How to Best Control Blood Sugar Levels With Your Diet

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Woman eating a healthy salad

Controlling your blood sugar helps you feel your best and is a must if you have diabetes. Fortunately, making good dietary choices can significantly improve blood sugar and keep your levels in check.

Step 1: Know Which Foods Contain Carbs

Foods containing carbohydrates are those that affect your blood sugar levels. Eating too many carbs at once causes your levels to spike, and eating too few carbs can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Carb-containing foods include:

  • Fruits
  • Juices
  • Vegetables (particularly starch veggies)
  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Other grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Baked goods
  • Sweets
  • Candies
  • Syrups
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Honey
  • Table sugar
  • Ice cream
  • Sugary drinks

Step 2: Space out Carbohydrates

To control blood sugar, it's important to eat carbs evenly spaced throughout the day, but in moderation.

  • The number of carbs you should eat at each meal varies from person to person, so check with your doctor or dietitian for individualized meal plans if you have diabetes.
  • A good rule of thumb is to eat 45 to 60 grams of carbs during each meal, according to the American Diabetes Association.
  • Aim for three meals with two to three snacks daily, with snacks containing about 15 to 20 grams of carbs.

Step 3: Plan Your Meals

Grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, juices, yogurt, milk, and sweets generally provide the most carbohydrates -- followed by nuts, seeds, cottage cheese, tofu, and non-starchy vegetables. Below is a general list of foods and corresponding carbohydrate content, which can help you plan your meals to control blood sugar.

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

These foods contain about 15 grams of carbs per serving.

  • 1/2 cup of fresh fruit
  • One small piece of fresh fruit
  • One slice of bread
  • One 6-inch tortilla
  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/2 English muffin
  • 1/2 hamburger bun
  • 1/2 cup of peas
  • 1/2 cups of corn
  • 1/4 of a baked potato
  • 1/3 cup of pinto beans
  • 1/3 cup of rice
  • 1/3 cup of pasta
  • Four to six crackers
  • 1 tablespoon of syrup, jam, jelly, or honey
  • Two small cookies
  • 2/3 cup of plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk (12 grams of carbs)

Lower-Carb Foods

These foods contain around 5 grams or less of carbs per serving.

  • 1 medium tomatoe
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 2 cups of broccoli
  • 1 cup of cauliflower
  • 2 cups of lettuce
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 2 cups of other leafy greens
  • 1 cup of cabbage
  • 1/2 cup of mushrooms
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 1 ounce of almonds
  • 1 ounce of peanuts
  • 1 ounce of walnuts
  • 1 ounce of pecans
  • 1 ounce of Brazil nuts
  • 1/2 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup of tofu

Step 4: Lose Weight if Overweight

Losing weight if you're overweight -- just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight -- helps reduce your risk for developing diabetes by 58 percent, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Even if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, weight loss can help control your blood sugar.

  • If you're overweight, aim to reduce your total caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories daily.
  • Many women need 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day and men require 1,500 to 1,800 calories daily to shed pounds, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  • These caloric allotments may be slightly higher for vigorous exercisers.

Step 5: Know if you Need Insulin or Medication

If you have type 1 diabetes, you'll require insulin to keep blood sugar under control. If you have type 2 diabetes, talk with your doctor to see if you require medications, insulin, or both. While taking insulin, you'll have to eat carbs at specific times, so check with your doctor or dietitian to know what your individualized meal plan should look like.

Bottom Line

For some people, making dietary changes is all that's necessary to keep blood sugar levels in check. Even if you require diabetes medications or insulin, carefully planning your carbohydrate intake is beneficial for optimal blood sugar control.

How to Best Control Blood Sugar Levels With Your Diet