A nutritious, balanced diet is helpful for managing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Meals and snacks should draw on a range of foods from all groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and dairy.
Being mindful of carbohydrate intake, eating smaller meals regularly, and choosing healthier, nutrient-dense options can help a person reduce the risks health experts associate with diabetes.
Making a grocery list of healthier foods is one strategy that can help people with diabetes stay on track.
This article will provide a list of healthier foods for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes. It will also discuss which foods a person should limit or avoid.
Choosing satisfying, nutrient-dense foods that meet individual nutrition requirements can help people living with type 2 diabetes manage their condition.
The American Diabetes Association advises people to always read the nutrition facts label of a product. This is the best way to know how many grams of carbohydrates and how many calories are in the food.
Fiber and complex carbohydrates, present in many vegetables, can help a person feel full. 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
Beans and legumes
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 means that these foods are excellent carbohydrate choices for individuals with diabetes. People can also use them in place of meat or cheese.
Below are some examples of legumes to pick up in canned, frozen, or dried form:
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 solid additions to the diet of anyone who has type 2 diabetes, thanks to their low 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 glycemic index.
- 100% whole wheat or legume-based 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 longer and can have more flavor than highly processed carbohydrates.
Some of the best options to add to one’s diet are:
Proteins are important for people with diabetes.
Like 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:
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 extract
- hot sauce
To make a vinaigrette, whisk together equal amounts 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.
People with type 2 diabetes can have desserts, but they should be mindful of portion sizes and of how often they consume these foods.
The following are some 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
- 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.
However, it is advisable to account for the sugar in fruit when counting carbohydrates.
Sugar-free options for diabetes
A person with diabetes will need to manage their sugar intake. However, sugar-free foods may still affect 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 affect blood glucose levels.
Sugar alcohols are one example of this. Manufacturers often use these low calorie sweeteners in sugar-free chewing gum, candy, ice cream, and fruit spreads. Common sugar alcohols include:
These are types of carbohydrates and can raise blood glucose levels.
A person may wish to opt for sugar substitutes. In most cases, a serving of a sugar substitute will have little impact on blood glucose levels.
Common sugar substitutes include:
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
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 affect a person’s blood sugar. Therefore, it is important to account for these as one would for food.
Here are a few options a person with diabetes may wish to consider:
- unsweetened ice or hot tea
- unsweetened coffee
- low fat or skim milk
- unsweetened plant-based milks
- sparkling water
People with type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid the same foods that are less healthy for individuals without the condition. They should also avoid foods that cause considerable blood sugar fluctuations.
A person following a low or very low carbohydrate meal plan should avoid consuming large amounts 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
- fried foods such as french fries
- sugary cereals
- sugary drinks
- processed meats
- 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 whole grain rice, pasta, or bread or replacing fried potatoes with baked potatoes.
Cooking food at home is usually the best option, as it allows people to avoid the added sugars that are present in many ready-made food items.
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: Even if a food claims to be lower in fat or sugar, that 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 grams 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 have many different names on ingredient lists, including corn syrup, fructose, and dextrose. Being aware of sugar’s multiple identities can help a shopper avoid all types of added sugars.
- Limit or avoid artificial sweeteners:
Older researchsuggests that artificial sweeteners may have a negative effect on health and can encourage sweet cravings. However, not all scientistsagree. 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 consider using the following sample list as a starting point:
- whole strawberries
- fresh or frozen vegetables or both
- fresh basil
- a bagged salad
- 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
- unsweetened, olive oil-based dressing
- low sugar, low sodium barbecue sauce
- olive oil
- olive oil spray
- black pepper
- reduced sodium soy sauce
- 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 regulation.
If a person eats mindfully, measures food portions every day, incorporates daily physical activity, gets restful sleep, and takes medication as directed, their blood sugar levels can improve significantly.
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.
In some cases, the dietary needs for these different conditions change very little. In other cases, a person may need to follow an eating plan 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 content
- avoid or limit coffee and other caffeinated beverages
- avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated and trans fats
Diabetes and celiac disease
A person with both celiac disease and type 2 diabetes should check food labels to ensure that the food they buy is free from gluten.
Diabetes and obesity
People with obesity and diabetes should follow the same food rules as people with only diabetes.
For example, it is advisable 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 nutritious diet consisting primarily 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 to follow a nutritious, balanced diet. People can try increasing the amounts of vegetables, beans, legumes, fruit, and whole grains they eat. Lean protein is also very important.
Experts advise people who are following a low or very low carbohydrate eating plan to avoid packaged and fast foods, sugary snacks, and white bread, pasta, and rice. Whole grain bread, pasta, and rice are often good alternatives to more processed grain foods.
Some people find it useful to make a shopping list before going to the grocery store. This can help them avoid buying products that are not the best options for their health needs.