What Do I Eat?

Many people with diabetes (or any other nutrition related condition) often wonder what they can eat to improve their health. And many times my answer is everything! ….. In moderation, of course! Have you heard this before? Well, it is true.

Most people think that they have to do a complete overhaul of their diet but in most cases this just simply isn’t true. Diabetes is a condition that responds directly to the foods you eat – specifically carbohydrates – and the amount of these foods you eat. While exercise and certain medications can also affect blood sugar, nutrition is a key component to preventing and reversing diabetes. 

Good Foods and Bad Foods

As a dietitian, I am often asked what are the “good” foods to eat and the “bad” foods to avoid. This is a tricky question because all food is technically “good”, right? Some foods are healthier than others, for example, a piece of chocolate cake is not as nutritious as a bowl of strawberries. But chocolate cake (or your favorite treat) can have a place in your diet. Read on and I’ll show you how…

Portion Control (Moderation)

In my experience, portion control is the single most challenging lifestyle change for most people who are trying to maintain healthy blood sugars. Have you heard that too much of even a good thing isn’t good? Take that bowl of strawberries for example. Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants and are a well known go-to “fruit” in a healthy meal plan due to their nutritional content. However they are not free of carbohydrates, so eating too many could result in a rise in blood sugar.

Now that we have established that all foods are technically good and portion control is important, let’s dive into two concepts I believe can help you adapt the way you eat to achieve healthy blood sugars. “Eating close to the earth” and “the 80/20 rule”.

“Eating Close to the Earth”

As I mentioned earlier, most people don’t need to completely change their diet. However, take a close look at any highly processed foods you eat regularly. These foods can have a significant impact on managing your blood sugar. For example, you may drink a glass of store-bought orange juice every morning as part of your breakfast routine. Orange juice contains vitamins and minerals, but can have up to 25g of carbs in a 1 cup serving. Compare this to eating a whole orange which has nearly half the carbs and over 3 times the amount of fiber. Whole oranges also retain their natural nutrient composition which is often lost (and then added back in) in processed orange juice. This is just one of many ways to adapt your current way of eating while still enjoying the foods you love. 

The 80/20 Rule

Simply put, the 80/20 rule is a guideline that allows foods usually thought of as “off limits” some of the time, while adhering to a fairly strict meal plan most of the time. For example, summertime is full of backyard barbeques, graduations, and great food! These moments with family and friends can and should be fully enjoyed. By maintaining a balanced diet the days surrounding your event, you should be able to enjoy the festivities and eat some of the foods you may have been avoiding.

The 80/20 rule may look different for everyone. Depending on your level of insulin resistance or other chronic disease state, some people may need to adjust to more of a 90/10 rule while others can be more lenient. Always consult with your doctor or dietitian before making significant changes in your diet.


So-called “good” and “bad” foods should not solely determine what you can eat. Some carbohydrates are healthier than others in terms of nutritional impact, however the amount of carbs you eat is very important. Blood sugar levels are sensitive to highly processed carbohydrates which can often be replaced by their natural, whole-food counterpart which I call “eating close to the earth”. Adopting the 80/20 rule is a strategy most people can use that makes room for foods that are limited or avoided most of the time.