What to Eat if You Have Diabetes

salad_spinach_eating_pregnancy You have probably heard a lot about the restrictions of a diabetic diet. Whether it’s that you can never give in to your sweet tooth or that you have to prepare a special meal that is different from what your family is eating, it can seem like having diabetes means the end of good eating. That is not the case. In fact, everyone should eat a healthful diet so there is no need for you eat differently than the rest of your family.

Diabetes Superfoods

Are there foods that will leave you feeling full without spiking your blood glucose? Yes, there are. The American Diabetes Association lists these 10 superfoods that have a low glycemic index (has less of an impact on your blood glucose) and provides important nutrients. When you're planning meals with your family, make sure to fill up on these superfoods:

  • Beans provide about one-third of the fiber you need each day in just a ½ cup. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium. Some examples are kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans. Dried beans are also an economic way to stock your pantry. Beware of canned beans, as they can add unwanted sodium to your diet.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables , like spinach and kale, are low in calories and carbohydrates, so do not be afraid to pile your plate!
  • Citrus fruits , like oranges and grapefruits, provide fiber and vitamin C.
  • Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes and are packed with vitamin A.
  • Berries , whether strawberries, blueberries, or another variety, are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. A parfait made with berries and low-fat yogurt can satisfy your desire for something sweet.
  • Tomatoes can be eaten raw, added to soups and stews, or made into pasta sauce. However you eat them, you will be getting an extra dose of iron, vitamin C, and vitamin E in your diet.
  • Fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, is a great choice. Aim for 6-9 ounces of broiled or baked fish each week—breaded or fried fish does not count!
  • Whole grains are a great alternative to processed grains like white bread or rice. Whole grains contain nutrients like magnesium, chromium, and folate, just to name a few. Whole grain versions of more popular foods, such as boxed cereal and pasta, are more available than ever and easier to find.
  • Nuts provide healthy fat and keep you feeling full longer. The also contain fiber. Be careful though, since there can be a lot of calories in a small amount.
  • Fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of calcium. Fortified dairy products are a good source of vitamin D as well.

As you can see from this list of superfoods, many healthy options fit into a diabetic diet. For an even healthier diet, remember these tips:

  • If eating meat, choose lean meats and remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose fat-free dairy, like skim milk and fat-free yogurt.
  • Choose water or calorie-free drinks instead of soda, sweet tea, or other sugary drinks.

Caving in to Cravings

Everyone experiences food cravings from time to time. The best way to deal with food cravings is to make room in your meal plan to eat these crave-worthy foods occasionally. If you were diagnosed with diabetes many years ago, you may have been told to avoid sugar in your diet. Now however, experts agree that you can substitute small amounts of sugar for other carbohydrate-containing foods and still meet your glucose goals.

So if it is a sweet treat you crave, you may be in luck. For example, if you wish to have a cookie with your lunch, substituting the bread on your sandwich for low-carb bread can help you stay within your carb limits for the meal. The total amount of carbohydrate you eat has more of an effect on your blood glucose than the type, so just be sure to adjust your total carbohydrate intake to make room for the treat you crave.

Sweet as Sugar: The Real Story on Sugar Substitutes

If you just cannot live without sweets, consider foods sweetened with sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners are 200-600 times as sweet as sugar and usually do not contain carbs, so they will not affect your blood glucose.

Sugar alcohols are natural sugar substitutes. Food manufacturers are not required to list these in the nutrition facts label, but you can find them in the ingredients list. Sugar alcohols end in “ol,” like maltitol and sorbitol. Carbs from sugar alcohols are included in the total carbohydrate amount on the nutrition facts label. The body doesn't absorb half the carbohydrate in sugar alcohols, so if you are counting carbs, you can subtract half the sugar alcohol grams from the total carb grams.

A Balanced Diabetic Diet

Many healthy foods can be a part of a diabetic diet. You can even curb cravings by including a sweet treat now and then. As always, a healthy diet means healthy portion sizes—even if you are eating a sugar-free food. And remember to talk to your doctor or dietitian about what foods are right for you.


American Diabetes Association

Joslin Diabetes Center


Canadian Diabetes Association

Public Health Agency of Canada


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Dietary considerations for patients with type 2 diabetes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115449/Dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Updated February 23, 2017. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Updated December 2015. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Five common food myths for people with diabetes debunked. Joslin Diabetes Center website. Available at: http://www.joslin.org/info/5-common-food-myths-for-people-with-diabetes.html. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Making healthy food choices. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Sugar and desserts. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sweeteners-and-desserts.html. Updated January 27, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2017.

What are net carbs? Diabetes Forecast—American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2010/aug/what-are-net-carbs.html. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 5/5/2017