Simple Changes to Your Diet to Manage Diabetes

A diabetes diet plan is essential for individuals with diabetes, including foods from all food groups. However, smaller portions may be necessary to manage blood glucose levels. Certain foods from each food group may also be more beneficial than others. It is also important avoid the wrong foods. A balanced diet can help many people lower risk getting diabetes, manage diabetes symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Foods to Avoid

Refined Carbohydrate

Processed, or refined carbs are broken down during production before they are consumed. Due to this processing, the body swiftly absorbs the carbs and converts them into glucose, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. As a result, a person may experience hunger pangs soon after eating.

Individuals with diabetes or who are at risk for the condition should limit their consumption of certain carb sources. Examples of such sources include white rice and products made exclusively with white flour, such as:

  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • Certain cereals
  • Certain crackers
  • Numerous baked goods

Tracking the total carbohydrate intake per meal can aid in keeping glucose levels within the target range.


Consuming sugary foods that are high in sugar and low in quality carbohydrates can lead to spikes in blood glucose and weight gain. These foods are usually low in nutritional value and can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some examples of sugary foods are baked goods such as:

  • Doughnuts
  • Croissants
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pizza dough

Other common sources of sugar include:

  • Most sauces and condiments
  • Agave syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Candy bars
  • Premade fruit-flavored yogurts

Limiting the intake of these foods can help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of associated health problems. As heavily processed foods contain high levels of added sugar, it is best to avoid packaged or industrial foods with unfamiliar ingredients and to select items that are as whole and unprocessed as possible.

Processed or Fatty Meats

When it comes to selecting protein sources for people with diabetes, it’s important to consider the amount of fat and carbohydrates these foods contain. High-fat protein foods can contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol levels.

Processed and fatty meats are some of the proteins to avoid, especially since consuming red meat can increase the risk of diabetes. A recent study found that eating as little as 50 grams of red meat or fish per day can raise diabetes risk by 11%.

Other meats that people with diabetes should avoid or limit include:

  • Breaded, fried, and high-sodium meats
  • Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats
  • Fatty cuts of meat like ribs
  • Poultry that still has its skin on
  • Deep-fried fish

Processed meats tend to be high in sodium, which is a concern for individuals with high blood pressure. It’s recommended that sodium intake is limited to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day.


When it comes to managing diabetes, it’s important to be mindful of dairy intake. While dairy provides essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamins, it also contains lactose, a type of sugar that can impact blood sugar levels.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), it’s recommended to consume at least 3 cups of dairy per day. 

However, full-fat dairy products can increase cholesterol levels and lead to a higher risk of heart disease, particularly in those with diabetes who also are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity.

To reduce these risks, it’s best to choose low-fat dairy options without added sugar, such as:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Reduced-fat cheese
  • Moderate servings of full-fat cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk

By accounting for the carbs in these dairy products in their daily planning, individuals with diabetes can still enjoy the benefits of dairy without negatively impacting their health.

Unhealthy Fats

Unhealthy fats are not beneficial for the body and can increase cholesterol levels, leading to insulin resistance, which in turn may increase the risk of developing diabetes or cause blood sugar spikes in people with the condition.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are primarily present in animal products, oils, and processed foods. People should not consume more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat.

Foods high in saturated fats include:

  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Certain oils, such as palm oil
  • Cream-based dressings and dips
  • Full-fat mayonnaise
  • French fries
  • Breaded and battered foods
  • Potato chips
  • Many premade meals
  • Burgers
  • Most fast foods
  • Many salad dressings

Trans Fats

Trans fats are unhealthier than saturated fats and are formed when liquid oil is hydrogenated to make a solid fat. It is best to avoid any foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, as well as foods with liquid oils.

Food packaging may claim to have 0 g of trans fats if the food contains less than 0.5 g. Therefore, it is essential to carefully read the ingredients on food packaging to ensure there are no trans fats.

Beverages and Alcohol

Staying mindful of what you drink is crucial for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing it. Many beverages, such as soft drinks and juices, are loaded with added sugars and carbohydrates that can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels.

However, there are still plenty of options for people to enjoy. Unsweetened teas, coffees, and zero-calorie drinks are all safe choices, as is plain water. For a burst of flavor, try adding whole fruit pieces to your water.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, it’s important to consume them in moderation. Beer, fruity drinks, dessert wines, and those with sweet mixers can all contain high amounts of sugar and carbs. A general guideline is to limit intake to no more than a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of an 80-proof spirit.

It’s also important to note that excessive drinking can have serious consequences when combined with diabetes medications, potentially leading to dangerously low blood sugar levels. It’s essential to be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, which can be similar to those of intoxication and, as such, difficult to recognize.

Foods to Eat

Whole Grains

Incorporating whole grains into your diet is a wise choice, especially if you’re looking to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Opt for whole-grain bread instead of refined white bread to introduce more whole grains into your diet. Additionally, consider adding whole-grain options like quinoa or millet to your grocery list if you’re watching your glucose. Whole grains are packed with phytochemicals, nutrients, and fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar levels.

According to a study conducted in 2012, individuals who consumed over 59.1 grams of whole grains per day had a significantly lower risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. In fact, their risk of their glucose tolerance worsening was found to be 34% lower compared to those who consumed less than 30.6 grams of whole grains daily.

With their numerous health benefits, it’s clear that whole grains should be a staple in any healthy diet.

Leafy Greens and Legumes

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is crucial, and incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables and legumes into your diet can be helpful in achieving this goal. Leafy greens, such as kale, chard, spinach, collards, turnip greens, and lettuce, are particularly beneficial as they are high in fiber and nutrients that can aid in blood sugar control. In fact, studies show that consuming 1.35 servings of leafy greens can decrease the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes by 14%, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

Legumes, including chickpeas, beans, peas, and lentils, are another great addition to a blood sugar-friendly diet. These foods are low in glucose and rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full for longer periods of time. However, it’s important to be mindful of canned legume options that contain added simple sugars and starches, such as those in marinades or sauces, as these can cause glucose levels to spike. Opt for plain, whole legumes that you can season and prepare yourself for optimal health benefits.

Healthy Fats

Not all fats are bad for your health. In fact, incorporating healthy fats into your diet can have numerous benefits, including improved heart health and blood sugar control. Here are two types of healthy fats you should consider adding to your diet:

Monounsaturated Fat

This type of fat is found in many oils, nuts, and fruits, and has been linked to lower levels of bad cholesterol and reduced inflammation. Delicious food sources include peanuts, peanut butter and peanut oil, as well as other nuts and nut butters like cashews, almonds, and almond butter. Additionally, olives and olive oil, canola oil, and avocados are all great sources of monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fat

This type of fat also comes from oils and nuts, and is especially healthy due to its high omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content. These fats have been linked to improved heart health, brain function, and reduced inflammation in the body. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, or mackerel, nuts like walnuts, seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds, and even tofu and eggs.

Dairy Alternatives

For those who prefer non-dairy milk, plant-based options such as soy, rice, coconut, almond, or oat milk can be a great choice. Selecting unsweetened options is crucial to prevent excessive sugar consumption.

According to the latest dietary guidelines, only fortified soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk in terms of protein levels. So, if you’re looking for a milk alternative with comparable nutrition, soy milk may be the way to go.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of oat and hazelnut milk, plant-based milks generally contain less sugar than cow’s milk. So, if you’re watching your sugar intake, a non-dairy option may be a good choice.

Healthy Proteins

Choosing the right proteins is an important part of a healthy diet. For those who eat both meat and plant-based proteins, it is important to opt for healthier animal proteins, as well as dairy and plant alternatives.

When selecting animal proteins, it is best to choose leaner options. Some examples include skinless chicken or turkey, trimmed cuts of beef without the fat, and roasts or chops (if red meat is still part of the diet). Fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as albacore tuna, herring, or salmon, are also great choices. Whole eggs are another option for animal-based protein.

When it comes to plant-based proteins, it is important to check how many fats and carbohydrates each option contains. Some great choices include beans, lentils, nuts, soy products, and tofu. These options are not only high in protein, but they also provide other important nutrients like fiber and healthy fats.


While avocados have a reputation for being a high-fat food that should be consumed in moderation, they are nonetheless a tasty addition to many meals. Interestingly, for those with diabetes, avocados are actually a great option to include in their diets.

One reason for this is that avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are an essential component of a diet that aims to keep blood sugar levels stable. In fact, the American Diabetes Association reports that MUFAs can help to enhance insulin sensitivity.

To enjoy avocados, consider incorporating them into your meals in a variety of ways. For example, they make a delicious addition to sandwiches or toast. Additionally, avocados can be transformed into guacamole, which is a flavorful and nutritious snack.


Don't underestimate garlic as just a flavorful seasoning! This small spice not only adds taste but also provides numerous health benefits, particularly for people with diabetes.

Recent research published in the journal Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture suggests that garlic may be helpful in managing blood sugar. Consuming garlic has been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose levels, which is the level of sugar in your blood when you haven't eaten.

Fortunately, adding garlic to your diet is easy. You can crush or chop it up and mix it into sauces, dips, or marinades, or sprinkle it as a spice while cooking to enjoy its unique flavor and potential health benefits.

Blackberries and Blueberries

Including blackberries and blueberries in your diet is a great way to boost your health. These two types of berries are loaded with fiber and antioxidants and are also known for having a lower glycemic index compared to other fruits, meaning they are less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Adding these berries to your diet is a simple way to add a healthy and delicious snack to your day.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are not just a trendy superfood; they offer a multitude of health benefits. They are a rich source of dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats, and calcium. Additionally, chia seeds can aid in regulating blood sugar levels.

Fortunately, it's simple to incorporate chia seeds into your diet. You can blend them into smoothies, sprinkle them on top of salads or yogurt, or add them to oatmeal. They can even be used in baking by incorporating them into bread, muffin, or cookie recipes!


Oath deserves a special mention, as it contains B-glucans, which decrease insulin and glucose responses after eating, help to enhance insulin sensitivity, and aid in glycemic control maintenance


Eggs are a versatile food that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They are also a great option for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, as they have minimal impact on blood sugar levels. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, which helps to keep blood sugar stable and promote satiety.

Whether poached, boiled, scrambled, or baked, eggs are quick and easy to prepare. Pair them with some whole-grain toast and avocado for a nutritious and satisfying meal, even when you're in a rush.


Looking for a snack that won't spike your blood sugar levels? Try a handful of almonds. These nuts are especially beneficial for regulating blood sugar. A study published in the journal Metabolism showed that consuming two ounces of almonds daily can decrease insulin and fasting glucose levels.

Nuts, in general, are a great low-glucose snack option. In addition to almonds, pistachios, macadamias, and walnuts are also great alternatives to chips and crackers when you're craving something salty.


When it comes to maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, protein is essential, especially for diabetics. According to SFGate, protein doesn't significantly affect blood sugar levels compared to other foods, making it an excellent addition to any meal.

Fish is an excellent source of protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and low in fat compared to other meats, making it a heart-healthy option. Consider adding fish to your diet a few times a week to reap the benefits.


In conclusion, the importance of managing your diet when it comes to reducing the risk of diabetes cannot be overstated. By incorporating the above-mentioned foods into your daily meals, you can ensure that you are getting the necessary nutrients to maintain stable blood sugar levels. It is important to note that while these foods can help prevent or manage diabetes, they should be included as part of a well-balanced diet, and not in isolation.

Remember that making significant changes to your diet can be overwhelming, so it is important to take it one step at a time. Start by incorporating one or two of these foods into your daily routine, and gradually add more over time. Consult a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

It is also worth noting that a healthy diet is just one aspect of managing diabetes. Regular exercise and stress management techniques can also have a significant impact on managing blood sugar levels. So, don't neglect these important factors as you work towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – National Diabetes Statistics Report

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Diabetes Statistics

Springer – Red meat, poultry and fish consumption and risk of diabetes

U.S. Food and Drugs Administration — Sodium in Your Diet

International Dairy Foods Association – Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Consumption of whole grain reduces risk of deteriorating glucose tolerance, including progression to prediabetes

British Medical Journal – Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis

American Diabetes Association – Metabolic Effects of Monounsaturated Fatty Acid–Enriched Diets Compared with Carbohydrate or Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid–Enriched Diets in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Co

American Diabetes Association – Metabolic Effects of Monounsaturated Fatty Acid–Enriched Diets Compared with Carbohydrate or Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid–Enriched Diets in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Co

Recent Patents on Food – Nutrition & Agriculture, Garlic as an Anti-diabetic Agent: Recent Progress and Patent Reviews

Journal of Cereal Science – Whole grain phytochemicals and health

Metabolism – Almond consumption improved glycemic control and lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus

SFGate – How Do Fats & Proteins Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

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