An important way to manage prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is through a healthful diet. Being mindful of carbohydrate intake, eating smaller meals regularly, and choosing nutrient-dense, healthful options can all help.
Making a grocery list of healthful foods is one strategy that can help people with diabetes to keep on track.
One thing that can make it easier to avoid buying unhealthful foods is to make a list before going to the grocery store.
Choosing healthful, satisfying foods that meet individual nutrition requirements can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their condition.
By making smart food choices and buying the right foods, a person can ensure they have enough suitable ingredients on hand to take them from breakfast through to the last meal, or snack, of the day.
Find out more here about the best foods for diabetes.
Vegetables form the basis of a healthy diet. They offer excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fiber and complex carbohydrates, present in many vegetables, can help the body feel full and satisfied.
This, in turn, can deter overeating, which may lead to weight gain and blood sugar issues.
Some vegetables to add to the shopping list include:
- salad greens
- green beans
- Brussel sprouts
- red, green, orange, or yellow peppers
What are the best vegetables for type 2 diabetes? Click here to find out more.
Beans and legumes
Beans, lentils, and other pulses are an excellent 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 other low-fiber, high-carb foods.
This makes these foods an excellent carb choice for those with diabetes.
This makes these foods an excellent carb choice for those with diabetes. People can also use them in place of meat or cheese.
Here are some examples of what beans to pick up in either their canned or dried forms:
- black beans
- white beans
- kidney beans
- pinto beans
Dried beans and pulses may need soaking overnight and boiling for several hours before a person can use them. Check the instructions for whichever one you buy.
Dried kidney beans need soaking for at least 8 hours, boiling for 10 minutes, and then simmering for another 45 minutes or so until soft. Kidney beans contain a toxin that boiling for 10 minutes can eliminate.
Pressure or slow cooking beans can help improve the digestibility of beans as well.
Learn more here about the health benefits of beans.
Fruits can have a high sugar content, but, whether fresh or frozen, they are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The following fruits make a solid addition to the diet of anyone who has type 2 diabetes, due to their low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL).
- all berries
Click here to learn more about fruits and diabetes.
Unlike simple carbohydrates, whole grains break down slowly. This means they are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes as refined carbohydrates do, so it is easier to manage blood sugar levels.
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 percent whole-grain, or whole-wheat flour
Not only are whole grains more healthful, but they will also leave a person feeling full for longer, and they often have more flavor than processed carbs.
What are the health benefits of whole grains? Click here to find out more.
Some of the best options to add to the list are:
- Parmesan, ricotta, or cottage cheese
- low-fat or skimmed milk
- low-fat or fat-free Greek or plain yogurt
What is the best type of milk for people with diabetes? Follow this link to find out more.
Meats, poultry, and fish
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.
Here are some good sources of protein to choose from:
- skinless, boneless chicken breasts or strips
- salmon, sardines, tuna, and other fatty fish
- white fish fillets
- skinless turkey breast
- tofu and tempeh
What type of meat is the most healthful choice? Click here to find out more.
Dressings, dips, spices, and condiments
Plenty of flavorings and dressings can be great for those trying to manage 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
- salt, pepper, mustard, and herbs to taste
Remember to account for the carbohydrates a dressing provides.
Barbeque sauces, ketchup, and certain salad dressings may also be high in fat, sugar, or both, so remember to check the label before you buy.
People with type 2 diabetes can have desserts, but they should take care when choosing portion sizes and how often they consume them.
Here are some of the safer dessert options that have less impact on blood sugars that regular sweetened desserts:
- popsicles with no added sugar
- 100-percent fruit popsicles
- dessert made with sugar-free gelatin
- pudding or ice cream sweetened with no- or low-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia or erythritol
Fruit-based desserts, such as homemade fruit salad without added sugar, or mixed summer fruits, can be a tasty and healthful way to finish a meal.
Remember, however, to account for the sugar in fruit when counting carbs.
What kind of sweets and desserts can people eat when they have diabetes? Click here to find out more.
For between-meal cravings, a person can try:
- home-made popcorn, but not premade or sweetened varieties
- nuts, but not sweetened
- carrot or celery sticks with hummus
- small amounts of fresh fruit, such as an apple with almond butter
Find out here what other snacks people can eat when they have diabetes.
Water is healthful for everyone, including people with diabetes.
There are other options, but drinks such as milk and juice can contain high levels of carbohydrates, so it is important to account for these as for food. They will impact a person's blood sugar.
Here are a few options:
- iced or hot tea, unsweetened
- coffee, unsweetened
- low-fat or skimmed milk
- unsweetened plant-based milks
- sparkling water
Doctors do not usually recommend diet sodas and other diet drinks, as they may be unhealthful in other ways. Find out more here.
People with type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid the same foods that are unhealthful for everyone, and they should also avoid those that cause extreme blood sugar fluctuations.
These include foods with high levels of:
- simple carbohydrates
- saturated and trans fats
- sugar, such as candy, ice cream, and cakes
Home-made food is usually the best option, as it is easier to avoid the added sugars that are present in many ready-made items.
Learn more about the foods that can help reduce blood sugar levels.
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:
- Claims on the box can be deceptive: Just because 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 fact section of the packaging to understand what the food contains.
- Nutrition facts: The information can be confusing for many people. The most important fact for people with diabetes to look for is the total carbohydrate amount per serving, and to understand exactly how big a serving is.
- Counting 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 that can that affect blood sugar.
- Look at 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 to make better choices.
- Limit or avoid artificial sweeteners: Some studies have suggested that these can have a negative impact on health and can encourage sweet cravings, although 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 needs and wants, but here is a sample list to get started with:
- Apples: four to seven
- Tomatoes: two small ones
- Whole strawberries: 1–2 pints
- Fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, or both
- Corn: four to six ears
- Cucumber: one or two small ones
- Fresh basil: one bunch
- One salad bag
- Onion: a small one
- Red bell pepper: one or two small ones
- Romaine lettuce: one head
- Yellow or green squash or zucchini
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Wild-caught salmon fillet: one fillet
- Almond or flax milk, unsweetened
- 1–2 percent milk: ½–1 gallon
- Fresh mozzarella cheese: one ball
- Parmesan cheese: About ¼ pound
- Sweet potatoes: two
- Wild rice mix: one package
- Honey, local
- Olive oil-based unsweetened dressing: one bottle
- Low-sugar, low-sodium barbecue sauce: one bottle
- Olive oil
- Olive oil spray
- Black pepper
- Reduced-sodium soy sauce
- Walnuts, almonds, or other raw nuts
Impact of diet on diabetes
Several factors can affect diabetes management. The individual can manage many of these, including:
- what they eat, how much of it, and how often
- carbohydrate intake
- how frequently they monitor their blood sugar
- the amount of physical activity
- the accuracy and consistency of any medication dosing
- duration and quality of sleep
Even small changes in one of these areas can affect blood sugar management.
When a person eats mindfully, measures portions every day, incorporates daily activity, sleeps well, and takes medication as directed, they can improve blood sugar levels significantly.
With good glucose management comes a lower risk of complications, such as coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage.
It is also important for people to keep an eye on their weight. Managing what they eat and increasing physical activity can help a person achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Diabetes often occurs with other diseases, such as kidney and cardiovascular disease.
In some cases, the dietary needs between all these conditions change very little. In others, the person may need to follow their diet much more carefully. Doing this may help to address some of their symptoms.
Here are examples of foods to eat or avoid with some coexisting diseases.
Diabetes and hypertension
People with hypertension and diabetes may follow a similar dietary plan to those with only diabetes.
However, people with hypertension should also reduce sodium and caffeine intake.
Individuals with both diabetes and hypertension should:
- look for foods with low sodium counts
- avoid or limit coffee or caffeinated beverages
- avoid foods that are high in saturated and trans fats
Diabetes and celiac disease
People with celiac disease need to avoid products made with 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 gluten-free.
What should people eat if they need to avoid gluten? Find out more here.
A wide range of gluten-free goods is available to purchase online.
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 foods high in carbohydrates and saturated and trans fat
- monitoring portion size, especially in foods that contain carbs, fat, or both
- limit salt intake to help avoid complications from high blood pressure
The best option is to follow a healthful diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and high-fiber carbohydrates.
A dietitian or a doctor can help to create a food plan that is suited to each individual's needs and lifestyle.