What foods should I eat for diabetes type 2? Two is the worst kind of diabetes. It requires constant monitoring, but there are some dietary changes you can make to help you manage your diabetes. Here are foods that you can eat for people with type 2 diabetes. If you are already suffering from diabetes, you may benefit from a natural remedy for type 2 diabetes, or even check out a book on the subject to see what you can do to self-manage your symptoms better.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs over time, and involves problems getting enough sugar (glucose) into the cells of the body. (The cells use the sugar for fuel/energy.)
- Sugar (glucose) is the preferred fuel for muscle and brain cells, but it requires insulin to transport it into cells for use.
- When insulin levels are low, and the sugar can’t get into the cells where it is supposed to be, it leads to elevated blood sugar levels.
- Over time, the cells develop resistance to insulin (insulin resistance), which then requires the pancreas to make more and more insulin to move sugar into the cells; however, more sugar is still left in the blood.
- The pancreas eventually “wears out,” and can no longer secrete enough insulin to move the sugar into the cells for energy.
Which types of foods are recommended for a type 2 diabetes diet?
A diabetes meal plan can follow a number of different patterns and have a variable ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
- The carbohydrates consumed should be low glycemic load and come primarily from vegetables.
- The fat and proteins consumed should primarily come from plant sources.
Good foods for diabetes
Choosing healthy, satisfying foods that meet individual nutrition requirements can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their condition.
The American Diabetes Association advises people to always read the nutrition facts label of a product. It is the best way to know how much carbohydrate and how many calories are in the food.
Vegetables form the basis of a healthy diet. They are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Fiber and complex carbohydrates, present in many vegetables, can help a person feel satiated. This in turn can deter overeating, which may lead to undesirable weight gain and problems with blood sugar.
Some vegetables to add to the shopping list include:
- green peas
Beans and legumes
Beans, lentils, and other pulses are a great source of dietary fiber and protein.
The high fiber content of foods in the pulse family means that the digestive tract absorbs fewer carbohydrates than it does from low fiber, high carbohydrate foods.
This makes these foods an excellent carbohydrate choice for individuals with diabetes. People can also use them in place of meat or cheese.
Below are some examples of what beans to pick up in a canned or dry form:
- black beans
- white beans
- garbanzo beans
- kidney beans
- pinto beans
Also, pressure- or slow-cooking beans may help improve their digestibility.
Fruit can have a high sugar content, but the sugar in whole fruit does not count toward free sugars. Therefore, people with diabetes should not avoid fruit.
The following fruits make a solid addition to the diet of anyone who has type 2 diabetes, thanks to their low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load:
Whole grains can be an effective way for people with diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels, since they often have a lower GI.
People should avoid bleached and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, and instead choose some of the following when consuming grains:
- whole wheat or legume pasta
- whole-grain bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice
- wild rice
- 100% whole-grain or whole wheat flour
Whole grains will also leave a person feeling full for longer, and they can have more flavor than processed carbohydrates.
Dairy products contain essential nutrients, including calcium and protein. Some research suggests that dairy has a positive effect on insulin secretion in some individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Some of the best options to add to one’s diet are:
- Parmesan, ricotta, or cottage cheese
- low fat or skimmed milk
- low fat Greek or plain yogurt
Proteins are important for people with diabetes.
Similarly to high fiber and high fat foods, proteins are slow to digest and cause only mild increases in blood sugar.
The following are some good sources of protein to choose from:
- skinless, boneless chicken breast or strips
- salmon, sardines, tuna, and other oily fish
- white fish fillets
- skinless turkey breast
Plant-based proteins include beans and bean products, such as:
- black beans
- kidney beans
- pinto beans
- baked or refried beans
Dressings, dips, spices, and condiments
Plenty of flavorings and dressings can be great for those trying to manage their blood sugar.
The following are some tasty options that people with diabetes can choose from:
- olive oil
- any spice or herb
- any variety of extracts
- hot sauces
To make a vinaigrette, whisk together equal quantities of olive oil and balsamic or another vinegar and add salt, pepper, mustard, and herbs to taste.
Remember to account for the carbohydrates a dressing provides.
Barbecue sauces, ketchup, and certain salad dressings may also be high in fat, sugar, or both, so it is necessary to check the nutrition facts label before buying any of these products.
Macronutrient Ratios for Type 2 Diabetes
You don’t need to worry about counting macros if you’re following a balanced diet rich in whole foods. But here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind.
You can find carbohydrates in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, and dairy. These foods supply necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber that everyone needs to be healthy.
That said, for people with type 2 diabetes, limiting carbs will help regulate blood sugar. “Although individual carbohydrate goals will vary based on age, activity level, medication, and individual insulin resistance levels,” says Palinski-Wade, “it’s imperative to avoid having too many carbohydrates in one sitting.”
If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and don’t take medication, cap carbs to no more than 60 grams (g) per meal (four carbohydrate servings).
You can also use a diabetes exchange list, which tells you how foods compare in terms of their carbohydrate content. For instance, 1 apple and ½ cup applesauce both contain about 15 g of carbs.
Good sources of carbs include:
- Whole grains, like whole-wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa
- Nonstarchy veggies, like peppers, eggplant, onion, and asparagus
- Starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and corn, are okay to eat in moderation, just mind the carbohydrate content
- Fresh, fiber-rich, whole fruit like raspberries, apricots, and pears
- Nonfat or low-fat dairy, like unsweetened yogurt and cottage cheese
- Beans and legumes, like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
Limit unhealthy carb sources, which include sugar and refined grains like white bread and pasta.
One-quarter of your plate should contain a source of lean protein, which includes meat, skinless poultry, fish, reduced-fat cheese, eggs, and vegetarian sources like beans and tofu.
Enjoy these diabetes-friendly options:
- Beans, including black or kidney beans
- Whole nuts and nut butter
- Fish, such as tuna, sardines, or salmon
- Skinless poultry
- Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
- Reduced-fat cheese or regular cheese in small amounts
- Lean beef, like sirloin or tenderloin
Fat is not the enemy, even if you have diabetes! Learn to tell unhealthy fats from healthy fats and enjoy them in moderation, as all fats are high in calories.
Type matters more than amount: Aim to limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories, Palinski-Wade advises.
Consider opting for these sources of healthy fat, per the American Diabetes Association (ADA):
- Oils, including canola, and safflower
- Nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and walnuts
- Olive oil
- Seeds, including sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower
Best and Worst Foods for Diabetes
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.
Facts you should know about the type 2 diabetes diet
Salmon is a diabetes superfood.
- Type 2 diabetes involves problems getting enough glucose into the cells. When the sugar can’t get where it is supposed to be, it leads to elevated blood sugar levels in the bloodstream, which can lead to complications such as kidney, nerve, and eye damage, and cardiovascular disease.
- Foods to eat for a type 2 diabetic diet meal plan include complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, beans, and lentils. Foods to avoid include simple carbohydrates, which are processed, such as sugar, pasta, white bread, flour, and cookies, pastries.
- Foods with a low glycemic load (index) only cause a modest rise in blood sugar and are better choices for people with diabetes. Good glycemic control can help in preventing long-term complications of type 2 diabetes.
- Fats don’t have much of a direct effect on blood sugar but they can be useful in slowing the absorption of carbohydrates.
- Protein provides steady energy with little effect on blood sugar. It keeps blood sugar stable and can help with sugar cravings and feeling full after eating. Protein-packed foods to eat include beans, legumes, eggs, seafood, dairy, peas, tofu, lean meats, and poultry.
- Five diabetes “superfoods” to eat include chia seeds, wild salmon, white balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, and lentils.
- Healthy diabetes meal plans include plenty of vegetables, limited processed sugars, and red meat.
- Diet recommendations for people with type 2 diabetes include a vegetarian or vegan diet, the American Diabetes Association diet (which also emphasizes exercise), the Paleo Diet, and the Mediterranean diet.
- Guidelines on what to eat for people with type 2 diabetes include eating low glycemic load carbohydrates, primarily from vegetables, and consuming fats and proteins mostly from plant sources.
- What not to eat if you have type 2 diabetes: sodas (regular and diet), refined sugars, processed carbohydrates, trans fats, high-fat animal products, high-fat dairy products, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and any highly processed foods.