Macronutrients for Diabetes

How much protein, carbs & fat should you eat if you have diabetes?

Macronutrients (macros) are the building blocks of food that your body needs for energy and to maintain your body’s different systems and structures. A healthy diet typically incorporates each macronutrient and does not exclude a specific macro from the diet.

There are three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

Macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat


Top view of best high protein foods laid out on a table. Protein is needed for muscle growth and repair. It’s also essential to building enzymes, neurotransmitters (serotonin), hormones (thyroid hormone), hemoglobin, antibodies, etc.

Protein is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products (milk and cheese), legumes (beans and lentils), and grains.

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. There are 20 amino acids in total, but humans can only produce 11 of these. Therefore, the 9 essential amino acids (amino acids humans need but don’t produce) must be sourced from food or supplements.

Protein in foods typically contains all 9 essential amino acids, but some sources may also be missing an amino acid or two. This means that eating a variety of protein sources will give you all the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly.

Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

All proteins are classified as either complete or incomplete. The classification of complete and incomplete proteins is determined by the amount of essential amino acids present in the protein. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins lack one or more. For example, soybeans are a complete source of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids, whereas oatmeal is an incomplete form because it lacks lysine.


Carbohydrates (carbs) are classified into two categories:

Simple Carbohydrates

Top view of healthy carbs carbohydrates laid out on a table top.Simple carbohydrates are sugars that the body quickly breaks down and converts into glucose, a type of sugar. Simple carbs can provide a quick burst of energy for your brain and muscles that’s needed for moments when you need a boost.

Examples of simple carbohydrates include sugar, corn syrup, juice concentrate, and glucose/fructose/sucrose. Commonly, simple carbs are found in soda, packaged desserts, baked goods, and breakfast cereals.

We recommend avoiding simple carbohydrates. Most simple carbs are highly processed and have very little nutritional value. Additionally, when you eat simple carbs, your blood sugar spikes up high, and your body produces extra insulin to compensate. Over time, this can cause insulin resistance and lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Excess insulin can also cause weight gain and lead to obesity.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are much healthier than simple carbohydrates. They are made up of different sugars but also contain fiber and other nutrients, making them a better choice than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and are more filling.

Eating complex carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar. However, because of their higher fiber content, they won’t spike your blood sugar as simple carbohydrates do. 

Graph showing blood sugar levels after eating simple carbs vs complex carbs

Some examples of complex carbohydrates include brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole wheat bread/pasta/rice/wraps, lentils, beans, fruits (berries especially), and vegetables like sweet potatoes.


Top view of healthy fat foods displayed on a table.Fat helps form cell membranes throughout our bodies, protecting cells from damage and viruses trying to sneak into their systems. They also act as insulation around our nerve fibers that send messages back and forth between different parts of our bodies.

Fat is stored in adipose tissue (body fat), but it’s not just an energy storage depot. Fatty acids can be made into hormones like estrogen or testosterone, which are responsible for sex characteristics, among many others. Fatty acid chains make up the membranes of cells and cell walls, allowing them to stay intact while regulating what goes in and out from inside a cell when needed.

The three different fats (types) are trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is manufactured in our digestive system when we eat polyunsaturated fatty acids that the body has not processed. Trans fats can also be found in hydrogenated oils, which are used to preserve processed foods like margarine, snack foods (junk food), vegetable shortening, and deep-fried fast food.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk dairy products, red meat, and poultry skin. They also come from coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fat is healthier than trans fat but not as healthy as unsaturated fat.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are found primarily in plants. Examples of unsaturated fats from plants include olive oil, avocado, sunflower oil, peanut butter, and soybeans.

Unsaturated fats are essential to our diets; they serve some great functions. For example, they help with cognitive function, weight management, heart health, and colon cancer prevention.

The three types of unsaturated fats are polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

What Are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities than macronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins help our bodies grow, develop, stay healthy and function properly, and recover from injuries or illnesses more quickly. Some examples of different types of vitamins are Vitamin A (important for eyesight), Vitamin D (which helps absorb calcium which is important for strong bones, among other things), B complex (which keeps the nervous system working well).

Minerals also play a significant role in keeping us healthy by helping the body function at its best when we need energy, like exercising or having an intense day at work! Here are just some examples of micronutrient minerals:

  • Iron (red blood cell production)
  • Calcium (muscle movement, nerve function, and building strong bones)
  • Zinc (immune function, taste bud regulation)
  • Magnesium (helps with keeping your heart rhythm steady, controls mental health)
  • Selenium (anti-cancer properties)

Some examples of foods high in these micronutrients include fruits & veggies! Many people following a diet full of processed carbohydrates and saturated fat are not getting enough nutrients from their food. Instead, if your diet incorporates whole foods, with lots of veggies and some fruit, you may be getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals from your food directly.chart showing the health benefits of many different vitamins and minerals.

What about supplements?

Some people may find they are deficient in one or more vitamins or minerals. In this case, supplements may be helpful. However, before you add any supplements to your diet, we recommend visiting your doctor for a physical and complete blood work. Your blood work will show in which vitamins or minerals you are deficient in. You and your doctor can then discuss and decide the best course of action for supplementation.

Learn more about vitamins and supplementation:

Should You Track Macronutrients (Macros)?

Depending on your health and fitness goals, you will consume different ratios of macronutrients.

There are many different diets out there, and each has its recommendation for macro intake. Tracking your macronutrients helps you see how many calories you’re consuming from each of the three macronutrient groups: protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and follow our website’s dietary recommendations and recipes, you don’t need to worry about tracking macronutrients. Our recipes are carefully developed to follow the low-carb, high-fat diet we suggest following.

If you are using recipes from other resources, you will probably want to use an app or software to track what you eat to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. For example, My Fitness Pal is a free app for tracking food and macronutrients.

Our low-carb diet recommendations:

  • Your daily net carb intake is between 50-100 grams. This is about 10-30% of your energy derived from carbohydrates.
  • You consume a moderate amount of protein, usually between 80-140 grams per day, depending on your weight and gender. This is about 20-30% of your energy derived from protein.
  • The remainder of your diet is from natural fats. This is about 40-70% of your energy derived from fat.

Type 2 Diabetes and Macronutrients

Iconographic depicting a low-carb, high-fat diet, what to eat and what to avoid.If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, you will likely find your blood sugar lowers and becomes significantly more stable when following a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF for short). On this diet, it is important to reduce carbohydrate intake while increasing the consumption of healthy fats.

Keto is one variation of a low-carb, high-fat diet. While following a keto diet can have significant benefits for diabetes, we recommend starting with a less restrictive low-carb diet. By allowing yourself a bigger carbohydrate allotment each day, you’ll be able to eat a wider range of food, feel less restricted, and will be able to maintain your new low-carb lifestyle long-term.

Low-Carb, High-Fat Basics

A low-carb, high-fat diet is a way to reduce your carbohydrate intake by limiting or removing sugars and processed carbohydrates. This type of diet enables you to eat many healthy fats, protein, vegetables, and fruits without the worry of adding too much sugar to your body. You can still enjoy delicious foods like cheese, avocado, nuts, oils, chicken, turkey, beef, steak, and more!

  • It’s about the ratio of macronutrients in your diet; high-fat & moderate-protein, not high-fat & high-protein.
  • It’s about the types of macronutrients in your diet; natural fats, proteins, and carbs.
  • It’s not about the types of foods in your diet; vegan or vegetarian can both be low-carb diets.

To learn more about a low-carb, high-fat diet, read our article on the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet.