Mon. May 20th, 2024

Getting a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming, and it may seem difficult to nail down the best healthy foods to properly fuel your body and keep your blood sugar stable. But fear not—having a go-to type 2 diabetes food list can help.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder related to insulin resistance which leads to elevated blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, says Kimberly Gomer, RDN, a Miami-based dietitian who specializes in weight loss, diabetes, cholesterol, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). No one is born with type 2 diabetes, but it’s often connected to dietary choices, she says.

Luckily, type 2 diabetes can be managed (and even reversed) with a nutrient-dense diet that focuses on whole foods. Balancing your plate with lean protein, healthy fat, fiber, and complex carbs can also help stabilize blood sugar while adding variety to your diet, Gomer says. Whether you have type 2 diabetes or you simply want to regulate your blood sugar, here’s what to eat (and limit), according to dietitians.

Meet the experts: Kimberly Gomer, RDN, is a Miami-based dietitian who specializes in weight loss, diabetes, cholesterol, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, is a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes and the author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet.

Type 2 Diabetes-Friendly Foods

Protein

Protein is the center of a healthy diabetic diet since it’s needed for hormonal balance, muscle growth and repair, and blood sugar management, says Gomer. Plus, animal- and plant-based protein are both extremely satiating so will help keep you fuller for longer, she adds.

  • Egg
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Legumes
  • Lentil
  • Beans

Vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables are diabetes-friendly and provide an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, says Gomer. And yes, you can eat your veggies raw, steamed, or roasted.

  • Lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Tomato
  • Onion
  • Pepper
  • Eggplant
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Artichoke

Fruit

Fruit gets a bad rep when it comes to type 2 diabetes, but low-sugar fruits are actually a great addition to your diet thanks to the vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic index (meaning they have little effect on blood sugar levels), says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a dietitian who specializes in diabetes and the author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. The fiber content in fruit can also promote blood sugar balance and a healthy gut, she adds.

  • Blueberry
  • Strawberry
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Kiwi
  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Prune

Quick note: Fresh or frozen fruit is a great choice, but if you opt for dried fruit, Palinski-Wade says to choose an option with no added sugar.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are anti-inflammatory and key for brain function and heart health. Just be mindful that they’re often higher in calories. So if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to consider portion size, Gomer says.

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Ghee
  • Nuts (raw or roasted without vegetable seed oil)
  • Seeds (raw or roasted without vegetable seed oil)

Whole Grains

Whole grains are a diabetes-friendly option that are known for their low glycemic index. Many are also high in soluble fiber (looking at you, rolled oats), which can help slow the absorption of glucose, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce cholesterol levels, says Palinski-Wade.

  • Rolled oats
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Farro

Foods To Avoid With Type 2 Diabetes

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are a no-no when it comes to type 2 diabetes since they increase insulin resistance, says Palinski-Wade. For this reason, saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories, she adds. Eating too many saturated fats can also raise your cholesterol which leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, per the American Heart Association.

  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Processed meats
  • Cheese
  • Fried food
  • Fast food

Seed Oils

Seed oils can raise your omega-6-to-omega-3 fatty acid ratios which can harm your heart and gut, says Gomer. They also typically contain additives which may lead to bloating, gas, and inflammation, she adds. Most packaged snacks, prepared foods, and restaurants use seed oils, so they’re difficult to completely avoid, but do your best to minimize consumption if you can.

  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Canola oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

Sugar

It may be tough to cut out all sugar, but those with type 2 diabetes should avoid consuming large amounts since it’s low in fiber and may worsen insulin resistance and blood sugar regulation, says Palinski-Wade. Sugar also has limited nutritional value and can spike your blood sugar, she adds.

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Cake
  • Ice cream
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Brown sugar
  • Molasses

Processed Grains

Processed grains typically contain white flour which can raise blood sugar, says Gomer. They also lack nutritional value and are low in fiber, adds Palinski-Wade.

  • White bread
  • Pastries
  • Muffins
  • Waffles
  • Pancakes
  • Pizza
  • White-flour crackers and pretzels
  • White rice

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes insulin resistance?

Insulin is an essential hormone that controls your blood sugar and helps the body turn food into energy that’s either used or stored as fat, says Gomer. The hormone is secreted by the pancreas—it acts like a key to open a gate for the cells to access sugar.

If you’re insulin-resistant, your cells resist that insulin, so the key gets stuck, she says. Then, the body figures the message didn’t reach the pancreas, so the message is re-sent, which creates an overproduction of insulin, she explains. As a result, insulin resistance occurs and over time, your blood sugar levels go up.

How does diet impact diabetes?

At a basic level, blood sugar is balanced by eating a whole-foods diet primarily focused on lean protein, vegetables, and complex carbs, since these foods provide the most reliable and stable energy without causing a spike in insulin, says Gomer. On the flip side, a diet high in added sugar, refined carbs, and saturated fat increases blood sugar and worsens insulin resistance, in turn, leading to type 2 diabetes, adds Palinski-Wade.

Despite the common recommendation to cut carbs if your blood sugar is high, people with diabetes do not need to avoid carbs altogether, says Palinski-Wade. This is because complex carbs balanced with lean protein, good fat, and fiber can actually provide steady blood sugar and energy throughout the day, she says. Foods with carbs like whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds have actually been shown to prevent diabetes and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, she adds.

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Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.  

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