The Best Foods for Diabetes Diet

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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fruits and vegetables

Most people don’t want to hear the word “diet.” But diet as a noun is simply the food you eat on a routine basis. To manage your diabetes, you need to know the best ways to eat a variety of foods, and a diabetes diet or eating plan can help. A diabetes diet focuses on healthy eating, which can also help you lose weight and lower your risk of heart disease. A good plan helps you understand what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat.

Types of Foods

Foods fall into the following general categories:

  • Fats and sweets

  • Fruits

  • Meat and meat substitutes

  • Milk and dairy

  • Starches

  • Vegetables

Foods containing carbohydrates, such as starches and fruits, will change your blood sugar levels the most. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can provide guidance and tell you how much of these foods you can eat.


Starches include cereals, breads, pasta, grains, and starchy vegetables, such as corn, potatoes, lima beans, and peas. Starches are high in carbohydrates, which break down into glucose (sugar). However, they’re also good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can include starches in your diet, but you need to be smart about it:

  • Avoid fried starches and choose baked products instead.

  • Choose whole grain cereals, breads and pastas.

  • Use low-fat or fat-free condiments for your starches, such as mustard on your sandwich or low-fat sour cream on your baked potato.


Fruits can also be high in carbohydrates but they’re good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Include fruit in your meals:

  • Choose the whole fruit rather than fruit juice to get the most nutritional value.

  • Pick smaller pieces of fruit. Some large fruits count as more than one serving.

  • Eat raw fruit or fruit that is cooked, canned or dried with no sugar added.


Vegetables come in all colors and sizes: Carrots, celery, broccoli, peppers, green beans, lettuce, eggplant, cabbage, and spinach. Vegetables are low in carbohydrates and are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber. A healthy way to eat vegetables is to:

  • Eat raw or steamed vegetables.

  • Add flavor by steaming with low-fat broth, adding onion or garlic, sprinkling with vinegar or lemon juice, and seasoning with herbs and spices.

  • Limit your use of fats to small amounts of olive oil, canola oil, or soft margarines.

  • Use low-fat or fat-free dressings and sauces. Have you tried fat-free salad sprays?

Milk and Dairy

Milk and other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, contain some carbohydrates. They’re a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. Try these smart ways to include dairy:

  • Drink non-fat (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.

  • Eat low-fat or fat-free yogurt and cheese.

  • Use low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream.

Meat and Meat Substitutes

This group includes meat, poultry, eggs, fish and tofu. These foods are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Use these guidelines:

  • Choose meat cuts with little fat and trim excess fat before cooking.

  • Broil, grill, roast, steam or stir-fry.

  • Add flavor with low-fat marinades, low-fat broths, vinegars, low-sodium soy sauce, salsa, herbs and spices.

  • Avoid eating poultry skin. Buy skinless chicken and low-fat ground turkey.

Fats and Sweets

This group includes nuts, desserts, and cookies, as well as salad dressings, butter, mayonnaise, oil, and cream cheese. These foods are high in calories, fat and carbohydrates and have little nutritional value. You don’t have to cut them out entirely, but limiting this food group is smart:

  • Limit nuts and nut products.

  • Make homemade desserts and package them in small, individual portions.

  • Order a child’s portion of dessert.

  • Share a normal sized dessert with someone.

  • Substitute low-calorie or low-fat desserts, sauces and dressings.

Sticking to a Plan

Healthy eating can seem like a full-time job. If you’re having a hard time with a restricted diet and avoiding certain foods, ask your doctor for help or ask for a referral to a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They want you to succeed and be in your best health. Once you grow accustomed to eating the right foods, you’ll feel better than ever!

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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