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21 Best Foods to Eat When You Have Diabetes—and 7 to Skip

What can people with diabetes eat to keep blood sugar under control—other than spinach and plain chicken? You'd be surprised! Carrie Madormo, RN shares a list of healthy foods for anyone with type 2 diabetes, as well as a couple things to skip.

Buddha bowl with avocado, egg, chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, spinach and blueberriesOATMEALSTORIES/GETTY IMAGES

Knowing what to eat can be a challenge after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, it’s possible to simplify your healthy, diabetic-friendly meal plan by eating more of the right kind of foods.

To feel your best, focus on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. Then add your favorite foods that are rich in protein and fiber. Steer clear of overly sugary or processed foods. Here’s a helpful list to get you started.

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Marinated BroccoliTMB Studio

Good to Eat: Broccoli

Look for fresh, whole foods that are packed with nutrients and low in sugar. First up—broccoli! It’s low in calories and carbs and packs some serious vitamins and iron. Broccoli is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium. Eating broccoli can help lower insulin levels, so load up with fresh broccoli in this marinated broccoli salad.

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Berry popsTMB Studio

Good to Eat: Berries

Missing dessert? Treat yourself to a cup of naturally sweet berries, which are some of the best fruits for people with diabetes. They’re rich in fiber and low in sugar to help control your blood sugar. They’re also high in antioxidants and vitamin C. Satisfy a craving for sweets with ice pops that are bursting with fresh berries.

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Citrus Salmon en PapilloteTMB Studio

Good to Eat: Fatty Fish

The American Diabetes Association recommends eating 3 ounces of fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel or sardines twice per week. The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish help keep your arteries clear and lower the risk of heart disease. Top your spinach salad with grilled, broiled or baked fish, or enjoy any of these quick and easy salmon dinners.

Not a fish fan? These are the best meats for diabetics.

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Bowl of homemade granola with yogurt and fresh berries on wooden background from top viewbaibaz/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Greek Yogurt

If you’ve been missing ice cream, try eating one cup of Greek yogurt instead. Greek yogurt is loaded with protein to help keep you full, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Look for Greek yogurt without added sugar and kick it up a notch with fresh berries and cinnamon. Or top your favorite healthy fajitas with plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

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Healthy organic applesauce (apple puree, mousse, baby food, sauce) in white bowl on table with green applesAnastasia_Panait/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Applesauce

If you love to bake, applesauce is your new secret weapon. While it is high in natural sugars, it’s a great substitute for sugar, brown sugar and even butter in your dessert recipes. Bring this Apple Spice Angel Food Cake to your next family party for a lower-sugar treat that everyone will love. Or make your own no-sugar applesauce to keep on hand for low-fat baking with a hit of fiber.

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Rosemary lemon grilled chickenTMB Studio

Good to Eat: Chicken

Grill fresh chicken breast this weekend to have on hand for quick and easy lunches. It’s lower in sodium and fat than many lunch meats like bologna or salami. Chicken breast packs a punch of protein to keep you satisfied all afternoon. Aim for 3 ounces per serving and marinate it in homemade, low-sugar salad dressing (or try one these diabetic chicken recipes). Then use it as a tasty salad topper or whip up an easy avocado chicken salad.

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Hands holding a jar of nuts and dried fruits.NazarBazar/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Nuts

Lightly salted nuts are a satisfying, crunchy snack for people with diabetes. The protein and healthy fats keep you full and keep your blood sugar stable. A 2019 study in Circulation Research found that eating tree nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios and walnuts was linked with a lower risk for heart disease in people with diabetes.

Just watch the portion sizes; aim for 1/2 ounce of homemade trail mix or 2 tablespoons of nut butter.

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collection set of beans, legumes, peas, lentils on ceramic bowl on white wooden backgroundAmawasri Pakdara/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Beans

Slash calories and saturated fat by eating beans instead of meat. This grilled bean burger contains as much protein as beef, but with more fiber and other nutrients. Beans are also rich in soluble fiber, which can improve your gut health.

Beans contain carbs, so limit your portion to about 1/4 cup. If you’re using canned beans, rinse them first to avoid unnecessary salt.

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Kale leafy greens vegetable box hold in hands wash black wall raw kale ready to prepare food hand greens leafycasanisa/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, spinach and Swiss chard add some serious benefits to just about any meal. Kale is rich in vitamin C, calcium and potassium while being low in calories and carbs. Collard greens are a great source of vitamins A, B9 and K.

Two cups of any leafy green will keep you full and healthy. Not so sure about the flavor? Toss them in a smoothie, stir them into a soup or bake up Old Bay crispy kale chips.

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Raw sweet potatoes on wooden backgroundmama_mia/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Sweet Potatoes

Not the marshmallow-topped, brown sugar-packed casseroles at Thanksgiving! Instead, roast sweet potatoes for a vitamin-packed snack. Sweet potatoes are good for people with diabetes because they’re rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and fiber. Make your own baked sweet potato fries or any of these healthy sweet potato recipes.

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Loaf of wholegrain bread and slices on wooden cutting board.Nataliya Nazarova/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Whole Grains

You don’t have to fear bread and other carbs, as long as you choose a healthy variety. One slice of whole wheat bread is rich in iron and folate; it’s also high in fiber to help regulate blood sugar. Whole grains like brown rice, popcorn, oatmeal and barley are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Ezekiel bread is a healthy option, too.

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Close up pouring purified fresh drink water from the bottle on table in living roomCozine/Shutterstock

Good to Drink: Water

Well, you knew this one was coming! We all need at least 8 glasses of water each day to stay hydrated; in fact, becoming dehydrated can lead to sugar cravings.

What can people with diabetes drink besides water? Unsweetened coffee and herbal teas are also great options. Skip the diet sodas, though. What they lack in calories, they make up for in artificial sweeteners and chemicals.

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Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Garlic Herb ButterLauriPatterson/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Squash

If you’ve been trying to cut back on carbs, consider swapping out pasta for spaghetti squash. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash has just 76 calories and 9 grams of carbs. Simply add your go-to marinara sauce or cook this simple Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Olives for a savory weeknight meal.

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Apples at Farmer's MarketSteve Terrill/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Apples

An apple a day keeps the doctor away! Apples are a healthy choice for those with diabetes. They’re low in calories and fat while filling you up with plenty of fiber. Apples have a sweet crunch that we crave without spiking blood sugar levels. Savor healthy apple recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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Whole and sliced avocado on woodWestend61/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Avocados

Avocados are rich in healthy fats and fiber and low in carbs. A 2013 study found that avocados do not spike blood sugar levels. They’re also delicious. Spread some mashed avocado over whole grain toast and sprinkle with garlic salt for a simple breakfast, or whip up three-pepper guacamole for a party in a bowl.

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eggs for breakfastATU Images/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Eggs

When it comes to eggs, most of us simply want to know if they’re healthy or not. No other food seems to switch sides so often. According to the American Diabetes Association, eggs are a good source of protein for people with diabetes and can be a healthy part of their diet. Eggs are rich in vitamins A and D, as well as potassium.

Because the yolks are high in dietary cholesterol, it’s important to enjoy your egg breakfasts in moderation.

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Chunks of Maasdam Dutch cow's milk cheeseMAIKA 777/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Cheese

Cheese gets a bad rap for its calorie and fat content but it can still be a part of your diabetes meal plan. This calcium-rich, protein-packed delight adds major flavor to just about any dish. Opt for cheeses like Parmesan, Romano and cheddar. A little goes a long way with cheeses, so enjoy them in moderation.

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Oatmeal porridge in bowl for healthy breakfastArx0nt/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is high in carbohydrates but can still be a healthy choice for people with diabetes. Oatmeal is rich in fiber, which helps to regulate blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber especially also helps to lower cholesterol levels. To keep your oatmeal recipes as healthy as possible, avoid any extra sweeteners and top it with berries, nuts and low-fat milk.

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Summer Salad By The Lake Exps Thjj18 213944 C02 01 2b 19TMB Studio

Good to Eat: Quinoa

Quinoa is a seed that tastes like a comforting carb. It’s rich in folate, B vitamins and plant-based protein. It’s also high in fiber to help manage your blood sugar. Quinoa is a healthy choice for people with diabetes and can be prepared in a variety of tasty options. Use it as a healthy, easy side dish or whip up a flavorful quinoa salad for lunch.

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Good to Eat: Peanut Butter

Does a diabetes diagnosis mean giving up peanut butter? Not to worry; people with diabetes can still enjoy peanut butter in moderation. When choosing the best jar of peanut butter for you, start by looking at the nutrition label. Avoid low-fat varieties because they are usually higher in sugar. Choose peanut butter with as few ingredients as possible, and spread it over fruit or whole wheat toast.

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Healthy chia seeds in a glass jarhappy_lark/Getty Images

Good to Eat: Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are tiny seeds that pack a big nutritional punch. A 2017 study found that chia seeds may help protect against chronic health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers. They are a good source of fiber and healthy fats as well. Try adding a spoonful to your morning smoothie or yogurt parfait.

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Soft drink on wooden table and men sittingchamppixs/Getty Images

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Sugary Drinks

We all need an indulgence every once in a while, but if it comes with a string of sugary ingredients, pass. Drinks like soda, energy drinks and fruit punch spike your blood sugar with just a small serving. Without protein and fiber to slow down your response to the drink, your blood glucose will soar, then come crashing down. Instead, opt for natural drinks like infused water.

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Loaf of butter milk white Bread4nadia/Getty Images

Skip When You Have Diabetes: White Bread

White bread is different than whole grain or whole wheat bread because it has been stripped of its nutrients. Without natural fibers, eating a slice of white bread is almost like eating straight sugar. Always opt for whole grains or try wrapping your sandwich in lettuce. These Buffalo chicken lettuce wraps are an editor favorite.

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Baked potato with melting butterjohn shepherd/Getty Images

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Starchy Vegetables

Not all veggies are created equal; starchy vegetables like white potatoes can lead to blood sugar highs and lows. Fortunately, there are loads of healthy (and more flavorful) substitutions for the humble spud. Try roasted carrot fries or mashed cauliflower to replace greasy fries and buttery mashed potatoes. Your blood glucose and your taste buds will thank you.

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Potato chipsRuslan Mitin/Shutterstock

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Processed Foods

When grocery shopping for easy diabetes-friendly recipes, stick to the perimeter of the store where all the fresh produce, lean proteins and dairy are. Once you start walking down the aisles full of crackers, chips and cookies, you’re in store for more calories, carbs and sugar.

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Close-up cropped image of friends clinking with beer in cafe; Shutterstock ID 684411964; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Alcohol

Mocktails, anyone? Drinking alcohol can put you at risk of low blood glucose, so it’s best to always drink in moderation. Never drink on an empty stomach and stay mindful of how many carbs are in each drink. Keep healthy snacks nearby and be sure to check your blood glucose level before going to bed after having cocktails with friends.

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Fruit cerealCathy Scola/Getty Images

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Breakfast Cereal

Most breakfast cereals are not the best choice for people with diabetes. They are high in sugar, so they quickly spike your blood sugar level. This sets you up for a sugar crash before it’s even lunchtime. Consider ditching your breakfast cereal for fluffy scrambled eggs, oatmeal or a Greek yogurt parfait.

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CandiesHalfdark/Getty Images

Skip When You Have Diabetes: Candy

Well, we knew this one was coming. Candy is typically high in sugar and carbs and has no nutritional value. It can quickly send your blood sugar level up, making it difficult to manage throughout the day. When your sweet tooth calls, pass on the candy and enjoy fresh berries, a fruit smoothie or any of these diabetes-friendly desserts.

Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.