An important way to manage prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is through a healthy, balanced diet. Being mindful of carbohydrate intake, eating smaller meals regularly, and choosing healthy, nutrient-dense options can all help a person manage the risks health experts associate with diabetes.

Eating a balanced diet can have a considerable impact on managing type 2 diabetes or preventing prediabetes from becoming type 2 diabetes.

Making a grocery list of healthy foods is one strategy that can help people with diabetes stay on track.

This article will provide a list of healthy foods for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes. It will also discuss which foods a person should limit or avoid.

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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

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:

Learn about the best vegetables for type 2 diabetes here.

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:

Also, pressure- or slow-cooking beans may help improve their digestibility.

Learn more about the health benefits of beans here.

Fruit

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:

Learn more about fruit and diabetes here.

Whole grains

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 grains will also leave a person feeling full for longer, and they can have more flavor than processed carbohydrates.

Dairy

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

Learn about the best type of milk for diabetes here.

Meat

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:

Plant-based proteins include beans and bean products, such as:

Learn more about plant-based proteins here.

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:

  • vinegar
  • olive oil
  • mustard
  • any spice or herb
  • any variety of extracts
  • hot sauces
  • salsa

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.

Dessert foods

People with type 2 diabetes can have desserts, but they should take care when choosing portion sizes and how often they consume them.

The following are some of the low calorie or low carbohydrate dessert options that have less of an impact on blood sugar levels than regular desserts:

  • popsicles with no added sugar
  • 100% fruit popsicles
  • dessert containing sugar-free gelatin
  • pudding or ice cream sweetened with zero-calorie or low calorie sweeteners, such as stevia and erythritol

Fruit-based desserts — such as homemade fruit salad without added sugar, or mixed summer fruits — can be a tasty and healthy way to finish a meal.

It is advisable, however, to account for the sugar in fruit when counting carbohydrates.

Learn about sweets and desserts for people with diabetes here.

Sugar-free options for diabetes

A person with diabetes will need to manage their sugar intake. However, sugar-free food may still have an effect on a person’s blood glucose.

“Sugar-free” means that a food item does not contain added sugar, but the product itself can contain carbohydrates, which impact blood glucose levels.

One example of this is sugar alcohols. Manufacturers often use these low calorie sweeteners in sugar-free chewing gum, candy, ice cream, and fruit spreads. Examples include:

These are types of carbohydrate and can raise blood glucose levels.

A person may wish to opt for sugar substitutes. In most cases, one serving of a sugar substitute will have little impact on blood glucose levels.

Common sugar substitutes include:

Learn more about the best sweeteners for people with diabetes here.

Snacks

For cravings between meals, a person can try:

  • homemade popcorn, but not ready-made or sweetened varieties
  • nuts, but not sweetened ones
  • carrot or celery sticks with hummus
  • small amounts of fresh fruit paired with a protein or fat, such as an apple with almond butter

Learn more snack ideas for people with diabetes here.

Drinks

Water is healthy for everyone, including individuals with diabetes.

There are other options, but beverages such as milk and juice can contain high levels of carbohydrates and will impact a person’s blood sugar. It is therefore important to account for these as one would for food.

Here are a few options a person with diabetes may wish to consider:

Learn why doctors may not recommend diet soda for people with diabetes here.

People with type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid the same foods that are unhealthy for individuals without the condition. They should also avoid the foods that cause considerable blood sugar fluctuations.

A person should avoid foods with high levels of:

More specifically, people should limit their intake of:

  • packaged and fast foods, such as baked goods, sweets, chips, and desserts
  • white bread
  • white pasta
  • white rice
  • sugary cereals
  • sugary drinks
  • processed meat
  • red meat

It is also advisable to avoid low fat products that have replaced fat with sugar. Fat-free yogurt is a good example.

People living with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes can try swapping some foods for healthier versions. This may include choosing wholemeal rice, pasta, or bread or replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes or yams.

Homemade food is usually the best option, as it is easier to avoid the added sugars that are present in many ready-made food items.

Learn more about foods to avoid with diabetes here.

Food packaging can be confusing. Most food items need a nutrition facts label, but many people have difficulty reading it or knowing what to look for.

Here are some helpful tips for a better understanding of packaging labels and messages:

  • Read the nutrition facts label: That a food claims to be lower in fat or reduced sugar does not mean it actually is. It is important to look for and read through the nutrition facts label on the packaging to understand what the food contains.
  • Look for specific nutrition facts: The information can be confusing for many people. The most important information for individuals with diabetes to look for is the total of carbohydrates per serving and how big a serving is.
  • Count carbohydrates: Dietary fiber is a form of carbohydrate, and it may appear under the listing for total carbohydrates. The body does not digest dietary fiber, so a person can subtract it from the total carbohydrates in the food. This is a more accurate way of counting the carbohydrates.
  • Read the ingredients list: The list of ingredients runs from the highest total content to the lowest. If sugar is at the top, it is the main ingredient.
  • Look for hidden sources of sugar: Sugar can hide in foods under many different names, including corn syrup, fructose, and dextrose. Being aware of sugar’s multiple identities can help a shopper make safer choices.
  • Limit or avoid artificial sweeteners: Older research suggests that artificial sweeteners can have a negative impact on health and can encourage sweet cravings. However, not all scientists agree. Some popular artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, neotame, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium.

A grocery list will usually vary from week to week, based on a person’s needs and wants. However, individuals may wish to consider the following sample list to get started with:

  • apples
  • tomatoes
  • whole strawberries
  • fresh or frozen vegetables or both
  • corn
  • cucumber
  • fresh basil
  • a salad bag
  • onion
  • red bell pepper
  • romaine lettuce
  • yellow or green squash or zucchini
  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • wild-caught salmon fillet
  • unsweetened almond or flax milk
  • 1–2% milk
  • fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • sweet potatoes
  • wild rice mix
  • honey
  • unsweetened, olive oil-base dressing
  • low sugar, low sodium barbecue sauce
  • olive oil
  • olive oil spray
  • black pepper
  • reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • salt
  • coffee
  • walnuts, almonds, or other raw nuts

Several factors can affect diabetes management. An individual can manage many of these, including:

  • what they eat, how much of it, and how often
  • their carbohydrate intake
  • how frequently they monitor their blood sugar
  • the amount of physical activity they engage in
  • the accuracy and consistency of any medication dosing they use
  • sleep duration and quality

Even small changes in one of these areas can affect blood sugar management.

When a person eats mindfully, measures food portions every day, incorporates daily physical activity, has restful sleep, and takes medication as directed, they can improve their blood sugar levels significantly.

With good glucose management comes a lower risk of complications such as heart disease, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage.

It is also important for people to manage what they eat and increase physical activity where appropriate. This can help a person reach or maintain a moderate body weight.

Diabetes can occur with other conditions, such as kidney and cardiovascular disease.

In some cases, the dietary needs for these different conditions change very little. In other cases, a person may need to follow their diet much more carefully. Doing this may help address some of their symptoms.

An individual can contact a doctor or dietitian for food guidance.

Below, we list examples of foods to eat or avoid with some coexisting conditions:

Diabetes and hypertension

People with high blood pressure, or hypertension, and diabetes may follow a similar dietary plan to those with only diabetes.

However, individuals with hypertension should also reduce sodium and caffeine intake.

A person with both diabetes and hypertension should:

  • choose foods with low sodium counts
  • avoid or limit coffee and caffeinated beverages
  • avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated and trans fats

Diabetes and celiac disease

People with celiac disease need to avoid products containing wheat, barley, and rye, as their bodies are unable to process the gluten that is present in these products.

A person with both celiac disease and type 2 diabetes should check food labels to ensure the food they buy is free from gluten.

Learn about alternatives to gluten here.

Diabetes and obesity

People with obesity and diabetes should follow the same food rules as people with only diabetes.

For example, it is a good idea to:

  • avoid or limit foods high in carbohydrates and saturated and trans fats
  • monitor portion sizes, especially in the case of foods that contain carbohydrates, fat, or both
  • limit salt intake to help avoid complications from high blood pressure

The best option is to follow a balanced diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and high fiber carbohydrates.

A dietitian or doctor can help create a food plan that is suited to each individual’s needs and lifestyle.

There is no special diet for individuals living with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. The key is following a healthy, balanced diet. People can try increasing the amount of vegetables, beans, legumes, fruit, and whole grains they eat. Lean protein is also very important.

Experts advise people avoid packaged and fast foods, sugary snacks, and white bread, pasta, and rice. Wholemeal versions are often a good alternative.

Some people find it helpful to make a shopping list before going to the grocery store. This can help them avoid buying unhealthy products.

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