There are many foods for diabetics that can help control blood sugar levels, prevent insulin resistance and make managing the disease a little easier. This article will cover some of these alternative options for a healthier diet.
Food For Diabetes Diet
Your food choices matter a lot when you’ve got diabetes. Some are better than others.
Nothing is completely off-limits. Even items that you might think of as “the worst” could be occasional treats — in tiny amounts. But they won’t help you nutrition-wise, and it’s easiest to manage your diabetes if you mainly stick to the “best” options.
Your body needs carbs. But you want to choose wisely. Use this list as a guide.
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, or amaranth
- Baked sweet potato
- Items made with whole grains and no (or very little) added sugar
- Processed grains, such as white rice or white flour
- Cereals with little whole grains and lots of sugar
- White bread
- French fries
- Fried white-flour tortillas
Load up! You’ll get fiber and very little fat or salt (unless you add them). Remember, potatoes and corn count as carbs.
- Fresh veggies, eaten raw or lightly steamed, roasted, or grilled
- Plain frozen vegetables, lightly steamed
- Greens such as kale, spinach, and arugula. Iceberg lettuce is not as great because it’s low in nutrients.
- Low sodium or unsalted canned vegetables
Go for a variety of colors: dark greens, red or orange (think of carrots or red peppers), whites (onions) and even purple (eggplants). The 2015 U.S. guidelines recommend 2.5 cups of veggies per day.
- Canned vegetables with lots of added sodium
- Veggies cooked with lots of added butter, cheese, or sauce
- Pickles, if you need to limit sodium. Otherwise, pickles are OK.
- Sauerkraut, for the same reason as pickles. Limit them if you have high blood pressure.
They give you carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Most are naturally low in fat and sodium. But they tend to have more carbs than vegetables do.
- Fresh fruit
- Plain frozen fruit or fruit canned without added sugar
- Sugar-free or low-sugar jam or preserves
- No-sugar-added applesauce
- Canned fruit with heavy sugar syrup
- Chewy fruit rolls
- Regular jam, jelly, and preserves (unless you have a very small portion)
- Sweetened applesauce
- Fruit punch, fruit drinks, fruit juice drinks
You have lots of choices, including beef, chicken, fish, pork, turkey, seafood, beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, and tofu.
The American Diabetes Association lists these as the top options:
- Plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, or tofu
- Fish and seafood
- Chicken and other poultry (Choose the breast meat if possible.)
- Eggs and low-fat dairy
If you eat meat, keep it low in fat. Trim the skin off of poultry.
Try to include some plant-based protein from beans, nuts, or tofu, even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan. You’ll get nutrients and fiber that aren’t in animal products.
- Fried meats
- Higher-fat cuts of meat, such as ribs
- Pork bacon
- Regular cheeses
- Poultry with skin
- Deep-fried fish
- Deep-fried tofu
- Beans prepared with lard
Keep it low in fat. If you want to splurge, keep your portion small.
- 1% or skim milk
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat or nonfat sour cream
- Whole milk
- Regular yogurt
- Regular cottage cheese
- Regular sour cream
- Regular ice cream
- Regular half-and-half
Fats, Oils, and Sweets
They’re tough to resist. But it’s easy to get too much and gain weight, which makes it harder to manage your diabetes.
- Natural sources of vegetable fats, such as nuts, seeds, or avocados (high in calories, so keep portions small)
- Foods that give you omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel
- Plant-based oils, such as canola, grapeseed, or olive oils
- Anything with trans fat in it. It’s bad for your heart. Check the ingredient list for anything that’s “partially hydrogenated,” even if the label says it has 0 grams of trans fat.
- Big portions of saturated fats, which mainly come from animal products but also are in coconut oil and palm oil. Ask your doctor what your limit should be, especially if you have heart disease as well as diabetes.
When you down a favorite drink, you may get more calories, sugar, salt, or fat than you bargained for. Read the labels so you know what’s in a serving.
- Unflavored water or flavored sparkling water
- Unsweetened tea with or without a slice of lemon
- Light beer, small amounts of wine, or non-fruity mixed drinks
- Coffee, black or with added low-fat milk and sugar substitute
- Regular sodas
- Regular beer, fruity mixed drinks, dessert wines
- Sweetened tea
- Coffee with sugar and cream
- Flavored coffees and chocolate drinks
- Energy drinks
Best Foods For People With Diabetes
Green, leafy vegetables
Green, leafy vegetables are full of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. They also have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels.
Leafy greens, including spinach and kale, are a key plant-based source of potassium, vitamin A, and calcium. They also provide protein and fiber.
Some researchers have found that eating green, leafy vegetables is helpful for people with diabetes, due to these plants’ high antioxidant contents and starch-digesting enzymes.
Green, leafy vegetables include:
- collard greens
- bok choy
One small-scale study suggested that kale juice may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve blood pressure in people with subclinical hypertension. In the study, people drank 300 milliliters of kale juice every day for 6 weeks.
People can eat these vegetables in salads, side dishes, soups, and dinners. Combine them with a source of lean protein, such as chicken or tofu.
Whole grains contain high levels of fiber and more nutrients than refined white grains.
Eating a diet high in fiber is important for people with diabetes because fiber slows the digestion process. A slower absorption of nutrients helps keep blood sugar levels stable.
Whole wheat and whole grains are lower on the glycemic index (GI) scale than white breads and rice. This means that they have less of an impact on blood sugar.
Good examples of whole grains to include in the diet are:
- brown rice
- whole grain bread
- whole grain pasta
Fatty fish is a healthy addition to any diet. It contains important omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. These are sometimes known as EPA and DHA.
People need certain amounts of healthy fats to keep their body functioning and to promote heart and brain health.
The ADA reports that a diet high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can improve blood sugar control and blood lipids in people with diabetes.
Certain fish are a rich source of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These are:
- albacore tuna
People can eat seaweed, such as kelp and spirulina, as plant-based alternative sources of these fatty acids.
Instead of fried fish, which contains saturated and trans fats, people can try baked, roasted, or grilled fish. Try pairing this with a mix of vegetables.
Beans are an excellent option for people with diabetes. They are source of plant-based protein, and they can satisfy the appetite while helping people reduce their carbohydrate intake.
Beans are also low on the glycemic index (GI) scale and are better for blood sugar regulation than many other starchy foods.
According to a report from North Dakota State University, beans may also help people manage their blood sugar levels. They are a complex carbohydrate, so the body digests them slower than other carbohydrates.
The same report suggests that eating beans may help with weight loss and could help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Among the many types of beans are:
Beans also contain important nutrients, including iron, potassium, and magnesium. They are highly versatile — a person might eat them in chili, stew, or a wrap with vegetables, for example.
When using canned beans, be sure to choose options without added salt. Otherwise, drain and rinse the beans to remove any added salt.