What to Eat if You Have Diabetes

salad_spinach_eating_pregnancyIt may seem like having diabetes means the end of good eating. That is not the case. There are food options that are delicious, healthy, and safe for people with diabetes.

Diabetes Superfoods

Diabetes superfoods can leave a person feeling full without causing blood glucose to rise. They have a low glycemic index. This means they have less of an impact on blood glucose. These 10 superfoods provide important nutrients.

  • Beans provide about one-third of the fiber a person needs each day in just a ½ cup. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates (carbs).
  • Citrus fruits contain fiber and vitamin C.
  • Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes. They are packed with vitamin A.
  • Berries are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. A parfait made with berries and low-fat yogurt is also a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth.
  • Tomatoes can be eaten raw, added to soups and stews, or made into a sauce. They add iron, vitamin C, and vitamin E to a person's diet.
  • Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for 6 to 9 ounces of broiled or baked fish each week.
  • Whole grains are better than white bread or rice. They have nutrients like magnesium, chromium, and folate. Whole grain versions of more popular foods are popular and easy to find.
  • Nuts are a healthy fat that keeps a person feeling full longer. They also have fiber. Be careful, though. 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.

Caving into Cravings

Everyone has food cravings. The best way to deal with them is to make room in a meal plan to eat these foods from time to time. People diagnosed with diabetes in the past may have been told not to eat sugar. Now people can substitute small amounts of sugar for other carbs and still meet glucose goals.

For example, a person who wants a cookie with lunch can swap the bread on a sandwich with low-carb bread. This can help that person stay within carb limits for the meal. The total amount of carbs has more of an effect on blood glucose than the type. Just make sure to adjust the total carb intake to make room for the treat.

Sweet as Sugar: The Real Story on Sugar Substitutes

Some people may want to try eating foods sweetened with sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners are 200 to 600 times as sweet as sugar and often do not contain carbs, so they will not affect blood glucose.

Sugar alcohols are natural sugar substitutes. They are not always listed in the nutrition facts label. They can be found in the ingredients list. though. Sugar alcohols end in “ol,” like maltitol and sorbitol. Carbs from sugar alcohols are included in the total carb amount on the nutrition facts label. The body doesn't absorb half the carb in sugar alcohols, so a person 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. People can even curb cravings with a sweet treat now and then. As always, a healthy diet means healthy serving sizes.


American Diabetes Association

Joslin Diabetes Center


Canadian Diabetes Association

Public Health Agency of Canada


American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes - 2020. Diabetes Care. 2020 Jan; 43 (Suppl 1):S1-S212.

Dietary considerations for patients with type 2 diabetes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/management/dietary-considerations-for-patients-with-type-2-diabetes. Accessed August 20, 2020.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed August 20, 2020.

Diabetes superfoods. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/diabetes-superfoods.html?loc=ff-slabnav. Accessed August 20, 2020.

Making food choices made easy. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices. Accessed August 20, 2020.

What are net carbs? Diabetes Forecast—American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2010/aug/what-are-net-carbs.html. Accessed August 20, 2020.

Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN