OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

Peoria, Illinois

Keys to Diabetes Management

Diabetes is a disease that prevents your body from using the foods you eat for energy.  Most of your body’s energy comes from carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is broken down to form glucose (blood sugar). The right balance between the carbohydrate you eat at each meal and a hormone made in the body called insulin keeps your blood sugar level in the right range, so it doesn’t go too high or too low. Insulin is made by the pancreas but with people who have diabetes, they might need to take oral medications or use injections to make sure blood sugar levels stay in the target range. Diet and exercise are both important ways to keep blood sugar in your target range, so you feel your best and reduce health problems. People who use medications for diabetes and some types of insulin need to eat the same amount of food at the same times each day.  Food is not the only factor that will raise your blood sugar. Stress or illness and medications may also cause a high blood sugar but eating at regular times will help you manage your blood sugar better.

Blood Sugar Guidelines Goal
Fasting 80-130 mg/dl 
Bedtime 90-150 mg/dl
1-2 hours after meals   less than 180 mg/dl   

Establish Regular Eating Habits

  • Eat regular meals, and snacks (as directed by your dietitian) each day.  If you are taking diabetes pills or insulin, eat a snack at bedtime.
  • Space meals no more than 4-5 hours apart.
  • Try not to skip meals - keep snacks, such as cheese and crackers or nuts and fruit, on hand for when meals are not available.
  • Eat similar amounts of food at about the same time every day.
  • Try to include protein such as nuts, meat, eggs or cheese at each meal.

Food Choices

  • Your food choices can make a difference in your diabetes control.
  • Eat a variety of foods every day.  You can eat the same foods as your family.  Just remember to eat smaller servings.
  • Carbohydrate is the main nutrient in food that affects blood sugar levels. Foods that contain carbohydrates include:
    • Grains (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, tortillas and crackers)
    • Starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas and winter squash)
    • Beans and lentils (such as black beans and garbanzo beans)
    • Snacks (such as chips, pretzels, popcorn, and granola bars)
    • Fruits and fruit juices
    • Milk, yogurt and milk substitutes (rice milk and soy milk)
    • Sweets, desserts and sweetened beverages
    • White sugar, brown sugar, honey, and syrups
  • Non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach and tomato, contain small amounts of carbohydrate. These will only affect your blood sugar levels if eaten in large amounts.
  • Protein and fat affect blood sugar less than carbohydrate.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating involves more than just limiting your carbohydrates! Be sure you eat a variety of foods.

  • Try to include at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Whole fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, which can help with keeping blood sugar levels within a normal range and keeping you satisfied.
  • Include 6 servings of grains (3 whole grains) and 2 low fat dairy servings each day.
  • Choose lean protein foods, like fish, poultry and round or loin cuts of meat.
  • Fats should be ‘heart healthy’ – olive, canola, and peanut oils, nuts and avocados.
  • Try to keep your daily sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams per day (one teaspoon of salt = 2,300 milligrams).


Exercise is important for people with diabetes. Exercise will help you feel your best, manage your weight and lower blood sugar. Remember to eat before exercising. Taking medications or insulin and exercising on an empty stomach will lead to a blood sugar that is too low!

Activity does not have to be strenuous exercise. Find some creative ways to gradually increase your daily activity. Your goal is to include 30 minutes of activity most days if approved by your doctor. 

Obtain Further Education

To learn more about diabetes, controlling your blood glucose and to obtain a meal plan designed for you, see your registered dietitian or diabetes educator.  She/he can also help you with tips on grocery shopping, reading food labels and eating away from home.

Watch this video to learn more!



Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Diabetes Association. (2019). Choose your foods: Food lists for diabetes. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Print.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (n.d.). Type 2 diabetes nutrition intervention. Nutrition Care Manual. Retrieved December 20, 2021 fromhttps://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/topic.cfm?ncm_category_id=1&lv1=5517&lv2=274760&lv3=274771&ncm_toc_id=274771&ncm_heading=Nutrition%20Care

American Diabetes Association. (n.d.) Retrieved December 20, 2021 from https://www.diabetes.org/

American Diabetes Association. (2021). Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2021. Diabetes Care 44 (Supplement 1). Print.

Evert, A. et al. (2019). Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care, 42(5): 731-754. doi: https://doi.org/10.2337/dci19-0014