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: October 9, 2022
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What Is a Diabetes Diet?

A diabetes diet is a nutrition plan specifically designed for diabetes patients with the goal of managing blood sugar levels. Your individual nutrition plan should be created in consultation with your healthcare team.

Your physician can work with you or refer you to a dietitian to outline healthy and nutrient rich food options, recommend portions and even suggest times of day for meals. 

Diets to help treat prediabetes, Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes focus on low calorie and low fat ingredients, particularly vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. Following a diabetes diet can help you manage your blood sugar, reduce symptoms and avoid serious 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 clinically proven diet 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

Avoid foods with refined carbohydrates and added sugars such as white bread and sugary drinks. Instead, eat healthy carbohydrates such as:

  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)

When shopping for fresh produce, buying seasonal produce when possible can have additional benefits. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often higher in nutrients and can be more budget friendly, making sustaining healthy eating a little easier.

Fiber

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber foods include apples, avocados, oats and peas. Foods rich in insoluble fiber include whole wheat, nuts and many vegetables.

Some fiber-rich foods include:
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Beans, peas and lentils
  • Nuts

Dietary fiber modulates 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, tuna, sardines and anchovies. 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 can help lower cholesterol levels. Foods in these categories include:

  • Cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, trout)
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter (sugar free and products without added sugar)
  • Avocados
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Healthy vegetable oils (such as olive oil)

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 fat: 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: Canned soups, chips and other prepackaged food items are often loaded with excess salt. But sodium can come in foods and even beverages people may not expect. Always check nutrition labels.
  • Junk foods: When choosing snacks, read the nutrition label and if the fat, sodium or sugar levels are high, look for healthier options like fruit or 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. A growing body of evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners may be as unhealthy as the sugars they replace, so these should also be avoided. When in doubt, drink water.

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.
  • Add lean protein, such as tuna, to one quarter of the plate.
  • Fill the last quarter with starchy vegetables or whole grains like brown rice.
  • Include avocados, 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.

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 can help manage blood sugar levels.. It is also effective in preventing diabetes and its complications, reversing prediabetes, and in managing your diabetes treatment.

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.