Meal Times and Diabetes: What’s the Connection?

karandaev/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
karandaev/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

If current trends continue, it is estimated that 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes by 2050. With statistics like these, it’s becoming increasingly important that we understand the best way to eat in order to manage blood sugar levels. For well-planned meals to have the most benefit, we must first look at the timing of our meals and understand the impact it has on an individual’s blood sugar levels.

Let’s take a closer look at why regular meal times are helpful:

Prevent blood sugar fluctuations

For individuals that are taking long-acting insulin or oral medications that assist with decreased blood sugar levels, eating at least every 4-5 hours is necessary to prevent low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia.

Promote weight loss

When individuals are able to stabilize their blood sugar levels throughout the day, this helps regulate their appetite as well. It is well documented that when people with type 2 diabetes achieve a 5-10 percent weight loss, this will increase insulin sensitivity and help lower blood sugar.

Improve overall nutrition

The power of planning cannot be ignored when it comes to creating a healthy diabetes meal plan. While sometimes easier said than done, meals planned in advance will likely be more balanced and include better choices. When we arrive to a meal too hungry, we tend to choose whatever food is the closest to us, eat faster and in larger portion sizes.

When an individual with diabetes has been encouraged to consume ‘regular’ meals, this can often be confusing if additional guidance is not provided. Generally, it is recommended to eat breakfast within 90 minutes of waking and then eat at least every 4-5 hours during the day after your first meal. Snacks are not necessary, but can be included if hunger is present between meals. In fact, bedtime snacks are very helpful. Since it is recommended to avoid going more than 10 hours overnight without eating, a bedtime snack containing 15-30 grams of carbohydrates, combined with a low-fat protein, prevents the liver from releasing extra, stored glucose into the blood stream and assists in the management of fasting blood sugars.

While these are helpful guidelines to get started, the benefits of working with a registered dietitian to individualize a diabetes meal plan are highly valuable. RDs can help create specialized meal plans to account for an individual’s food preferences, scheduling demands, budget considerations and so much more.


  • UpToDate: Type 2 Diabetes and Diet: Beyond the Basics, Retrieved February 15, 2014
  • Nutrition Therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes, Diabetes Care, 2013 Nov; 36 (11): 3821-42.
  • American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice for Developing a Diabetes Mellitus Comprehensive Care Plan, (2011, April 7) Retrieved February 15, 2014.
  • Diabetes-Friendly Snacking Options, Today’s Dietitian, 2010 September, Vol. 12, No. 9, Pg.12.
  • American Diabetes Association, Fast Facts

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Lori Zanini, RD, CDE
Lori Zanini is the creator of For The Love of Diabetes, a fast-growing online diabetes management program. She is the author of the best-selling book, "Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook" (Sonoma Press, November 2016) and a past National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is the nutrition expert & dietitian for Tone It Up,, and is regularly featured in various media outlets. She is based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and very busy toddler.