Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a plant-based dietitian, writer, and speaker specializing in helping people bring more plant foods to their plate and disrupt the norm.
Elizabeth Barnes, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders, type 2 diabetes, and heart health.
When you have type 2 diabetes, practicing healthy lifestyle habits is essential to balancing your blood sugar (glucose) levels and preventing dramatic spikes and falls. Eating well also helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which comes with a reduced risk of experiencing complications from diabetes, including heart disease.
This article discusses what to eat and avoid while managing type 2 diabetes.
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Vegetables are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support overall health and blood sugar management.
Vegetables are classified in two main categories: starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables provide a more concentrated amount of natural sugars than non-starchy vegetables and may cause a spike in your blood sugar more than non-starchy options. This doesn’t mean you can’t have both, as both offer healthy nutrients; it just means mixing them up is a good idea.
Some examples of starchy vegetables include potatoes, corn, and butternut squash. Non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, broccoli, beets, bell peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes, and carrots.
Legumes are a category of plant foods that include beans, peas, and lentils. These are good sources of fiber and healthy carbohydrates that help support blood sugar stability, and they provide nutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Diets high in legumes and low in refined grains and added sugars have been shown to help improve blood sugar management. Add legumes to your soups, pasta dishes, salads, grain recipes, burritos, and slow-cooker meals.
Bread and pasta often receive a reputation as foods to avoid if you have diabetes or struggle with blood sugar control. However, the truth is that not all grains are created equally, and plenty of healthy choices benefit diabetes management.
Research shows that higher consumption of total whole grains can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve blood sugar control.
The two main grain categories include whole and refined, which refers to the degree of processing they've undergone. Understanding which grains fall into each category can help you make healthier choices.
The best whole-grain options include 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, rolled or steel-cut oats, quinoa, barley, millet, farro, and amaranth. These choices have been minimally processed and are high in fiber, which slows how quickly they are digested.
Grains to minimize when you have diabetes include the most highly processed ones, like white rice and white pasta. These grains have been processed in a way that removes most of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals and may cause your blood sugar to spike more dramatically.
Fiber is an essential nutrient for digestive health, blood sugar control, and healthy blood pressure and cholesterol. Unfortunately, most people don't get enough of it. While recommendations are around 30 grams daily for adults, many people only eat half that amount. Get enough fiber by adding whole plant foods to each meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Fruits are among the healthiest foods you can eat. They're full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that support overall health.
While fruits are sweet, this is due to their natural sugar content. This is different from the sugar added to packaged foods, desserts, and baked goods to make them sweeter. The natural sugars in whole fruits have plenty of fiber, which slows digestion and helps prevent spikes in your blood sugar.
Studies have found that a diet rich in whole fruits—but not fruit juice—can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Whole fruits in their natural form are a healthy part of a type 2 diabetes diet. You may also enjoy frozen fruit or even canned fruit that doesn't contain added sugar, syrup, or fruit juice.
Some of the best fruit for diabetes include apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, berries, kiwi, grapefruit, peaches, and pears.
When it comes to fruit and diabetes, it's best to avoid fruit with added sugar. The most likely culprits for this are dried and canned fruit and fruit products like jams and jellies. The best way to know whether the fruit product contains added sugar is by looking at the ingredient label.
Dairy products, as well as certain dairy alternatives, are a source of important nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamins.
Choose low-fat dairy products or enjoy smaller portions of full-fat dairy products. Alternatively, nondairy alternatives for milk, yogurt, and cheese made using ingredients like soy, oats, almonds, cashews, rice, and peas are good options. It's always helpful to read the nutrition label to determine if there are any added sugars in dairy alternatives.
Avoid consuming large quantities of full-fat dairy products and dairy foods that come as part of ultra-processed and fast food items. These are high in saturated fat and often sodium.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of fiber, healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Not only are they nutritious, but they won’t cause significant spikes in blood sugar and will help keep you full between meals.
Good nut and seed choices for diabetes include raw, unsalted options that don't contain added sugar. This includes nuts and seeds in their natural form or pureed into butter.
Some of the best options include cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds.
When you have diabetes, it's best to avoid nuts and seeds that have a lot of added sugar or salt.

Healthy eating can feel overwhelming for several reasons, one of which may be budget. However, healthy eating does not have to be expensive. Here are some quick tips for eating well on a budget:
Protein is an important part of a type 2 diabetes diet as it helps promote satiety (fullness) between meals. Incorporating high-quality sources of protein along with healthy carbs and fats is a good approach to blood sugar management.
Some of the best protein sources for diabetes management include lean poultry (chicken or turkey) and fish and plant sources like beans, lentils, tofu, seitan, and tempeh.

Avoid proteins that are part of an ultra-processed or fast food item, as these are packaged in unhealthy fats, refined grains, added sugar, and salt; for instance, fast food burgers, hot dogs, and fried fish sticks.

Fat is an essential nutrient, and prioritizing healthy fat is vital for diabetes management. Some research suggests that consuming a large quantity of less healthy fats can interfere with your body’s ability to use insulin properly, promoting high blood sugar levels over time.
Emphasizing unsaturated fats that come from plant foods is good for both your blood sugar and heart health. Some examples include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and olive oil.
It’s best to minimize saturated and trans fats in your diabetes diet, as consuming these in excess can lead to adverse health effects. Saturated fats are found in fatty meat (pork, red meat), fish, eggs, coconut oil, and palm oil. Trans fats may be found in refrigerated dough, pastries, cookies, crackers, pies, and some stick butter replacements.

Consuming sugary beverages is one of the quickest ways to raise blood sugar. Choosing low-sugar beverages is a better option for maintaining blood sugar levels.
Water is always the best choice for hydration, as it contains no added sugar. If you get tired of plain water, sparkling water without added sugar or water flavored at home with lemon slices, berries, herbs, or cucumber are good alternatives. Unsweetened coffee and tea are also options.
Avoid sugary beverages like soda, fruit juice, and sweetened teas. Additionally, while there are plenty of sugar-free drinks, consuming large amounts of artificial sweeteners may negatively affect some people.
For instance, some research suggests artificial sugars may disturb the balance of gut bacteria and potentially even reduce insulin sensitivity over time.
The best diet for managing type 2 diabetes incorporates a wide variety of healthy whole foods. Avoiding foods high in sodium, saturated and trans fats, and added sugar while focusing on good sources of fiber, unsaturated fats, healthy carbs, vitamins, and minerals is a beneficial approach for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
When you have type 2 diabetes, considering any necessary changes to your diet can feel overwhelming. If you don't know where to start, choose one or two areas to start making small changes or reach out to a registered dietitian for guidance. With consistency, eating well can help improve your blood sugar management, which can help you feel better and have an improved quality of life.
A vegan diet can offer numerous health benefits for managing diabetes if it is based on whole plant foods and minimizes ultra-processed foods. Vegan diets that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds will be naturally low in unhealthy fats and added sugar and high in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
While you can consume alcohol if you have diabetes, it's a good idea to consider how it might affect your blood sugar. Be aware of how high or low blood sugar levels feel, and note whether consuming alcohol leads to these symptoms. If you don't already drink alcohol, there is no reason to start. Always consume alcohol in moderation, if at all.
No specific food will prevent type 2 diabetes or any other health condition. However, enjoying a well-balanced diet that emphasizes healthy whole foods and minimizes ultra-processed and sugary foods can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and help manage your blood sugar.
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By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a plant-based dietitian, writer, and speaker who specializes in helping people bring more plants to their plate. She’s a highly respected writer in the health and nutrition space and loves talking about the power of diet. Lauren aims to connect people with the information and resources to live their healthiest, fullest life.

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