An important way to manage prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is through a healthy, balanced diet. Being mindful of carbohydrate intake, eating smaller meals regularly, and choosing healthy, nutrient-dense options can all help a person manage the risks health experts associate with diabetes.
Eating a balanced diet can have a considerable impact on managing type 2 diabetes or preventing prediabetes from becoming type 2 diabetes.
Making a grocery list of healthy foods is one strategy that can help people with diabetes stay on track.
This article will provide a list of healthy foods for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes. It will also discuss which foods a person should limit or avoid.
Choosing healthy, satisfying foods that meet individual nutrition requirements can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their condition.
The American Diabetes Association advises people to always read the nutrition facts label of a product. It is the best way to know how much carbohydrate and how many calories are in the food.
Vegetables form the basis of a healthy diet. They are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Fiber and complex carbohydrates, present in many vegetables, can help a person feel satiated. 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 include:
Learn about the best vegetables for type 2 diabetes here.
Beans, lentils, and other pulses are a great source of dietary fiber and protein.
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 makes these foods an excellent carbohydrate choice for individuals with diabetes. People can also use them in place of meat or cheese.
Below are some examples of what beans to pick up in a canned or dry form:
Also, pressure- or slow-cooking beans may help improve their digestibility.
Learn more about the health benefits of beans here.
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 a solid addition to the diet of anyone who has type 2 diabetes, thanks to their low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load:
Learn more about fruit and diabetes here.
Whole grains can be an effective way for people with diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels, since they often have a lower GI.
People should avoid bleached and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, and instead choose some of the following when consuming grains:
Whole grains will also leave a person feeling full for longer, and they can have more flavor than processed carbohydrates.
Dairy products contain essential nutrients, including calcium and protein. Some research suggests that dairy has a positive effect on insulin secretion in some individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Some of the best options to add to one’s diet are:
Learn about the best type of milk for diabetes here.
Proteins are important for people with diabetes.
Similarly to 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:
Plant-based proteins include beans and bean products, such as:
Learn more about plant-based proteins here.
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:
To make a vinaigrette, whisk together equal quantities 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 take care when choosing portion sizes and how often they consume them.
The following are some of the low calorie or low carbohydrate dessert options that have less of an impact on blood sugar levels than regular desserts:
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.
It is advisable, however, to account for the sugar in fruit when counting carbohydrates.
Learn about sweets and desserts for people with diabetes here.
A person with diabetes will need to manage their sugar intake. However, sugar-free food may still have an effect on 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 impact blood glucose levels.
One example of this is sugar alcohols. Manufacturers often use these low calorie sweeteners in sugar-free chewing gum, candy, ice cream, and fruit spreads. Examples include:
These are types of carbohydrate and can raise blood glucose levels.
A person may wish to opt for sugar substitutes. In most cases, one serving of a sugar substitute will have little impact on blood glucose levels.
Common sugar substitutes include:
Learn more about the best sweeteners for people with diabetes here.
For cravings between meals, a person can try:
Learn more snack ideas for people with diabetes here.
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 impact a person’s blood sugar. It is therefore important to account for these as one would for food.
Here are a few options a person with diabetes may wish to consider:
Learn why doctors may not recommend diet soda for people with diabetes here.
People with type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid the same foods that are unhealthy for individuals without the condition. They should also avoid the foods that cause considerable blood sugar fluctuations.
A person should avoid foods with high levels of:
More specifically, people should limit their intake of:
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 wholemeal rice, pasta, or bread or replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes or yams.
Homemade food is usually the best option, as it is easier to avoid the added sugars that are present in many ready-made food items.
Learn more about foods to avoid with diabetes here.
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:
A grocery list will usually vary from week to week, based on a person’s needs and wants. However, individuals may wish to consider the following sample list to get started with:
Several factors can affect diabetes management. An individual can manage many of these, including:
Even small changes in one of these areas can affect blood sugar management.
When a person eats mindfully, measures food portions every day, incorporates daily physical activity, has restful sleep, and takes medication as directed, they can improve their blood sugar levels significantly.
With good glucose management comes a lower risk of complications such as heart disease, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage.
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.
Diabetes can occur with other conditions, such as kidney and cardiovascular disease.
In some cases, the dietary needs for these different conditions change very little. In other cases, a person may need to follow their diet 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:
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:
People with celiac disease need to avoid products containing wheat, barley, and rye, as their bodies are unable to process the gluten that is present in these products.
A person with both celiac disease and type 2 diabetes should check food labels to ensure the food they buy is free from gluten.
Learn about alternatives to gluten here.
People with obesity and diabetes should follow the same food rules as people with only diabetes.
For example, it is a good idea to:
The best option is to follow a balanced diet consisting 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 following a healthy, balanced diet. People can try increasing the amount of vegetables, beans, legumes, fruit, and whole grains they eat. Lean protein is also very important.
Experts advise people avoid packaged and fast foods, sugary snacks, and white bread, pasta, and rice. Wholemeal versions are often a good alternative.
Some people find it helpful to make a shopping list before going to the grocery store. This can help them avoid buying unhealthy products.
Read this article in Spanish.
Last medically reviewed on December 16, 2021
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Current Version
Dec 17, 2021
Jenna Fletcher
Edited By
Katy Wallis
Medically Reviewed By
Kimberley Rose-Francis RDN, CDCES, CNSC, LD
Copy Edited By
Malgorzata Pachol
Mar 20, 2019
Jenna Fletcher
Edited By
Tracey Crate
Medically Reviewed By
Natalie Butler, RD, LD
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