If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor has probably mentioned that you should pay careful attention to nutrition and diet as part of your treatment program. Nutrition experts say that there is no one diet for diabetes, but people with diabetes should follow the nutrition guidelines in the Food Pyramid, while paying special attention to carbohydrate intake. People with diabetes should also eat about the same amount of food at the same time each day to keep blood sugar levels stable.

If you’ve never attempted to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet before your diabetes diagnosis, it can be difficult to know where to get started. Below are general tips recommended by the American Dietetic Association and approved by most doctors specializing in the field of diabetes:

Eat more starches such as bread, cereal, and starchy vegetables. Aim for six servings a day or more. For example, have cold cereal with nonfat milk, or a bagel with a teaspoon of jelly for breakfast. Another starch-adding strategy is to add cooked black beans, corn or garbanzo beans to salads or casseroles.

Eat five fruits and vegetables every day. Have a piece of fruit or two as a snack; or add vegetables to chili, stir-fried dishes or stews. You can also pack raw vegetables for lunch or snacks.

Eat sugars and sweets in moderation. Include your favorite sweets in your diet once or twice a week at most. Split a dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing the sugar, fat and calories.

Soluble fibers are found mainly in fruits, vegetables and some seeds, and are especially good for people with diabetes because they help to slow down or reduce the absorption of glucose from the intestines. Legumes, such as cooked kidney beans, are among the highest soluble fiber foods. Other fiber-containing foods, such as carrots, also have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. Insoluble fibers, found in bran, whole grains and nuts, act as intestinal scrubbers by cleaning out the lower gastrointestinal tract.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone with diabetes. Weight control is extremely important in treating type-2 diabetes because extra body fat makes it difficult for people with type-2 diabetes to make and use their own insulin. If you are overweight, losing just 10 to 20 pounds may improve your blood sugar control so much that you can stop taking or reduce your medication.

If you smoke and have been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will recommend that you quit because smoking makes problems caused by diabetes worse. People with diabetes can experience blood flow problems in the legs and feet, which can sometimes lead to amputation.

Although alcohol in small amounts can be fit into your meal plan if your blood sugar is under good control, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can cause low blood sugar. Alcohol can contribute to complications of diabetes, so ask your doctor how much alcohol can be included in your meal plan.

The body breaks down different types of foods at different rates. Carbohydrates (be it potato or table sugar) typically take from five minutes to three hours to digest, whereas protein takes three to six hours and fat can take eight or more hours. That’s why different foods have different effects on blood sugar, such as why ice cream (higher in fat) raises blood sugar levels more slowly than potatoes. But people with diabetes don’t always have to forgo desserts and sweets. They just have to be sure not to eat moderate amounts more than once or twice a week.