What are good foods to eat on a diabetic diet?

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Your diabetes-friendly shopping list should include:

Vegetables
Tip: These nonstarchy veggies can fill the "produce" portion of your plate:
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Jicama
  • Leafy greens
  • Leeks, onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Snow peas
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
Tip: These starchy veggies can fill the "starch" section of your plate:
  • Corn
  • Green peas
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Winter squash
Fruit
Tip: Opt for fresh, and avoid added sugars if you go with canned or frozen instead.
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Cherries
  • Citrus fruit
  • Grapes
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mangoes
  • Melons
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Plums
Seasonings
Tip: Research suggests cinnamon, cloves, and allspice may have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar.
  • Fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, mint, cilantro, chives, dill, etc.)
  • Low-sodium spices
  • Vinegars (cider, red wine, rice wine, etc.)
For the most part, nutrition guidelines for people with diabetes match what everyone should be doing for their health.

You need a balanced diet to get the nutrients you need for good health. (Yes, your mom was right.) Since you have diabetes, this balancing act is even more important -- you need to balance food choices with other parts of your treatment, like your medication and exercise plan. Learning a few basics (like those below) can help you do this.

Build a better diet with these 6 basic building blocks:
  • Choose unsaturated fats and oils rather than saturated or trans fats.
  • Include more vegetables and whole fruits in your meals -- they're full of fiber and vitamins.
  • Eat more whole grains like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal.
  • Choose heart-healthy proteins like beans, skinless poultry, and lean meat.
  • Select low-fat dairy products most of the time.
  • Limit your salt intake -- and also go easy on sweets and alcohol.
The key to managing blood sugars is not so much what you should or shouldn’t eat, but the size of your portions. Foods high in carbohydrate (such as breads, pasta, rice, beans, fruits, milk, yogurt, and sweets) eventually break down to glucose in your blood stream. These foods should be eaten in only moderate amounts and spread evenly across the day to help even out the peaks and valleys in your glucose levels. Divide your plate into zones:  Fill ½ your plate with vegetables. Let starches and protein rich foods (like beans or meat) each fill up a quarter of the plate. Take your milk and fruit in moderate portions on the side.
Knowing what to eat can be confusing. Everywhere you turn, there is news about what is or isn't good for you. Some basic principles have weathered the fad diets and have stood the test of time.

Here are a few tips on making healthful food choices for you and your entire family:
  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Try picking from the rainbow of colors available to maximize variety.
  • Eat non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli, or green beans with meals.
  • Choose whole grain foods over processed grain products. Try brown rice with your stir fry or whole wheat spaghetti with your favorite pasta sauce.
  • Include dried beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into your meals.
  • Include fish in your meals 2-3 times a week.
  • Choose lean meats like cuts of beef and pork that end in "loin," such as pork loin and sirloin. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose non-fat dairy such as skim milk, non-fat yogurt, and non-fat cheese.
  • Choose water and calorie-free "diet" drinks instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Choose liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats that can be high in saturated and trans fats. Remember that fats are high in calories. If you're trying to lose weight, watch your portion sizes of added fats.
  • Cut back on high calorie snack foods and desserts like chips, cookies, cakes, and full-fat ice cream.
  • Eating too much of even healthful foods can lead to weight gain. Watch your portion sizes.
Cindy Guirino
Nutrition & Dietetics
Why eat good when you can eat GREAT! A great food group for people with diabetes to focus on is the nonstarchy vegetable. This group of vegetables is full of fiber, low in carbohydrates, and contains vitamins and minerals.

For example, you can eat a full cup of sliced red peppers and your body is only getting 25 calories plus 3 grams of fiber and 284 mg of vitamin C!

Another GREAT choice would be a cup of sliced cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, or tomatoes.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, lean protein, whole grains, beans, and healthy oils. These are the mainstay of a healthy diabetic diet.
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

Any food can be eaten on a diabetic diet; however the portion size and frequency could have an effect on your health. Foods high in carbohydrates and fat should be eaten in moderation. Lean proteins and nonstarchy veggies can be eaten more frequently. A carb consistent diet is encouraged, meaning you eat small amounts of carbs throughout the day. Please speak with your dietitian further about how to implement this into your lifestyle.

Pierre Dukan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Oat bran has a positive effect on glycemic levels as well as the speed at which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. Weight loss will also facilitate insulin production in the pancreas which will alleviate some of the diabetes symptoms. Foods high in protein such as lean fish, grass fed beef, chicken, eggs, tofu and low fat dairy can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent further glycation.

Sheree Vodicka
Nutrition & Dietetics
The best foods to eat when you have diabetes also happen to be the best foods for everyone -- lots of fruit and vegetables (half your plate); beans and legumes such as lentils, black beans, chick peas, etc.; whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, oats, etc.; lean meats and fish (small portions -- about the size of a deck of cards), and lowfat dairy foods such as skim or 1% lowfat milk or unsweetened lowfat yogurt.

Everybody is different, so it's best to monitor your blood sugar regularly to see what foods cause a spike in blood sugar for you -- one size does not fit all. This is why it makes sense to visit with a Registered Dietitian several times -- first, to work out a meal plan that is customized to you and your schedule, budget, etc. -- then visit a few more times as you implement your plan to monitor your progress and modify the plan to best meet your needs.
Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Practically every day, my clients tell me that "someone" told them not to eat fruit. It's the same diet, whether you have diabetes, want to eat healthy, or lose weight. A diabetic diet is a diet low in fat and high in fiber. Fruits and vegetables are essential to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. With diabetes, it's important to remember. It's not what you eat. It's how much you eat. Just because a food is sweet, it doesn't mean that you should avoid it. Look at rice. It's not sweet, but it raises blood sugar. Measure your portions, and test your blood sugar. These are important tips to control your blood sugar.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics
A registered dietitian can help you decide which foods are right for you and the best for controlling blood sugar levels. You can find one at eatright.org.

Foods that have been shown to be helpful include 100% whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, lean protein, and healthy fats such as olive oil.
 
 
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

All foods can fit into a diabetic diet. A good guideline to follow for a healthy diet are the 2010 Dietary Guidelines which emphasize that half your plate be filled with produce (best tactic for people with diabetes is to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables); one quarter of your plate be filled with whole grains, one quarter filled with lean protein foods and off to the side of the plate is low fat dairy choices. A healthy diet for people with diabetes includes a focus on carbohydrate content of foods, a diet low in saturated fat and sodium. People with diabetes are to reduce their sodium intake at 1,500 milligrams/day.

Chad Kramer
Chad Kramer on behalf of dotFIT
Fitness
Healthy eating is important to a diabetic person in keeping the blood glucose (better known as blood sugar) in the target range. Physical activity is also important and, in some cases, diabetic medications are also used. It is important that a diabetic person eat foods that are lower in sugar. Eating small, evenly timed, complete meals is important to help maintain blood sugar levels.
  • It is highly recommended that a diabetic person eat foods that are high in fiber, such as oats, wheat, whole grains, brown rice, soybeans and peas.
  • Protein sources should come from lean cuts of meats (e.g. skinless chicken and turkey, lean pork and lean beef as well as fish), soy or dairy and be part of each major meal. Beans, peas and sprouts (which are also high in fiber) are non-animal sources of protein. 
  • Low-fat or skim milk and cheese are good ways to get protein in the diet as well as calcium.
  • Nuts, such as peanuts, sunflower kernels, pistachios and almonds (unsalted types are preferred) can be used as a great snack.
  • Fruits, such as apples, blueberries and strawberries are good to eat and also can be a great snack as well; even though they are high in sugar, the sugar is naturally occurring, which is better for diabetics.
  • Vegetables that are non-starchy, such as celery, spinach and lettuce are also important and a great choice to eat regularly.

Continue Learning about Diabetes

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.