Setting a specific goal to eat more low glycemic index foods can improve the dietary habits of people with type 2 diabetes, a new study finds.

Researchers at Ohio State University found diabetics who made plans to eat foods with a low gylcemic index – carbohydrates that are digested slowly and are less likely to spike blood sugar levels – were more likely to adhere to their goals and also consumed fewer calories.

Study participants were given a goal to eat either six or eight daily servings of low glycemic index foods. Overall, most participants reached the goal of eight servings, primarily because many of the people were already consuming about six servings each day.

Participants also ended up eating approximately 500 fewer calories per day and adding vegetables, fruits and nuts to their diets.

“We ask people to set goals because they motivate action,” said lead study author Carla Miller. “Telling people to ‘go out and do your best’ is not effective. It’s not specific enough, or targeted enough, or timely… In this context it’s not just a matter of setting a goal, it’s deciding what specifically you are going to modify to help you achieve a more healthful diet.”

The study consisted of 35 adults ages 40 to 65 living with type 2 diabetes. All participants completed an assessment while joining a nutrition intervention group for a five week period. Participants were then split into two different groups. The first group had a goal of eating six low glycemic index foods over an eight week period, and the other group consumed eight low glycemic index foods per day over the same period.

Each group showed a substantial average increase in their daily total servings of low glycemic index foods and a significant average decrease in caloric intake, and overall dietary glycemic index.

However, not all participants reached their desired goal, leading researchers to learn more about the relationship between goal setting and committing to specific diets.

“What we found is that those who felt more committed to the goal felt the goal was less difficult, and those who had a higher level of self-efficacy felt that the goal was less difficult, which makes sense because that means they felt more confident in their ability to meet that goal,” Miller said.

The glycemic index is a scale of glucose level in foods ranging from 1 to 100. Foods with an index of 55 or fewer points, such as vegetables, whole grains, diary foods, nuts, beans and fruits, are low glycemic index foods.  Foods with a point value of 100 are the equivalent of pure glucose.