A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins can benefit a person with diabetes. At the same time, a person with diabetes may need to limit their intake of white bread, sweets, and other highly refined foods.
Both sugary and starchy carbohydrates can raise blood sugar. But these foods, in the right amounts, can play a role in a balanced meal plan. The right amount and type of carbohydrates can depend on many factors, including a person’s activity level and medications, such as insulin.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a beneficial diet for people with diabetes includes the following:
- fruits and vegetables
- lean protein
- foods with less added sugar
- fewer processed foods
This article looks at some of the best foods for people with diabetes, which foods to limit, and how to ensure a balanced diet.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Green, leafy vegetables include:
Whole grains contain high levels of fiber and more nutrients than refined white grains.
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 effect on blood sugar.
Good examples of whole grains to include in the diet are:
People need certain amounts of healthy fats to keep their body functioning and to promote heart and brain health.
Certain fish are a rich source of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These are:
Beans are an excellent option for people with diabetes. They are a source of plant-based protein and can help satisfy the appetite while helping promote digestive health due to their
Among the many types of beans are:
Learn more about beans and diabetes.
Nuts can be another excellent addition to the diet. As with fish, nuts contain fatty acids that help keep the heart healthy.
Walnuts are especially rich in a type of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). As with other omega-3s, ALA is important for heart health. People with diabetes may have a higher risk of heart disease or stroke, so it is important to consume these fatty acids.
Walnuts also provide key nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B6, magnesium, and iron.
Learn about other beneficial nuts for diabetes.
Citrus fruits are also a great source of:
Learn about other beneficial fruits for diabetes.
Sweet potatoes rank lower on the GI scale than white potatoes. This makes them a great alternative for people with diabetes, as they release sugar more slowly and do not raise blood sugar as much.
Sweet potatoes are also a great source of:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
Probiotics are the helpful bacteria that live in the human gut and improve digestion and overall health.
A person should choose a plain variety with no added sugar. Probiotic yogurt contains live, active cultures such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which it may advertise on the label.
In one small-scale trial from 2017, people who had overweight and type 2 diabetes lost more weight after 6 months when they included chia seeds in their diets compared with those who ate an oat bran alternative. The researchers suggested that chia seeds may help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their weight more effectively.
As the ADA reports, no single diet offers more benefits to a person with diabetes than another.
However, research suggests that a low carbohydrate diet may be useful. It may help reduce cravings, lower blood sugar, and boost energy. It may also help people with diabetes maintain a moderate weight.
Low carb diets also have variations, including:
The following is a sample low carb menu for a person with diabetes.
|Breakfast||Egg and avocado toast (serves 4): |
• 4 eggs
• 4 slices of whole grain bread
• 1 mashed avocado
• add salt, black pepper, and plain nonfat Greek yogurt to the avocado
|Lunch||Mediterranean tuna salad wrap (serves 6):|
• 1 packet of tuna in water (12-ounce)
• light mayonnaise (1/4 cup)
• plain nonfat yogurt (3 tbsp)
• finely diced onion (1/4 cup)
• 1 finely diced celery
• finely diced red bell pepper (1/2 pepper)
• chopped kalamata olives (3 tbsp)
• black pepper (1/4 tsp)
• 6 large butter lettuce leaves
|Dinner||Pecan-crusted chicken breast (serves 4): |
• pecan pieces (1/2 cup)
• 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 oz)
• unsweetened applesauce (3 tbsp)
• spicy brown mustard (1 tbsp)
• sea salt (1/4 tsp)
One way to manage diabetes with dietary changes is to balance high and low GI foods. High GI foods increase blood sugar more than low GI foods.
When choosing high GI foods, limit portions and pair them with sources of protein or healthy fats to reduce their effect on blood sugar and feel fuller for longer.
Foods high on the GI scale include:
- white bread
- puffed rice
- white rice
- white pasta
- white potatoes
- potato chips
- regular soda
People with diabetes may also wish to limit or balance portions of the
Carbohydrates (carbs) are an important part of all meals. However, people with diabetes may benefit from limiting their carb intake or pairing carbs with a healthy protein or fat source.
Saturated and trans fats
Certain fats, such as saturated and trans fats, may increase insulin resistance and contribute to reduced blood sugar management in people with diabetes. Many fried and processed foods, including fries, chips, and baked goods, contain these types of fats.
People with diabetes should limit or avoid sources of refined sugar, such as store-bought or homemade sweets, cakes, and biscuits.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than
Learn about diabetes and sugar intake.
Drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as energy drinks, some coffees, and shakes, can disrupt a person’s insulin level, leading to an imbalance.
The ADA recommends limiting the sodium intake to under 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, regardless of a person’s diabetes status.
Drinking alcohol in moderation should not carry serious risks for people with diabetes and should not affect long-term glucose management.
However, people with diabetes should avoid mixed drinks or cocktails as these often contain added sugars that can lead to blood sugar spikes.
People prescribed insulin or insulin secretagogue therapies may have a higher risk of hypoglycemia linked to alcohol consumption.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that females who drink alcohol limit it to
Learn about how alcohol affects diabetes.
Learn more about the best diet for gestational diabetes.
Below are some frequently asked questions about diet and diabetes.
What foods should someone with diabetes avoid?
People with diabetes
- fried foods
- foods high in saturated or trans fat
- very salty foods
- foods or drinks with added sugar
What are three rules of a diabetic diet?
The following three areas
- What: People should have a balanced diet with foods from all of the different food groups.
- When: Although this can vary from person to person, creating a meal schedule may help some people with diabetes maintain their blood glucose levels.
- How much: Eating the right amount of food can help someone with diabetes maintain their blood glucose levels
How can someone lower their A1c levels?
Dietary changes that may help someone with diabetes lower their A1c levels include:
- eat regularly
- be mindful of portion sizes
- eat a variety of foods
- spread carbohydrate-rich foods through the day
People with diabetes can work with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized nutrition plan.
Following a nutritious, balanced diet that contains the foods listed above can help people with diabetes manage their condition and prevent complications by:
- managing blood sugar
- lowering inflammation
- reducing the risk of heart disease
- increasing antioxidant activity
- reducing the risk of kidney disease
Pregnant people with gestational diabetes can work with a healthcare professional to create a meal plan that helps them and the fetus stay safe and healthy.