The Best and Worst Meats for People with Diabetes

Living with diabetes can limit some of your food options, but that doesn't mean you have to cut things out completely. Learn about the health impacts of meat on diabetes in our guide to diabetic-friendly meats.  

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meats for diabetics Young Adult Preparing Meal In The Kitchen
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For people with diabetes, it’s important to make smart decisions when selecting proteins. Not surprisingly, some choices are better for your health than others! Be cautious of anything that’s breaded, as it will impact your blood sugar levels and can make it hard to quantify the carbs you’re consuming. Keep an eye on the amount of saturated fat in meat, too, because heart disease is a common comorbidity of diabetes. (To find saturated fat, look for visible white fat in the meat as well as skin on the meat.)

Finally, avoid processed meats. Items like deli meats and sausage can contain compounds and additives that are inflammatory agents, exacerbating diabetes and leading to other chronic illnesses in the future.

What meats are good for type 2 diabetes? Look for lean meats with little visible fat, skinless cuts and meats in their most natural form—whole cuts of meat as opposed to processed options. Find more about how type 2 diabetes affects your diet.

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Thick Bone-In Rib Eye Steak on a cutting board
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Worst: Marbled Steak

A diet high in red meat has been shown to contribute to many chronic illnesses, including diabetes. However, certain cuts of red meat can be worse than others for those with diabetes. Marbling refers to the white fat that can be seen throughout a cut of meat, which is primarily composed of saturated fat. Saturated fat has been shown to increase inflammation and even promote insulin resistance.

Is steak OK for diabetics? If you’re choosing cuts of meat with less marbling, steak can certainly fit into a diabetes-friendly diet in moderation.

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 300 calories, 24g protein, 24g fat (11g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 60g sodium

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Traditional British fried fish in batter with chips in a basket
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Worst: Fried Fish

Some fish can be incredible protein options for those with diabetes. However, fried fish is not recommended. It can be high in calories, which can lead to weight gain, making diabetes much harder to control. The carbohydrates from the batter can also be hard to quantify, throwing off your carb count for the day.

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 200 calories, 13g protein, 11g fat (2g saturated fat), 15g carbohydrate, 484g sodium

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Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Lettuce,Cucumber and red onion
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Worst: Deli Meat

Deli meats are typically full of sodium and additives, including nitrates. Nitrates have been found to possibly interfere with normal insulin production and could promote insulin resistance in the body.

What kind of lunch meat can diabetics eat? There are lunch meat options available with minimal additives and lower sodium content. Ask to see labels of the different options next time you’re at the deli counter.

Nutrition Facts

2 ounces: 165 calories, 29g protein, 4.5g fat (2g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 345g sodium

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Bacon Frying -Photographed on Hasselblad H3D-39mb Camera
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Worst: Bacon

Does meat raise blood sugar? Not unless there is a carb eaten alongside it. But saturated fat and additives can impact your overall health, affecting your body’s ability to manage its blood sugar levels.

Processed meat, like bacon, has also been deemed a Group 1 carcinogenic food by the World Health Organization. It triggers an inflammatory response in the body when eaten, contributing to diabetes.

Nutrition Facts

3 slices: 129 calories, 9g protein, 10g fat (3g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 411g sodium

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Homemade Grilled Barbecue Chicken with all the Sides
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Worst: Grilled Skin-On Poultry

The skin found on poultry like chicken is loaded with saturated fat. Research has also found that high-heat cooking methods like grilling actually increase diabetes risk and can make management more difficult for those who already have the disease. This is most likely related to the by-products created during high-heat cooking.

Nutrition Facts

4 ounces: 209 calories, 21g protein, 14g fat (4g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 71g sodium

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Chicken and Broccoli with Dill Sauce
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Best: Skinless Chicken Breast

When the skin is removed, chicken is actually a great protein choice for those with diabetes! Breast meat is the first cut to choose as it has the lowest amount of fat throughout the meat. Use skinless chicken breast in one of these easy recipes for people with diabetes alongside some of the best vegetables for diabetics.

Nutrition Facts

4 ounces: 93 calories, 20g protein, 1g fat (0g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 55g sodium

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Best: Salmon

Salmon and other fatty fish like anchovies and sardines are smart choices for those with diabetes. These fish are full of omega-3 saturated fatty acids, which have been found to have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes. Pair salmon with one of these diabetic “free foods” for a delicious, balanced meal.

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 177 calories, 17g protein, 11g fat(3g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 50g sodium

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A plate with Parmesan Pork Medallions and roasted vegetables
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Best: Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is a protein choice that you can embrace. It’s a super lean cut of meat that’s very low in saturated fat and can be used in dozens of delicious recipes paired with some of the best foods for diabetics. Try our Parmesan Pork Medallions or Easy Slow-Cooked Pork Tenderloin!

Can diabetics eat pork? While bacon is one protein to steer clear of, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy other cuts of pork. (Learn when it’s safe to eat pink pork.)

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 122 calories, 22g protein, 3g fat (1g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 48g sodium

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Merlot Filet Mignon
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Best: Filet Mignon

While excessive amounts of red meat in your diet will make diabetes harder to control, enjoying it every once in a while shouldn’t cause harm. When you are having red meat, it’s important to choose a lean cut. Filet mignon with no visible fat is a great example. You might be surprised by some of our other diabetic-friendly dinner ideas, too.

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 227 calories, 22g protein, 15g fat (6g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 46g sodium

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Best: Eggs

Eggs (both the white and yolk) are a phenomenal protein choice for those with diabetes. Recent evidence shows there’s no need to be concerned with the cholesterol they contain, as it won’t negatively impact your blood cholesterol. Eggs are also full of vitamin D, which has been found to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, helping you to better control your blood sugar. Check out these brunch recipes for people with diabetes.

Nutrition Facts

2 large eggs: 156 calories, 12g protein, 10g fat (3 g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 124g sodium

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meats for diabetics Raw turkey meat steaks on a wooden cutting board. Meat ready for cooking
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Best: Skinless White Meat Turkey

While deli turkey is not the best choice, unprocessed turkey breast without the skin is great. Turkey breast has almost no fat to speak of, and no saturated fat. It’s an extremely low calorie protein option full of niacin and selenium. This Herbed Roast Turkey Breast is a satisfying dinner recipe to start with.

Nutrition Facts

3 ounces: 111 calories, 25g protein, 0g fat (0g saturated fat), 0g carbohydrate, 49g sodium

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Simple Vegetarian Slow-Cooked Beans
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Bonus: Nuts, Seeds, Beans and Legumes

While they’re not animal products, protein choices like nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are important for people with diabetes. This kind of protein is not only full of vitamins and minerals, but also contains lots of fiber that will help blunt the blood sugar response, giving the insulin in your body more time to work. Find more foods that people with diabetes should be eating.

Nutrition Facts

¼ cup: 165 calories,10g protein, 0g fat (0g saturated fat), 32g carbohydrate, 5g sodium

Christina Manian, RDN
Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Boulder, Colorado. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, she has been involved with the nutrition departments of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital. She completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy and most recently practiced clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. While her background has largely been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces and is shifting her focus towards wellness nutrition as the backbone to optimum health.