O4 Dynamic Alert
Medically Approved

4 myths about food and diabetes

Senior couple eating food outside

No, you don’t need to overhaul the contents of your fridge if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. Learn what healthy choices you can enjoy now.

You’ve eaten the same foods for years. But now that you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you’re worried that you’re going to have to drastically change your diet. And you’re not alone. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 29% of people older than 65 have this chronic condition.1 

When you have diabetes, your body has trouble regulating blood sugar levels. Too much blood sugar (or glucose) ends up in your blood, instead of going to the rest of the body to use as energy. Eating the right foods is one of the keys to managing blood sugar levels.2  

But there are a lot of myths out there about which foods are off-limits. You may have heard that it’s tough to follow a diabetes diet. Or that you have to stay away from all carbs. Or you can’t eat sweets ever again.  

Not true. We’re here to set the record straight about some common myths. 

A couple sitting on their couch reviewing the health care information on a laptop
Join our Optum community

Get the latest in health and wellness news by subscribing to our newsletter.

Myth #1: You must eat a special diabetes diet  

REALITY: A healthy eating plan is key. 

There’s no official diabetes diet, and you don’t have to overhaul what’s in your refrigerator. A “diabetes diet” is simply a healthy eating plan that includes:3 

  • More fruits and vegetables 
  • More lean meats (such as chicken and turkey) and plant-based protein (such as beans, nuts and tofu) 
  • Less added sugar 
  • Less processed foods 

What’s even more important is whether you can stick with your new eating plan. “The biggest thing is sustainability. Is this something you can do all year?” says Lauren Spradling, RD. She’s a Chicago-based dietitian who partners with Optum. 

Feel overwhelmed about where to start? Try the diabetes plate method.3 It’s a quick and easy way to get the right portions without any measuring. 

Fill half your plate with fruits and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, leafy greens or eggplant. “A quarter of your plate will be those starchier carbs like whole wheat pasta, a whole grain roll, butternut squash or potatoes,” says Spradling. And fill the last fourth with a lean protein.4 

Still in doubt about what to add more of? Your Optum primary care provider or specialist can help you come up with a personalized plan that fits your needs. They might also refer you to a registered dietitian or diabetes care and education specialist. 

Myth #2: You must cut all carbs  

REALITY: Not all carbs are “bad” — the right ones can be part of a healthy diet. 

Carbohydrates get a bad rap where diabetes is concerned. In fact, they’re a good source of fuel for your body, notes Spradling. The key is to choose the right carbohydrates. 

“It’s true that if you eat a lot of simple or quick-digesting carbs, it will raise your blood sugar,” Spradling says. Foods such as white rice or pasta, muffins, and refined cereals or bread are absorbed quickly by your body, she explains. This can cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar.5 

Meanwhile, complex carbohydrates are foods rich in fiber and other essential nutrients, such as B vitamins. These foods are digested slower, making them less likely to spike your blood sugar. Some examples include whole grain pastas and breads, oats, brown rice, beans, vegetables and peas.4 

So, don’t be afraid of carbs. Work with your provider to find healthy ways to include them in your diet. Spreading carbs throughout the day can help prevent blood sugar spikes.4 At snack time, try pairing carbs with a protein or healthy fat. This can help keep blood sugar steady, says Spradling. Think whole-grain crackers or toast with some cheese or peanut butter, for instance. 

An Optum doctor is your first stop in figuring out a healthy diabetes eating plan. Find an Optum doctor.  

Myth #3: You can’t eat dessert 

REALITY: It’s fine to have an occasional treat.  

It’s true that sweets cause blood sugar spikes, which make them less than ideal for people with diabetes. Still, desserts can fit into a healthy diabetes eating plan if you plan ahead and are mindful about the rest of what you’re eating.6 “Life’s too short not to have cake,” Spradling says. 

To keep dessert from throwing your blood sugar levels off, consider portion size. Also as a general guideline, aim for lower-carb options that can keep blood sugar from spiking. Having dessert right after a meal, when your stomach is full, can help you eat a smaller amount.6 

And if you’re newly diagnosed, it’s also a good idea to monitor your blood sugar levels after eating dessert, suggest Spradling. This way, you can gauge how your body responds to specific foods and portions, then adjust as needed. 

Myth #4: Restaurants are off-limits 

REALITY: You can find diabetes-friendly menu items. 

You probably enjoy going out to eat with your friends or family. You probably also know that dining out may mean eating more calories, carbs and sugar than is necessary. Does that mean you can’t go to restaurants anymore? 

Not necessarily. With a few tweaks, you can make restaurants (even fast-food ones) fit into a diabetes-friendly eating plan.7, 8  

Many restaurants and fast-food chains offer a selection of healthy choices on their menu. Ordering from this list can be a great start. 

If the restaurant doesn’t provide this information, you can still go for healthier options. To reduce fat and calories, look for foods that are baked, steamed, grilled or broiled. Steer clear of those that are fried, breaded or creamy.8 

Also try to stay away from dishes that are high in added sugar, including those that have BBQ or teriyaki sauces, or those that are glazed.8 

You can also pick vegetables or a salad instead of fries or other high-calorie sides. Order the smallest portion on the drive-thru menu, or eat half of your meal and save the rest for later.7 

Having diabetes doesn’t mean giving up all the foods you love. You can still enjoy them occasionally, as long as the majority of the foods you eat are healthy ones.  

And remember that your Optum health care team is on your side. They are there to answer any questions you might have about diabetes and your diet. They’re committed to helping you keep your diabetes under control while still enjoying foods that work with your lifestyle. 


  1. American Diabetes Association. Statistics about diabetes. Last updated November 2, 2023. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy eating for people with diabetes. Last reviewed December 6, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  3. American Diabetes Association. Tips for eating well. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes meal planning. Last reviewed April 19, 2023. Accessed January 26, 2024.  
  5. American Diabetes Association. Get to know carbs. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The diabetes dilemma: Can people with diabetes have dessert? Last reviewed August 1, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  7. American Diabetes Association. Making healthy choices at a fast-food restaurant. Accessed January 26, 2024. 
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: eating out. September 20, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2024. 

© 2024 Optum, Inc. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce, transmit or modify any information or content on this website in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Optum.  

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other websites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites. 

Stock photo. Posed by model.