Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and a proper diet is essential for people living with diabetes. A well-managed diabetic diet is crucial to managing and maintaining glucose levels.
Here is a comprehensive diabetic food list to help manage diabetes and create a diabetic meal plan.
What To Eat on a Diabetic Diet?
Based on a Consensus report by Diabetes Care, there is no such thing as a diabetic diet because diabetes affects everyone differently. Those living with diabetes should consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to create a personalized diabetic diet eating plan.
However, there are general recommendations and guidelines covering what can diabetics eat and what foods to avoid with diabetes. Here is a comprehensive list of the best foods for diabetes.
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish includes salmon, mackerel, herring, Mahi Mahi, trout, sardines, and canned tuna. Fish shouldn’t be breaded or fried since it increases the intake of carbohydrates. People with diabetes should consume fatty fish twice a week.
Fatty fish are a low carbohydrate option, containing long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These are fats proven to prevent heart disease, aid in weight loss, and hyperglycemia (high blood pressure).
Over time, eating fatty fish can aid in lipoproteins, a protein responsible for transporting cholesterol. People with diabetes tend to have lower “good” cholesterol levels and higher “bad” levels, which raises the risk for heart disease.
2. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens refer to the consumption of plant leaves, like spinach, arugula, kale, and lettuce. Leafy greens provide fiber and antioxidants, like vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids.
Studies show that consuming leafy greens can reduce risks associated with type 2 diabetes because they contain antioxidants. In addition, fiber can promote proper insulin production and slow carbohydrate absorption resulting in lower blood glucose and insulin levels.
For a diabetic diet, a daily serving of 1 ½ cup of leafy greens is best.
Avocados in a diabetic diet provide necessary fiber and healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Healthy or “good” fats can lower “bad” cholesterol levels.
In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends consuming 20 grams of fiber a day for a 2,000-calorie diet. Since avocados are high in fiber, they qualify as a source of dietary fiber.
There are many ways to prepare and include avocados in a diabetic diet, such as spreading them on toast, putting them in a sandwich, or adding it to a bed of leafy greens.
Eggs are a low-carbohydrate option that can promote A1C reduction (blood sugar levels), lower blood pressure, increase levels of “good” cholesterol, and lower levels of triglycerides (body fat).
However, there are inconsistent studies regarding the benefits of eggs in a diabetic diet, which is why it’s best to consult a professional dietitian.
For example, a study by Nutrients, a peer-reviewed human nutrition journal, found a positive connection between high egg consumption and blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides), insulin resistance, and glucose response.
Another study found that consuming an egg a day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Although studies are insufficient, incorporating eggs in a diabetic diet is okay in moderation, but daily consumption may do more harm than good.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have long been a source of human nutrition. Chia seeds are a grain rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plants, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
The St. Michael Hospital in Toronto, Canada, found that consuming 37 g/day of chia seeds helped stabilize glucose levels of people with diabetes.
When using rats, studies have shown high decreases in triglyceride and “bad” cholesterol levels.
Daily consumption of chia seeds should remain under 15 grams, and consuming pure chia oil or chia seed food supplements shouldn’t exceed 2 grams a day.
Beans are another excellent food for diabetes. Beans such as kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans contain large amounts of magnesium, potassium, and fiber. If using canned beans, drain and rinse to reduce the sodium present in canned goods.
According to the ADA, ½ cup of beans supplies the same quantity of protein as an ounce of meat, minus the saturated fat.
Although the department advises their fiber intake recommendations for all people, individuals with diabetes should consume the recommended minimum of 20 grams of fiber per 2,000 calories.
7. Greek Yogurt
According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the impact of greek yogurt and its effect on diabetes remains unclear.
However, studies show that sirtuins, a protein enzyme responsible for glucose and fatty acid metabolism in the body, are a relevant factor in balancing insulin and glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
The Nutrition & Diabetes peer-review journal reported that vitamin D + calcium-fortified yogurt provided a higher increase in sirtuin six concentrations.
Since sirtuin six supports glucose and insulin balance, higher concentrations can positively affect glucose tolerance.
Although the connection between yogurt and diabetes remains unclear, people with diabetes can consume 80-125 grams of plain low-fat yogurt.
Nuts like flaxseeds, pecans, almonds, and walnuts contain magnesium, fiber, and “good” fats (monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs)).
Nuts are suitable substitutes for food containing high levels of saturated fat, especially for a vegetarian or vegan diabetic diet. A diabetic diet with nuts provides “good” fats, which improves glycemia, and weight control and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A daily two-ounce serving of unsalted nuts can adequately replace processed high carbohydrate foods.
Broccoli florets are a low carbohydrate vegetable that can improve insulin sensitivity, “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins), and oxidative stress.
Broccoli has a low glycaemic index, making it a suitable low-starch vegetable and low-carbohydrate addition to a diabetic diet.
Although there is no recommended frequency and serving size for broccoli, many suggest consuming a minimum of three to five servings of non-starchy vegetables a day.
The ADA defines a vegetable serving as ½ cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of raw vegetables.
10. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
A study published in the Nutrition & Diabetes journal found that extra-virgin olive oil can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and manage glucose levels in people with diabetes.
The Mediterranean-style diet consists of many foods in this diabetic diet food list, like nuts, yogurt, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Studies on the Mediterranean-style diet reported overall health benefits to cardiovascular health and diabetic-related benefits like A1C reduction and lower triglycerides.
Diabetics should include about one to four tablespoons of olive oil in a diabetic diet. To include olive oil in a diet, consider cooking with it or using it as a substitute for salad dressing and butter.
Flaxseeds are a favorable choice in a diabetic diet to replace foods with high saturated fats and improve cardiovascular health.
A 12-week study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements had diabetic individuals consume a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds daily, and blood sugar levels dropped significantly.
Once ground up, flaxseeds can be blended into a smoothie or sprinkled on yogurt. While there is no suggested daily serving, daily consumption is about one to two tablespoons.
12. Apple Cider Vinegar and Vinegar
A study published by the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies suggests that consuming apple cider vinegar can benefit total cholesterol and fasting plasma glucose (FPG) levels.
In addition, apple cider vinegar can improve the movement of glucose and the breakdown of fats throughout the body. It also demonstrates positive effects in controlling dysregulation of glucose production and managing the process of insulin secretion.
A daily 15 ml dose of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water will dilute the acidity of the vinegar. Always dilute vinegar, as undiluted consumption of vinegar can lead to tooth decay.
Strawberries contain nutrient-rich substances, like antioxidants, fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, E, and folic acid.
A study published by the Cambridge University Press found that daily consumption of strawberries and other berries like cranberries, blueberries, and raspberries can improve insulin sensitivity and prevent the overproduction of insulin in the body.
Strawberries for a diabetic diet include frozen and fresh produce berries. According to the ADA, a serving of fresh fruit is roughly ¾ to one cup or ½ cup for every 15 g of carbohydrates.
Garlic can improve blood glucose management in people with type 2 diabetes. Specifically, a study demonstrated that consuming garlic for 12 weeks helped overall cholesterol, LDL, and HDL.
A clove of garlic a day may improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. Garlic is an easy spice to add to diabetic diet dishes.
Squash is a vegetable containing high amounts of carbohydrates. There are different species of squash, like acorn squash, hubbard squash, and butternut squash.
Proper management of carbohydrate intake is essential in a diabetic diet. A cup of squash is an excellent vegetable to add to a diabetic diet meal.
16. Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles come from Konjac, a plant grown in East and Southeast Asia. Shirataki noodles consist of glucomannan, a component of the Konjac plant.
Glucomannan can promote positive effects in diabetic individuals. The noodles provide dietary fiber to the body, which can slow the rate of carbohydrate absorption.
What makes shirataki noodles interesting is that they are low in calories yet contain essentially zero nutrients, unlike other foods on the diabetic diet food list.
Since shirataki noodles contain no sustainable nutrients, it’s important to pair them with other healthy, diabetic foods.
What Can’t You Eat on a Diabetic Diet?
Here are some foods diabetics should avoid including in a diabetic diet. However, with a healthy lifestyle, it may be okay to include some of the foods below in moderation.
1. Refined Grains
Refined grains, such as white flour, white bread, cornmeal, and white rice, contain less protein, vitamins, and other nutrients than whole grains because of the removal of the bran and germ during processing.
Most refined grains are enriched grains, meaning they contain added nutrients to meet outlined nutrition requirements. According to the USDA, certain B-vitamins and iron are re-added into the grain, but the fiber is not.
Since refined grains have had two essential nutrients removed, these grains are harmful in a diabetic diet because of low protein levels with high amounts of sugar. This combination forces the body to quickly process the food into glucose, resulting in sudden blood pressure peaks.
2. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages refer to soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, lemonade, and other liquids with high fructose corn syrup or sucrose.
Beverages with added sweeteners are one of many well-known foods diabetics should avoid. Sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Studies show that individuals who consume just two sugar-sweetened beverages a week increase their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Fried Food
Fried foods, like french fries and fried chicken, are a popular source of sustenance because it is easily accessible and affordable through numerous fast-food restaurants.
Consistent consumption of fried food is known to significantly increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease (CAD). When frying food in oil, the oil causes it to lose its unsaturated fatty acids and increase its trans fatty acids.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fat, is an artificial fat that raises the “bad” cholesterol levels that, over time, can prompt intense, life-threatening health issues.
People with diabetes who engage in heavy alcohol consumption significantly increase the chance of complications associated with diabetes. The American Addiction Centers defines heavy alcohol consumption as 16 or more drinks a day.
Heavy alcohol consumption increases already prevalent symptoms of diabetes. Alcohol also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, blindness, and peripheral neuropathy, damage to sensory and muscle movement nerves in the brain.
It also increases the risk of ketoacidosis, a condition where the body fails to produce enough insulin for glucose to turn into energy.
However, certain alcohols can indeed lessen the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, studies show that consuming 20 to 30 grams of wine a day can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%.
While the choice to include moderate alcohol consumption in a diabetic diet is personal, alcohol in a diabetes diet should only be consumed in moderation.
5. Breakfast Cereal
Whole grain breakfast cereal with fiber may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, popular cereals like cinnamon toast crunch, Froot Loops, corn flakes, Cocoa Krispies, and instant oatmeal are high in calories, sugar, and artificial preservatives.
Healthy breakfast cereals for diabetes are whole grain, whole bran, unsweetened, and fiber-packed.
For example, suitable cereal includes oats, rice-based cereal, granola, and cereal with nut or fruit toppings.
There are many misconceptions about candy and its effect on diabetes. For one, many sugar-free candies still contain high amounts of trans fat and carbohydrates.
A study published by Sage journals showed that consuming two to six one-ounce servings of sugar-free dark chocolate with stevia, erythritol, and insulin additives a week lowered blood sugar fluctuations.
Overall, people with diabetes can consume sugar-free dark chocolate containing 70% or more cacao in moderation.
7. Processed Meats
Fish and red meat are two portions of meat incorporated in many eating patterns, like the Mediterranean style, very low-fat, and low-carbohydrate diets.
Consuming substantial amounts of processed meat, like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, can increase the risk of diabetes.
Individuals with type 3 diabetic gastroparesis should consult a dietary expert, as it is likely their stomach will struggle to process tough and fatty meats.
A study published in the Nutrients journal outlined possible reasons for the connection between processed meats and diabetes. Processed meats contain iron, nitrates, and sodium, three factors that can increase sensitivity to insulin and the risk of diabetes.
Since long-term consumption of processed meats considerably increases diabetes risk, people with diabetes should limit the number of processed meats in their diet.
8. Fruit Juice
Excessive consumption of fruit and fruit juice can increase blood glucose levels. However, fruit juice typically combines more than one fruit into a mixture, resulting in a higher carbohydrate intake than whole fruits. In addition, breaking down whole fruits can cause a loss in dietary fiber, a necessary part of digestion, and slow the process of food into glucose.
Most of the time, whole fruits outperform fruit juice and should be the preferred source of fruit in a diabetic diet.
How To Create a Diabetic Diet Plan
To create a diabetic diet plan, choose your source(s) of protein, fats, non-starchy vegetables, and fruits. The AMA explains protein should occupy roughly ¼ of a meal. Now, here are the best protein options for a diabetic diet.
- Fish: salmon, cod, tuna, etc.
- Shellfish: shrimp, scallops, clams, etc.
- Lean beef or pork
- Lean deli meats
- Cottage cheese
- Tofu, tempeh, and other plant-based substitutes
Next, choose fats in a diabetic diet. For a diabetic diet, the focus is on monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. These two fats can lower (LDL) levels and cardiovascular risk.
Some choices of fats to incorporate in your diabetic diet include the following.
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
- Canola oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Safflower oil
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Non-starchy vegetables can come fresh, frozen, and canned. Here are a few non-starchy vegetables to include in your diet.
- Baby corn
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
Finally, fruits can help console a craving for sweets. Fruits are high in carbohydrates, so it’s possible to substitute starches, grains, or dairy for fruit. Here are a few great fruits to include in your diet.
- Berries: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.
- Raisins, figs, dates, and other dried fruits
How Many Calories Can You Eat While on a Diabetic Diet?
The amount of calories you can eat on a diabetic diet depends on your diabetes type, dietary goals, and current weight. For example, overweight individuals should reduce their calorie intake by 500 to 750 calories.
What Percent Of Daily Fat-Intake Do You Need for a Diabetic Diet?
Daily fat intake should be 20% to 30% of daily calorie intake.
What Percent Of Daily Protein Do You Need Doing Diabetic Diet?
The average percent of daily protein needed in a diabetic diet is 15 to 20% of daily calorie intake, and, for overweight patients, daily protein should be 20% to 30% of daily calories intake, according to research published in PubMed.
Is a Gluten-Free Diet Food List Expensive?
Yes, a gluten-free diet can be expensive since many gluten-free products are priced significantly higher than “regular” produce.
What Is the Diabetes Plate Method?
The diabetes plate method helps you consume and manage diabetes without measuring. On a nine-inch plate, half the plate should be non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate should be carbohydrate foods, and the other half is for protein.
What Is a Sample Diabetic Menu for One Week?
Here is a sample menu for a low-carb, diabetic diet without red meat from recipes recommended by the ADA.
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast with Turkey Sausage (270 calories)
2 slices of whole-grain bread, 1 tsp olive oil, 2 eggs, ⅛ tsp salt, 1/4th cup chopped fresh herbs, and 2 lean turkey sausage patties.
Lunch: Burrito Bowl (360 calories)
Boston lettuce leaves, canned black beans, cherry tomatoes, frozen corn, green onions, ⅓ cup diced Monterey Jack cheese, ¼ cup cilantro, ¼ tsp ground cumin, avocado, salsa, sea salt, and lime wedges.
Dinner: Shrimp Stir Fry with Quinoa (415 calories)
¼ cup low sodium vegetable broth, rice vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, cornstarch, 1 tsp ground ginger, ½ tsp sriracha, ½ tsp brown sugar, 3 tbsp olive oil, garlic clove, medium shrimp, and broccoli florets.
Quinoa: canola oil, small onion, garlic cloves, quinoa, low-sodium fat-free chicken broth, limes, and ½ cup cilantro.
Snack/Dessert: Lemon fruit cup with almonds, one kiwi, and four strawberries (90 calories)