The diabetes diet: the best foods to control diabetes

What should you eat if you have diabetes? If you’re confused by this question because you’ve heard a lot of conflicting information, you’re hardly alone. Fortunately, the answer should be quite simple: Eat foods that don’t raise blood sugar very much, such as low-carbohydrate foods.1

Although low-carb diets were routinely prescribed for people with diabetes more than 100 years ago — often with excellent results — recommendations to eat more carbs became the standard once insulin and diabetes medications were available.2 Unfortunately, diabetes medications can not cure the underlying problem.

However, going back to the time-honored approach of eating low-carb foods can help control blood sugar in type 1 diabetes and potentially reverse type 2 diabetes, while reducing the need for medications.3

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn exactly what to eat for diabetes.

 

Disclaimer: Medication reduction may be necessary, and you may initially need to check your blood glucose more frequently when eating to control diabetes.

In particular, insulin doses may need to be lowered to avoid low blood sugar, and SGLT2 inhibitors may need to be deprescribed. Learn more 

Please follow up with your healthcare provider for medical guidance. Full disclaimer



1. The diabetes diet: what to eat and what to avoid

There are many delicious foods that you can and should enjoy on a low-carb diabetes diet. Here’s a list of the best foods to eat — and the ones to stay away from.

Foods to eat

Protein
  • Meat of all types: Ground beef, steak, roast beef, pork chops, ribs, sausage, bacon, pork roast, chicken, turkey4
  • Seafood of all types: fish, shrimp, scallops, oysters, clams, mussels, crab, lobster
  • Canned fish of all varieties: tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies
  • Luncheon meat: ham, roast beef, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, turkey, chicken5
  • Eggs6
  • Tofu, tempeh7

Full-fat dairy products
  • Cheese: all varieties8
  • Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, or cottage cheese (limit to one-half cup)
  • Butter, ghee
  • Cream
  • Sour cream and cream cheese

Natural fats9
  • Natural oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, nut oils of all types)
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Chicken fat (schmaltz)
  • Duck fat
  • Coconut milk

Vegetables

All non-starchy vegetables, including:

Artichoke
Arugula
Asparagus
Avocados
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Broccolini
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celery
Celery root
Chives
Cucumbers, pickles
Eggplant
Endive
Fennel
Green Beans
Greens, all types
Heart of Palm
Jicama
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Lettuce
Mushrooms
Okra
Olives
Onions (small amounts)
Parsley
Peppers
Pumpkin (unsweetened)
Radishes
Rhubarb
Scallions
Shallots
Snow peas
Sugar snap peas
Sprouts
Spinach
Squashes (summer)
Tomatoes
Zucchini

Berries (limit to one-half cup per day)10
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Nuts (limit for weight loss)11
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Coconut (unsweetened)

Seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Hemp seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Condiments
  • Herbs and spices (no added sugar)
  • Hot sauce
  • Mustard (plain)
  • Tomato salsa (limit to 2 tablespoons)
  • Soy sauce or tamari

Beverages
  • Water (still or sparkling)
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Broth
  • Dry wine (limit to 1 glass per day, consumed with a meal)12

Foods to avoid

Avoiding any foods that aren’t on the list above will help prevent blood sugar elevations, or spikes. This includes many foods that most people agree are not good for your health, like:

  • Sugar in any form: white sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave
  • Cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream, candy, and other sweets
  • Pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, burritos, and similar foods
  • White bread, white rice, pasta, and potatoes
  • Soda, punch, sweetened tea and coffee, sweet alcoholic beverages
  • Beer
However, there are also some foods on the “avoid” list that may surprise you, such as:

  • Whole grains (cereal, pasta, bread, tortillas, rice)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Beans and lentils
  • All fruit juice and most fruit (other than berries)
Why should you avoid eating these foods — even those that are typically considered healthy? Because in susceptible individuals, they can all raise blood sugar quite a lot, once they have been digested and absorbed by your body.13

Learn more about how different foods affect blood sugar


Diabetes breakfast tips

A good diabetes breakfast needn’t be elaborate or time-consuming; in fact, it can even be skipped altogether if you’re not hungry.14

There’s also no rule that your first meal must contain traditional breakfast fare, like eggs. Although eggs are always an excellent choice, last night’s leftovers are great too — and a huge time saver on busy mornings.

Here are a few quick and easy breakfasts to get your day off to a good start:

Popular breakfasts

Diabetes meal tips

What can you eat for lunch when sandwiches are off the table? How do you plan a balanced dinner without potatoes, pasta, or rice? No need to worry — the options are unlimited!

Little changes can make a big difference:

  • Use lettuce in place of bread for sandwiches and burgers
  • Shred cauliflower and pan-fry in oil to make cauliflower “rice” for a low-carb burrito bowl, or as a side dish for meat or fish
  • Cut zucchini into spirals to make noodles, aka “zoodles”; saute in butter and garlic, then top with chicken or protein of choice
  • Boil cauliflower until tender, then blend together with butter, cream, and salt to make mashed “faux-tatoes” as a side dish for turkey or other protein
Check out these delicious diabetes-friendly recipes:

Popular keto meals right now

Tap into the wisdom of millions of readers. What keto meals are viewed, over and over? Whether you need a great recipe for keto pizza or want to mix-up your weekly routine with other people’s favorites, check out some of our most popular keto meals for inspiration:

Diabetes dessert tips

Although it’s not recommended on a regular basis, occasionally enjoying a sugar-free dessert is entirely compatible with low-carb diabetes eating.

Unlike people who eat low-carb exclusively for weight loss purposes, those with diabetes are at higher risk from conventional high-carb sweets due to the potential blood sugar swings, both from the sugar itself and the potential need to “chase” it with medications.15

Here are several delicious options for diabetes-friendly treats to enjoy every now and then:

Ketolicious desserts

Ready for a treat? Below you will find our most popular keto dessert recipes. If once in a while you’re OK with a dessert that’s slightly higher in carbs – check out our low-carb dessert page with ALL of our goodies.