Diabetes Friendly Diet: Best And Worst Foods For Diabetics

June 10, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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When you live with diabetes, your food choices matter. That’s why it’s important for you or your loved one to know how to maintain a healthy diet with diabetes.

When it comes to eating healthy as a diabetic, nothing is completely off limits. But while bad foods are fine in small, moderated portions, it’s easiest to manage your diabetes if you stick to the best options.

The world of nutrition can be notoriously difficult to navigate. Should you avoid fat? Should you cut out carbs? Does fruit have too much sugar? We want to make it simpler. Use this guide to help determine the best and worst foods for your diabetes.

Why follow a diabetes-friendly diet?

If you or a loved one has diabetes, sticking to a healthy diet plan is very beneficial – not to mention imperative for your overall health. Eating an excess of calories and fat causes the body to respond by creating an undesirable rise in blood glucose. This can lead to serious problems including high blood glucose levels and long-term complications like kidney, nerve, and heart damage. When sticking to a healthy diet plan, you can control your diabetes and enjoy a host of other health benefits too.

Fruits for Diabetics

Best Fruits for Diabetics

Fruits provide the body with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates. Most fruits are naturally low in both sodium and fat too. When choosing fruits, stick to fresh fruit or frozen fruit that doesn’t have any added sugar. When it comes to applesauce, jam, and preserves, choose low or no-sugar options.

Worst Fruits for Diabetics

Just because there is fruit in something, unfortunately, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s important for diabetics to watch their sugar intake. Many items that are made with fruit can often have more sugar than some ice creams, so it’s important to check the nutritional value of the items you buy. Some foods with a high sugar content may include:

  • Applesauce
  • Jam
  • Preserves
  • Canned fruits

Best Grains for Diabetics

Your body needs carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Diabetics should choose their carbohydrates carefully, sticking mainly to foods low on the glycemic index.

Best Grains for Diabetics

Whole grains are an important part of a diabetic diet because they are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Whole grains can reduce cholesterol, keep blood sugar levels stable, and more. Other carbohydrates like brown rice and oatmeal are a great base for any meal. But, if you’re looking for something more exciting, check out other varieties such as amaranth, millet, and quinoa.

Worst Grains for Diabetics

From white flour to white rice, processed grains are attractive because they’re abundant and cheap. While the body needs carbohydrates, processed grains have been stripped of nearly all vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These refined carbohydrates offer little nutrition for the body and can increase inflammation and blood sugar in the body thanks to their high glycemic index. You should also avoid carbs like sugar-laden cereal, white bread, white flour, tortillas, and french fries when shopping or eating out.

Vegetables for Diabetics

Best Vegetables for Diabetics

Non-starchy vegetables can be eaten in abundance and are a great source of fiber. If eating out, be mindful of any added butter or sugars and always ask how the vegetables are prepared. Non-starchy vegetables include:

  • Artichoke and artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beans (green, wax, and Italian)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (green, bok choy, and Chinese)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peapods
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Salad greens (chicory, endive, escarole, lettuce, romaine, spinach, arugula, radicchio, and watercress)
  • Sprouts
  • Squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti, and zucchini)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
  • And more

However, some vegetables (like starchy vegetables) are not great on a diabetic diet, unless prepared correctly. If you or a loved one are looking for the best diabetic-friendly starchy vegetables, stick to things like:

  • Acorn squash
  • Baked or steamed carrots
  • Butternut squash
  • Green beans
  • Parsnips
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pickles and sauerkraut can also be healthy in moderation — but should be portioned if you’re watching your sodium levels

Worst Vegetables for Diabetics

Most starchy vegetables should be avoided, especially if they have been canned and contain lots of sodium or have been cooked with excess butter, sauces, or cheese. Canned veggies can also be high in sugar content.

Protein For Diabetics

Best Protein for Diabetics

When it comes to healthy sources of protein, diabetics have many choices. The American Diabetes Association recommends plant-based proteins like:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Seeds
  • Fish and other kinds of seafood
  • Chicken (stick with breast meat if possible)
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy

Not only can some of these foods provide lots of protein, but they also do so without the excess calories and fat associated with other foods. Just be sure that these foods aren’t covered in too much butter or added sugars when eating out.

Worst Protein For Diabetics

When looking for sources of protein, avoid meats that are fried or higher-fat cuts of meat like ribs and bacon. Avoid deep-fried fish and tofu, and opt for low-fat cheeses instead of full fat. If you order beans when eating out, ask how they are prepared. Oftentimes, beans are prepared with lard.

Dairy for Diabetics

Best Dairy for Diabetics

Your best choices for dairy are low-fat. Stick to 1% milk or skim milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat or nonfat sour cream. Non-dairy substitutions like almond milk can also offer good alternatives to dairy options. Just be sure to look for unsweetened almond or oat milk to keep the fat and sugar contents low. These types of dairy products can also be substituted in homemade baked goods for a sweet treat that is low in sugar.

Worst Dairy for Diabetics

The worst dairy choices for diabetics include whole milk, regular yogurt, regular cottage cheese, regular sour cream, and regular half-and-half. If you’re going to splurge on full-fat cheese, be sure to watch your portion size.

Fats, Oils, and Sweets for Diabetics

Best Choices for Diabetics

Plant-based oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and grapeseed are your best options for keeping sugar content and fats in check. Other options with lots of vitamins and minerals, but are high in calories and should be portioned appropriately include:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

If you’re planning a day out and about, consider preparing snacks beforehand to avoid having to stop for processed foods and sweets. Common snacks may include:

  • Baby carrots with hummus
  • Celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log)
  • Frozen fruit bars
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Popcorn (use herbs or cinnamon and monk fruit to top it instead of butter)

Worst Choices for Diabetics

Trans fats hide out in foods and should be avoided whenever possible since they are bad for the heart. Sometimes a food will be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat – but be on the lookout for any foods that are partially hydrogenated as these can have hidden fats. This typically applies to your shelf-stable foods.

Drinks for Diabetics

Best Drink Choices for Diabetics

Water will always be your best choice when it comes to drinks. If you want something a little more exciting, try unflavored or flavored sparkling waters, unsweetened tea, or black coffee.

In moderation, a light beer or small amount of wine can be alright, but consult with your doctor first.

Worst Drink Choices for Diabetics

Most drinks contain high levels of sugar which can lead to weight gain and unstable glucose levels. The most detrimental of these include:

  • Soda
  • Fruit juice
  • Energy drinks
  • Mixed drinks
  • Other alcoholic beverages

We recommend avoiding these whenever possible in favor of sugar-free or lite versions. Be sure to check the sugar count in any tea or coffee beverages you may order as some of these can have 50 grams or more of sugar.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Home Health Care Services

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a loved one. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Center For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.