Diabetes Diet

One of the best ways to manage diabetes is through a diabetes diet designed to keep blood sugar under control. Learn about the best meal plans for people living with diabetes, the benefits of a diabetes diet and optimal food and drink choices.

Last Modified: June 17, 2022
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What Is a Diabetes Diet?

A diabetes diet is a specific regimen of eating healthy foods in moderation while sticking to regular mealtimes. The healthy eating plan is naturally rich in nutrients and low in calories and fat. Its key elements are vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats.

If you have prediabetes or diabetes, your doctor might recommend a dietitian who will work with you to develop a customized meal plan.

A diet that is high in fat, cholesterol and calories may increase your risk of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. It can also cause serious health issues in people with Type 1 diabetes. A diabetes diet can help you control your blood sugar, manage your weight and prevent complications.

Diabetes Diet Benefits

A diabetes diet plan is a good tool for people living with diabetes that helps them manage their blood sugar. Treating the condition with a structured diet that has a history of success allows someone with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar levels and control the disease.

A healthy diet that keeps your blood sugar within acceptable limits could also prevent the escalation of prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes.

Nearly 10% of women who are pregnant will experience gestational diabetes, which is caused by a form of insulin resistance. Fortunately, it can be managed through lifestyle changes and a gestational diet, often without having to take medication.

A gestational diabetes diet should include plenty of nonstarchy vegetables, lean protein and correctly portioned complex carbohydrates.

Eating foods that are high in calories, sugar, fat, salt and processed carbohydrates can lead to high blood sugar, weight gain, high blood pressure and elevated blood fats (high triglyceride levels), which are risk factors for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers have found that following a diabetes diet can help reverse prediabetes and control Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Diet Food List

Following a diabetes diet plan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious food. It is recommended that you choose options from all food groups in portioned amounts.

The following food groups are essential to a successful diabetes diet.

Carbohydrates

Starchy and sugary carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. However, they can also help balance your meal plan in the right amounts. Eat healthy carbohydrate foods such as:

  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Low-fat dairy products (cheeses and milk)

Avoid unhealthy carbohydrates, including food and drinks with added sugars, fats and sodium.

Fiber


There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber food examples include apples, avocados, oats and peas. This fiber dissolves in water. Insoluble fiber foods include whole wheat, nuts, certain seeds and other foods that are usually not wholly digested by the stomach.

Some fiber-rich foods include:
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Dietary fiber moderates how the body digests food and helps lower blood sugar levels, which makes it an important part of a diabetes diet.

Fish

A diabetes diet should include heart-healthy fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or tuna. However, avoid fried fish or fish with high mercury levels such as swordfish and king mackerel.

Healthy Fats

Dietitians consider foods containing monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3) to be healthy fats because they help lower cholesterol levels. Foods in these categories include:

  • Cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, trout)
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocados
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Certain oils (canola, peanut and olive)

These fats are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet when consumed in moderation. Speak to a registered dietitian to learn more about the right portions for your specific health needs.

What Foods Should You Avoid?

Diabetes increases the risk of stroke and heart disease because it accelerates the development of clogged, hardened arteries. That’s why dietitians recommend a healthy diet that avoids the following foods:

  • Saturated fats. These fats include animal proteins and high-fat dairy products such as sausages, bacon and butter. Also limit palm kernel and coconut oils or substitute them with healthy fats.
  • Trans fats. You’ll encounter these in processed snacks, baked goods and margarine.
  • Cholesterol. Sources include high-fat animal proteins and dairy products, egg yolks, and organ meats such as liver. You can substitute lean cuts of chicken and white fish instead.
  • Sodium-rich foods. Beware of canned soups, chips and other prepackaged food items, which may come loaded with excess salt.
  • Junk foods. Swap candy, chips and sugary drinks with healthier options such as fruit and yogurt.
  • Beverages with added sugar. Sodas, fruit juices and many alcoholic drinks contain a lot of sugar. Instead, drink water, black coffee and unsweetened teas.

Avoid alcohol or drink moderately — no more than one to two drinks per day. If you do drink, make an effort to eat at the same time. Drinking large amounts of alcohol with no food can drop your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

How to Create a Diabetes Diet Plan

A diabetes diet plan helps your body better use the insulin it naturally produces or gets through medication. This leads to controlled blood sugar levels.

One example of a diabetes diet plan is the plate method, a simple way of planning your diet and portions. Some general guidelines include:

  • Fill half your plate with vegetables. Spinach, tomatoes and carrots are good choices.
  • Add lean protein, such as tuna, skinless chicken or pork, to one quarter of the plate.
  • Fill the last quarter with starchy vegetables or whole grains such as brown rice.
  • Include avocadoes, nuts and olive oil or other good fats.
  • Add a serving of dairy or fruit.
  • Drink water or unsweetened coffee or tea.

Counting carbohydrates to keep track of the amount you consume in each snack or meal is another way to ensure your diabetes diet plan stays on track. Carbohydrate information can be found on the nutrition facts label of most products.

Using the glycemic index method of selecting carbohydrates also helps control your blood glucose levels. The index rates how quickly the food will affect your blood glucose levels by using high and low values.

A dietitian can help you put together the right diabetes diet plan based on your lifestyle and health goals.

Diabetes Diet Outcomes

Embracing a diabetes diet helps keep your blood sugar levels in control. It is also effective in preventing diabetes and its complications, reversing prediabetes, and in managing your diabetes treatment.

In addition to diabetes prevention and control, a diabetes diet promotes healthy eating and helps lower and maintain your body weight, reducing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

If you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes, your physician might recommend a diabetes test. You can also obtain more health information on diabetes diet plans from your doctor or nutritionist.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.