Healthful eating to prevent diabetes

All foods provide calories and affect blood glucose levels. There are no "good" or "bad" foods. Eating a variety of foods can improve your health and keep meal time interesting.

Spreading out your meals and snacks helps you manage your blood glucose levels. Try to eat main meals at least four hours apart. Wait about two hours between a meal and a snack, if you eat snacks.

The foods you eat fall into three main food groups: carbohydrates, protein and fat.


Carbohydrates provide your best energy source. All carbohydrate foods turn into glucose. Carbohydrate foods are breads, crackers, cereals, rice, pasta, fruit and fruit juice, milk, vegetables and sweets.

It is important that you don't avoid carbohydrate foods. They should make up 50 to 60 percent of your food plan.

Choose carbohydrate foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes (navy, kidney and black beans, lentils, etc.). Fiber:

  • slows digestion to help you feel fuller longer
  • slows the rate carbohydrates are absorbed into your bloodstream
  • helps reduce cholesterol by binding to the cholesterol in your digestive tract and getting rid of it

Carbohydrate counting

Carbohydrate counting is a way to help you manage the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat during the day. A carbohydrate choice is a serving of carbohydrate food that contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate.

The following chart gives general guidelines for carbohydrate choices at each meal. You may need to eat more or less, depending on your personal goals.


To lose weight

To control weight

For the very active


2 to 3 choices (30 to 45 grams)

3 to 4 choices (45 to 60 grams)

4 to 5 choices (60 to 75 grams)


3 to 4 choices (45 to 60 grams)

4 to 5 choices (60 to 75 grams)

4 to 6 choices (60 to 90 grams)

Consider having a 15 to 30 gram carbohydrate snack if meals are more than four to six hours apart.


Protein helps build body cells for growth and healing. Poultry, meat and fish are high in protein.

Although protein helps your muscles stay healthy, eating too much will add extra calories and fat.

Most adults need six to nine ounces of meat (weight after cooking) each day. (Three ounces look like a deck of playing cards.)


Fat helps the body absorb certain vitamins, lubricate joints and muscles, and adds flavor.

Fat contains more than twice the calories as the same amount of protein or carbohydrate. If you are trying to lose (or maintain) weight, you need to eat less fat.

Eating a lot of fat increases your risk for both diabetes and heart disease.

It is important to choose foods that have healthful fats.

Types of fats in food

Monounsaturated (healthiest)

Polyunsaturated (healthy)

Saturated (not healthy)

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated trans fats (not healthy)

Most nuts Peanut butter Olive, canola, peanut and flaxseed oils Avocados

Tub margarine 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

Dietary fat guidelines for adults

Weight loss

Maintain weight


40 to 55 grams a day

65 to 75 grams a day


30 to 45 grams a day

55 to 65 grams a day

Tips to decrease 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, broil, barbecue 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, pr 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.

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

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Prediabetes: Reducing Type 2 Diabetes Risk Through a Lifestyle of Good Nutrition and Activity, first edition, dia-ah-94403
Reviewed By: Allina Health Patient Education
First Published: 04/02/2009
Last Reviewed: 01/28/2019