Ask a DCES: What Can I Eat?


After a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, one of the most common questions asked is: what can I eat? Diabetes can change the way you view, consume and your overall relationship with food and nutrition. Plus, there are many misconceptions about what foods work best for people with diabetes and which ones don’t. We asked a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES)—the equivalent in Canada is a certified diabetes educator—about what people with diabetes should eat and how to seek additional help with this issue.

Dear CDCES:  I’ve been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and I’m not sure what I can eat. So many have recommended the keto diet to me. Do I have to follow a keto diet to get type 2 under control?

Dear Reader: First, being newly diagnosed is a lot to take in! The best place to start in figuring out what you can eat is to look closely at what you are eating now and how often. Learning to read food labels and understanding recommended portion sizes helps you estimate your actual food intake. Keeping a food diary for a few days is a great way to visualize what your current eating pattern looks like. A food tracker app can also make tracking easier and more fun. One example is My Fitness Pal, but there are many to choose from. Being aware of where you are starting from will help you and your diabetes care team identify any changes needed to manage your new condition.

What are the experts saying?

There are a variety of eating patterns that have been studied for managing diabetes. The Nutrition Consensus Report says there really isn’t one meal plan that fits everyone but there are common themes in each of the recommended eating patterns that can serve as a starting point for your own eating plan. These include:

  • Emphasizing non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, peppers, spinach, asparagus.
  • Keeping added sugars and refined grains to a minimum, such as white bread, white rice, sugary cereals and packaged crackers.
  • Choosing whole foods found in the produce section instead of highly processed, packaged foods.
  • Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water as often as possible.

Carbohydrates are the main nutrients affecting your blood glucose (or sugar). In general, people who follow a keto eating pattern are trying to reduce the number of carbs they eat. They may be aiming for a specific number of carb grams per day and/or avoiding foods that are higher in carbs, such as regular soda/pop, bread, pasta and potatoes. In the healthcare world, the term ketogenic diet refers to an eating pattern with less than 20 grams of carbs per day, with a focus on additional calories coming more from fat than protein.

According to Diabetes Canada, a meal plan focused on eating low or very low amounts of carbohydrates can be an option if you are not meeting blood glucose goals or for possibly reducing the number of diabetes medicines needed for treatment. These kinds of eating patterns can be difficult for some people to follow long term, though. However, you can use this type of plan to get started and work with your care team to safely make changes to what and how you eat and adjust as needed. A new eating plan can affect how much insulin or diabetes medications you require, so always check with your healthcare provider before starting on a new plan.

Do your own experiments

No matter which eating plan you try, practice being your own diabetes detective. How do certain foods or meals affect your blood glucose? The recommended blood glucose level before eating is 4.0–7.0mmol/L72–126mg/dL and two hours after eating is 5.0–10.0mmol/L90–180mg/dL. Armed with this knowledge, check your blood glucose before you eat and then again two hours after eating your favorite meal and see how it changed.  Did it stay in the recommended range? If not, what could you change next time? As mentioned before, keeping a journal of what you’re eating can make it easier to make adjustments with your provider.

Connect with someone who can help

Managing diabetes is all about balancing all the things you need to do to stay healthy, like healthy eating, taking necessary medications and being active, along with everything else in your life. Achieving this balance can be tough, so ask your provider for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and/or a diabetes care and education specialist. An RDN is specially trained to help you navigate the food choices that work best for you in coordination with your overall treatment plan and other health conditions you may have. They know that the best eating pattern for you is one based on how you currently eat, your food preferences and your health goals. Family traditions, budget and who you eat with are also important considerations. They help you sort through all the myths and facts around eating with diabetes.

As diabetes care and education specialists, we want you to live your best life and meet your health goals. Find a certified diabetes educator near you.

Related Content:

Ask a DCES: Why Your High Glucose is Higher in the Morning 

Ask a DCES: Why You Should Rotate Insulin Injection Sites

Ask a DCES: How to Feel Comfortable at the Doctor’s Office

This content was produced in partnership with the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES), a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 2. 

Written By JODI LAVIN-TOMPKINS MSN, RN, BC-ADM, CDCES, Posted , Updated 09/03/23

Jodi Lavin-Tompkins is a North Carolina native and a Master’s prepared nurse with over 30 years’ experience in diabetes care. She is currently the director of accreditation/content development at the association of diabetes care & education specialists. Jodi’s career has spanned working in academic settings as a nurse practitioner to positions in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, to managing a diabetes self-management education and support program in a large midwestern health system. She is passionate about making sure people with diabetes have the knowledge and skills they need to manage diabetes to the best of their abilities. To Jodi, diabetes is personal; her mother, father, brother, niece, cousin, aunt and uncle all have diabetes.