When you’re living with diabetes, your food choices matter. Everything you eat and drink affects your blood sugar levels — so it’s important to eat a diet of nutritious foods. However that doesn’t mean you have to feel deprived! The key is to find the right balance of macronutrients to maintain your health and prevent future complications. A doctor or dietician can help you find the most beneficial food choices that will work for you — but let’s explore the foods that are generally accepted to be the best and worst for people living with diabetes. 

CARBOHYDRATES

Grains, potatoes, pasta, breads, cereals — who doesn’t love carbs? We need them to give us energy throughout the day. However, all carbohydrates are not created equal. Some are digested slowly, full of fiber and nutrition. Others are metabolized quickly with little to no nutritional value. The latter cause spikes in blood sugar and should be avoided, while the former can be enjoyed in moderation. Seek out carbs that are high in fiber for controlled release of glucose into the bloodstream. 

ENJOY:Brown riceOatmealQuinoaSweet potatoesBulgur BuckwheatMilletRye AVOID:Processed grains like white rice and white flourBreads and other products made with white flourSugary cerealsWhite potatoes, especially french fries

VEGETABLES

Veggies are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals — and some even have a bit of protein. These are the cleanest, leanest foods you can eat so load up your plate! Just beware of added salt, sauces, and butter.

ENJOY:Dark leafy greens like spinach, swiss chard, and kaleFresh or frozen, colorful veggies that are steamed, grilled, baked, or broiledLow sodium canned vegetables AVOID:Salads with heavy dressingsVeggies cooked with lots of added butter, cheese, or creamy saucesHigh sodium canned, pickled, or fermented vegetables 

FRUITS

Fruits, like veggies, are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber — but they also come with added carbs and sugar, so enjoy in moderation. 

ENJOY:Fresh or frozen fruitCanned fruit in 100% juiceSugar-free or low-sugar preserves, jelly, or jamApplesauce with no added sugar AVOID:Dried fruit in large quantitiesCanned fruit in syrupRegular jam, jelly, or preservesSweetened applesauceFruit juice

PROTEIN

There are tons of protein options available to you — including beef, chicken, fish, pork, turkey, seafood, beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, and tofu to name a few! Try to stick to lean sources of protein and stay away from processed foods. 

ENJOY:Plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, or tofuFish and seafoodChicken and other poultryEggs and egg whitesLow-fat dairy AVOID:Meats with higher fat like ribs and skin-on, dark meat poultryProcessed meat products like bacon and hot dogsDeep fried protein of any kindBeans prepared with lard

DAIRY

Dairy can be an important source of calcium, vitamins, and protein. Stick to low-fat varieties of your favorites — or eat smaller portions of the full-fat stuff.

ENJOY:1% or skim milkLow-fat yogurtLow-fat cottage cheeseLow-fat or nonfat sour creamSugar-free low-fat ice cream AVOID:Whole milkRegular yogurtRegular cottage cheeseRegular sour creamRegular ice creamRegular half-and-half

FATS

We need fats and healthy cholesterol as part of a balanced diet. They help lubricate our joints, keep us feeling full and satisfied, and they even help fuel our brains! However, the type and quantity matter. 

ENJOY:Natural sources of vegetable fats like nuts, seeds, or avocadosFoods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, or mackerelPlant-based oils like grapeseed or olive AVOID:Trans fats — check labels for the term “hydrogenated”Saturated fats in large quantities

DRINKS

The sneakiest place for added sugars, fats, sodium, and calories to hide is in our beverages. From blended coffee beverages to seemingly healthy fruit juice drinks and smoothies — often a serving contains more junk than you’d think. Always read your labels and nutrition facts!

ENJOY:Unsweetened, flavored sparkling water or water beveragesUnsweetened tea — hot or icedCoffee — without added fats and sugarsLight beer and small amounts of wine or clear liquors AVOID:Regular sodasRegular beer, fruity mixed drinks, dessert winesSweetened teaCoffee with sugar and creamFlavored coffees and chocolate drinksEnergy drinks

Although it’s prudent to be careful about your diet when you’re living with diabetes, you don’t have to deprive yourself of enjoyment! Use this list as a guide to get creative and find new ways to reimagine the foods and drinks you love.