Diabetes diet: How can a dietitian nutritionist help you?

April 24, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Diabetes rates are rising in the United States; it is a significant public health concern.
  • High blood sugar can go undetected for a while because mild and moderate diabetes has no symptoms.
  • Diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors play a significant role in managing diabetes.
  • Diabetes is complex; a personalized meal plan by a Registered Dietitian can help.

Isn’t it strange how pharmaceutical companies pump billions of dollars into diabetes drugs, but diabetes rates continue to soar? 

It’s one sign that there is no magical ‘cure-all’ medication for diabetes.

The US CDC calls the rising diabetes rates an epidemic. There are almost 40 million Americans with diabetes, but 1 in 5 do not know they have it. Additionally, about 100 million US adults have prediabetes, the precursor to diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic condition and is complex. Lifestyle changes such as an improved diet are crucial for management, with or without diabetes drugs.

Explore why a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you manage your diabetes.

There are no early warning signs for diabetes

Diabetes can sneak up on you. There are no significant signs when the disease is mild or moderate.

When your blood sugar is high, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Feel very thirsty all the time.
  • Urinate more often.
  • Feel excessive hunger pangs.
  • Experience numb or tingling sensations in your hands or feet.
  • Cuts and ulcers take longer to heal than before.

However, without awareness or a blood or urine test, these symptoms may be easily overlooked.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rita Faycurry, RD, elaborates, “If you have a family history of diabetes or are experiencing early signs of diabetes, you may want to get ahead of the disease by making changes. At a high level, it helps to lower your alcohol intake, quit tobacco, and incorporate more lean meats and whole foods into your diet. A dietitian can help you balance your meals to get the right amounts of protein, carbs, and healthy fats you need.”

HbA1c is an average; some issues may go unnoticed

HbA1c, or A1c as it is commonly known, is a standard metric for measuring blood glucose levels. While A1c is a simple, low-cost, and easy way to monitor blood sugar, it represents an average over three to four months and may not paint a complete picture.

For instance, the HbA1c test measures the amount of glucose attached to hemoglobin in the blood. However, in people with moderate to severe anemia, hemoglobin levels may be falsely high. 

The point is that taking Ozempic, Mounjaro, metformin, or another diabetes drug may help you lower your A1c, and that’s fine. However, bear in mind that A1c represents an average number and can miss specific repetitive blood sugar spikes that may cause inflammation or other health issues in the future.

Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), measures glucose levels throughout the day, every few minutes. This type of monitoring for 10-14 days can provide a better picture of how and when your glucose levels go up and down.

Diabetes diet myths are common

Today, the vast amount of online information makes it hard to find reliable advice. This is incredibly challenging for people with diabetes, who face many conflicting opinions about their diet.

"Never eat sugar.”

“All carbs are bad.”

“It’s sugar-free, so it’s fine for people with diabetes.”

“If you have diabetes, you cannot eat fruit.”

Faycurry RD says, “There are a lot of myths floating around about what to eat if you have diabetes. Unfortunately, this type of misinformation can be overwhelming for people with diabetes and may make it harder to balance your blood sugar. A Registered Dietitian who specializes in diabetes management can help you plan your meals based on your preferences and medical needs.”

Nutrition issues can lead to food cravings

Cravings are intense desires for specific types of food or flavors that often go beyond normal hunger. Some cravings are caused by nutritional deficiencies or the state of your gut health.

Here are a few examples:

  • Magnesium: A magnesium deficiency can increase sugar cravings.
  • Zinc: Zinc plays an important role in how insulin works, and a zinc deficiency can cause sugar cravings. In fact, a study found that people with diabetes are likely to have a zinc deficiency.
  • Vitamin D: Low Vitamin D levels may increase insulin resistance, and correcting these levels can reduce inflammation, which can help improve insulin sensitivity.

A Registered Dietitian can assess your individual needs and help you understand how to fix nutritional issues and improve your gut health.

If you would like to get your health back on track, consider a Registered Dietitian for a personalized diabetes nutrition plan. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

Here are more frequently asked questions about nutritionists for diabetes.

What does a Registered Dietitian do?

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) undergo extensive training and are board-certified experts in nutrition therapy. They offer nutritional advice based on science. Look for the letter 'RD' or 'RDN' after a name to identify a certified dietitian.

As part of their training, these RDNs get a Master's degree in nutrition, pass a rigorous exam, and work in the field. In some states, RDNs must also have a license to practice, similar to doctors. They also have to update their knowledge every year to stay current.

Why consult a dietitian nutritionist for diabetes?

A Registered Dietitian trained in diabetes nutrition therapy can offer an individualized analysis of your medical history, dietary allergies, intolerances, and preferences and understand your meal-planning habits and challenges.

When you consult a Registered Dietitian, you can discuss food cravings, big stressors in your life, how much sleep you get, and anything else you may be trying to control your blood sugar levels.

Additionally, you can talk to them about any diabetes medications you may be taking and your experience with them.

What is the best diet to reverse diabetes?

Diabetes and insulin resistance cannot be reversed completely. However, diet, exercise, and a healthier lifestyle can keep blood sugar levels in check.

For diabetes, some people advocate a high-protein, low-carb, high-fat diet to keep insulin resistance in check. If these work for you, then that's perfectly fine. However, these types of restrictive diets can be tough to sustain in the long term, and you may end up fighting food cravings and eating more carbs and sugars after quitting the diet.

If you prefer more balanced nutrition, a Mediterranean diet may be better. It is characterized by healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, whole-food carbohydrates like vegetables and fruit, and lean protein sources like fish and chicken.

Adds Faycurry, RD, "I like to recommend balanced meals with half the plate filled with whole vegetables and fruit, a quarter filled with lean protein, and the rest with starchy whole grains. Plus, eating meals regularly during the day can help prevent insulin spikes. If you have prediabetes, a similar diet can work."

Can you eat carbohydrates if you have diabetes?

The short answer is yes, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Fiber-rich fruit and whole grains are great. For example, you can eat whole-wheat pasta and load it with vegetables and lean meat. If you wish, you could also have a side salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing.

You can even have dessert. Having diabetes does not mean giving up everything you love to eat. It involves learning to add whole foods to your day, eating well-portioned meals, and making better nutritional choices to maintain blood sugar.

You do not have to do this alone. A Registered Dietitian can offer guidance.

In addition, exercise is important to control your blood glucose.

How does your sleep affect your diabetes?

Sleep plays a significant role in diabetes management. A recent study even found that people who get fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Reasons may include:

  • Sleep helps lower inflammation, helping the body use its insulin better.
  • A lack of sleep can lead to a higher stress response in your body, including a spike in cortisol (one of the stress hormones).
  • Staying awake longer may lead to greater hunger pangs, and you may eat more.

How do you find a Registered Dietitian for diabetes care?

Use Fay to find a Registered Dietitian who specializes in diabetes nutrition therapy and is covered by your insurance.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has extensive experience working in medical device and life sciences industries. Chandana holds a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.