meal plan for diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is a serious, chronic condition that can lead to many complications if not managed effectively.  Early diagnosis and treatment is key to help prevent the onset of diabetes-related complications long term. 

If you are currently living with, or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, your healthcare team may test your HbA1c to see where your levels may lie. 

What Is HbA1c?

Your HbA1c level is a measure of how much sugar from food is attached to your red blood cells-specifically to a protein called hemoglobin.  Your care team may perform an HbA1c test to determine if you have diabetes or prediabetes and can help inform you on how best to manage the condition. You can also perform the test easily at home at your convenience!

What Is The HbA1c Test?

The HbA1c test is a blood test that screens for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. The test provides information about a person’s average levels of blood sugar over a 2-to 3-month period-the lifespan of a red blood cell. The HbA1c test measures how much glucose (sugar) is attached to the hemoglobin protein in red blood cells. The number is reported as a percentage. If the percentage of sugar attached to hemoglobin is higher, so are your average blood glucose levels. A higher number means your risk for either diabetes or related complications is also higher.

What Do The HbA1c Scores Mean?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases , HbA1c measurements can indicate whether you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

DiagnosisHbA1c Level
Optimal LevelBelow 5.7%
Prediabetes5.7% – 6.4%
Type 2 Diabetes6.5% and above

Here is a handy printable HbA1c chart and calculator to make it easy to monitor your levels at home, in between healthcare visits!

Having prediabetes puts you at risk for developing full-blown type 2 diabetes within 10 years. If you test positive for prediabetes, a doctor may recommend retesting each year. If you test positive for type 2 diabetes, it can give your care team information on an appropriate treatment plan to manage, and even lower, your blood sugar levels, decreasing your risk of complications.  If you have been living with type 2 diabetes for a while, it can help your team determine whether current treatment for management is working, or if adjustments are necessary to your management plan. 

There are many ways to lower your blood sugar and HbA1c levels that may reduce your chance of developing diabetes-related complications down the road.  For some people, medications may help. But, if you are looking to reduce your blood sugar levels the all-natural way, nutritional and lifestyle changes may be all you need!

Read on to discover some ways to effectively lower your blood sugar and HbA1c levels!

Make a Nutritional Plan

Eating certain foods may help lower your HbA1c, so, with help from a Registered Diabetes Nutritionist or your dedicated CopilotIQ nurse, consistently adhering to a nutritional meal plan is vital. 

Plate with fruits and veggies

A few important strategies include:

  • Make a grocery list: When trying to fill your grocery basket with nutrient-dense foods while minimizing sweets, having and following a shopping list can help you avoid impulse purchases. If you’re trying out new recipes, a shopping list can help make sure you buy all the right ingredients, so there is no need to worry!
  • Meal prep ahead of time: When you’re fixing a nutritious meal, you can save time by doubling the recipe, so you have another meal readily available later. Or, dedicate a certain day of the week, like on a Sunday, to cook food in bulk. For example, fill a crock pot with boneless, skinless chicken breast, and dole out daily servings for the whole week!
  • Build in flexibility: If you run out of a certain food item, make a plan to have extra stock of food or substitute food options readily available BEFORE you need them. That way, you are not searching for a fallback when the cupboards are bare and your stomach is rumbling!

Measure Portion Sizes

Controlling portion sizes may also help reduce your HbA1c and blood sugar levels. 

Helpful practices can include:

  • Get familiar with the appropriate portion sizes: You don’t have to measure every food you eat by the gram with a scale to learn to recognize and make a habit of thinking about what is a right-size portion. It can be as simple as reading the serving sizes on nutrition labels!
  • Use smaller plates at home: For portioning purposes, opting for a smaller plate may help limit portion sizes.
  • Avoid eating directly from a bag or box: If you would like to eat something that comes from a bag or box, like crackers, for instance, check the nutrition label first to see the serving size, then put the container back in the cupboard for later.
  • Be mindful when dining out: Many times restaurant meals contain larger than appropriate portion sizes. Rather than ordering an entrée that may contain more food than is needed on your meal plan, you may want to ask a friend if they will split the meal with you. Or, you can plan to take half home to eat later in the week!

Track Your Carbohydrates

The appropriate amount of carbohydrates a person should eat varies from person to person. It is well worth discussing with your healthcare team what carbohydrate amount is healthiest for you. Unfortunately, carbohydrates can be very easy to overdo. 

Some tips to help you keep track of your carbohydrate consumption are:

  • Keeping a food diary
  • Downloading a food tracker app on your phone
  • Looking at the “Total Carbs” section on nutrition labels 

With practice, keeping track of your carbohydrates will become a quick and easy process and will help you get a sense of which foods are most carbohydrate-heavy so you can adjust accordingly!

Use The Plate Method

Also called the diabetes plate method, the idea here is to simplify your mealtime calculations while eating the right foods in the right proportions. Picture a plate that’s less than a foot in diameter and divide it up into quarters:

  • Half of the plate, or two quarters, should be low-carbohydrate vegetables: There are many to choose from, including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and cucumber. This can also include anything leafy, like lettuce, cabbage, and spinach!
  • The next quarter of the plate should be lean proteins: This can include fish, chicken, eggs, shellfish, cheese, tofu, and lean cuts of pork or beef.
  • The last quarter of the plate goes to carbohydrates:  These can include whole grains like rice, as well as fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes.

Eat Balanced Meals

Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in fiber. Soluble fiber, the type found in beans, nuts, seeds and certain fruits, has been found to be particularly helpful in lowering HbA1c levels. Eat fewer starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and squash, as these have more carbohydrates and have the potential to more negatively affect your blood sugar than non-starchy vegetables. Limit simple carbohydrates, such as refined grains and sugar.

Eat Foods That Are Rich in Chromium And Magnesium

High blood sugar levels are linked to deficiencies in minerals like chromium and magnesium, which have been shown to regulate blood sugar. Chromium-rich foods include meats, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Magnesium-rich foods include dark, leafy greens, squash and pumpkin seeds, tuna, whole grains, dark chocolate, bananas, and beans. 

Drink Plenty of Water

drink water for health benefits

Drinking plenty of water helps your kidneys flush out excess sugar. One study found that people who drink more water lower their risk for developing high blood sugar levels. Aim for drinking half of your body weight in fluid ounces (fl oz). For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds should aim for drinking 75 oz of water. Then, gradually make a goal to drink a gallon (128 oz) daily!  And remember, water is the best for hydration! Limit sugary drinks, which tend to spike blood sugar levels, and alcohol, which can lead to dangerous low blood sugar dips.

Set a Realistic Weight Loss Goal

Set yourself up for success! A slow, steady approach to weight loss, a pound or two a week at the most, tends to offer the best results when it comes to taking weight off and keeping weight off. The best part is that you don’t have to be so drastic in your weight loss! Did you know that experts say even 5% reduction in weight can make a worthwhile difference in your overall health and wellbeing? That’s amazing and doable!

Start a New Exercise Routine

Increasing your activity level can significantly help get your HbA1c and blood sugar levels down. Active muscles increase insulin sensitivity. Activity helps insulin, the hormone that helps your body manage blood sugar levels, drive the sugar into your cells to be used as energy or stored for future use. Being safely active is a key part of reducing the risk of developing diabetes and diabetes-related complications.

Get confirmation from your healthcare team first before you embark on a new exercise program, especially if you have previously led a sedentary lifestyle. Also, consult your team on how to safely increase your activity levels gradually. Since exercise has a direct affect on your blood sugar levels, and depending on other health conditions you may have, your team may recommend a safe starting point. You may want to start with a 5 or 10-minute walk after each meal, then gradually build up to 150 minutes of extra activity a week. You can even consider combining aerobic activities, such as walking, jogging and swimming, with resistance exercises, as you get stronger. Resistance exercises, which involve weights, resistance bands or body weight, offer greater benefits than aerobic or resistance exercises alone.

But, remember, baby steps! Any exercise is better than no exercise! Even getting up for 2 minutes every hour has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes! 

Manage Your Stress

Stress can also affect blood sugar levels.Stress causes your body to behave as if you are under attack, called the flight-or-flight response. To prepare for a fight-or-flight response, the body stores up energy in the form of glucose and fat. Also Cortisol, the stress hormone, will kick in and not dissipate over time, furthering your chances of having chronic high blood sugar and HbA1c levels. 

Eating a balanced diet and exercising can help you manage chronic stress, but you can take additional steps! To reduce stress, make time to relax, spend time with people you love, and do things you enjoy. Recognize your limits, avoiding extra responsibilities at work or home-ask for help! Relaxation techniques and meditation can also help to reduce stress and blood sugar levels.  

Keep in mind, if you still feel chronically stressed, even after using some mindfulness techniques for a while, please talk to your healthcare team. They may point you in the direction of a therapist who may be able to help you navigate the symptoms you are experiencing, giving you the relief you need. 

Get Enough Shut-eye

Poor sleeping habits can increase appetite and promote weight gain, affecting blood sugar. Sleep deprivation also increases Cortisol levels, making management of blood sugar levels more difficult. Getting seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep every night is crucial to your health!

Here are some tips to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Establish a regular bedtime every night. 
  • Limit caffeine intake in the afternoon, 
  • Turn off devices two hours before bed. 

Stay Consistent

Lowering your blood sugar and HbA1C levels depends on making changes that become habits over time. The best way to make something second nature is to keep doing it consistently. Particularly where eating patterns and exercise are concerned, slow, steady progress tends to deliver the best long-term results. Slow and steady wins the race!

Consult Your Healthcare Team

As always, if you have questions or concerns about how to effectively lower your blood sugar and HbA1c levels without the use of medication, reach out to your doctor or nutritionist about what steps you can take to help lower your blood sugar and HbA1c levels. They can help you set and monitor practical, health-promoting goals, and help determine the best ways to adjust your meal and exercise plans.

If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and looking for help managing your condition—we’re here for you. CopilotIQ offers unlimited access to a personal nurse that will work with you to create a personalized plan to reach your health goals. The services are covered by Medicare and you can talk to a nurse today.

Join the 1000’s of CopilotIQ members reversing their diabetes and blood pressure.