: Making good protein and fat choices

People who have diabetes are more at risk for heart disease. That means the type and amount of protein and fat you eat can affect your heart health.


Food portion tip

Three ounces of meat is about the size and thickness of a deck of playing cards.


More about food portions...

Poultry, meat and fish are high in protein which help your muscles stay healthy.

However, if you eat too much of these, you add extra calories and fat.

Most adults need about 6 to 8 ounces of meat (weight after cooking) each day. Think of this as one small and one medium serving each day. Three ounces look like a deck of playing cards.


You need some fat in your diet for good health. Fat provides energy and important nutrients.

It is important to choose foods that have healthful kinds of fats (see the list below).

Unhealthful fats can clog blood vessels which can cause a heart attack or stroke. A general rule is to use 1 to 2 teaspoons of fat at each meal.

Types of fats in food
Monounsaturated (most healthful) Polyunsaturated (healthful) Saturated (not healthful) Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated trans fats (not healthful)
  • most nuts
  • peanut butter (natural or trans fat-free)
  • olive, canola, peanut and flaxseed oils
  • avocados
  • tub margarine (trans fat-free with liquid oil as first ingredient)
  • fatty fish (tuna, salmon, trout)
  • walnuts
  • sunflower, corn and soybean oils
  • fatty meats
  • high-fat milk and cheese
  • coconut and palm oils
  • butter and lard
  • many pre-packaged or prepared foods
  • crackers, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, pastries
  • fried fast food and chips
  • shortening and stick margarine

Fat contains more than twice the calories as the same amount of protein or carbohydrate. One serving size equals 5 grams of fat.

Heart-healthful fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) serving size

  • Avocado: 2 tablespoons or 1/8 medium
  • Margarine (trans fat-free, tub or squeeze): 1 teaspoon
  • Margarine (reduced-fat tub): 1 tablespoon
  • Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip®: 1 teaspoon
  • Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip® (light/reduced fat): 1 tablespoon
  • Almonds, cashews, mixed nuts: 6
  • Peanuts: 10
  • Pecans, walnuts: 4
  • Oil (all kinds): 1 teaspoon
  • Olives (large black or green): 10
  • Peanut butter (natural or trans fat-free) or nut butter: 1 teaspoon
  • Salad dressing: 1 tablespoon
  • Salad dressing (reduced fat, light): 2 tablespoons
  • Sunflower seeds: 2 tablespoons

Less heart-healthful fats (saturated and trans fat) serving size

  • Alfredo sauce: 2 tablespoons
  • Bacon: 1 slice
  • Butter: 1 teaspoon
  • Cream (regular or light): 2 tablespoons
  • Cream cheese (regular): 1 tablespoon
  • Cream cheese (light or reduced fat): 2 tablespoons
  • Gravy: 2 tablespoons
  • Shortening: 1 teaspoon
  • Sour cream (regular): 2 tablespoons
  • Sour cream (light or reduced fat): 4 tablespoons
  • Tartar sauce: 1 tablespoon
Dietary fat guidelines for adults
Weight loss Maintain weight
Men 40 to 55 grams a day 65 to 75 grams a day
Women 30 to 45 grams a day 55 to 65 grams a day

Tips to decrease saturated fat

  • Buy lean cuts of meat such as round or loin.
  • Trim all fat from meat before cooking.
  • Remove skin and fat from poultry before cooking.
  • Bake, roast, slow cook, broil, braise or grill meats instead of frying.
  • Choose white meat more often than dark meat.
  • Drain off fat after cooking and blot with a paper towel.
  • Use a nonstick surface to pan broil foods.
  • Avoid gravies made with fatty drippings.
  • Microwave, steam or par boil vegetables in a small amount of water and season with only a small amount of fat or with spices.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cream cheese and sour cream more often than regular versions.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Basic Skills for Living with Diabetes, sixth edition
First Published: 11/27/2006
Last Reviewed: 01/09/2015

Did you know?
A high-fat meal can cause insulin resistance and keep your blood glucose higher for a longer period of time.