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12 Foods to Eat When You Have Diabetes—and 5 to Skip

Wondering what can diabetics eat and drink other than spinach and water? We've rounded up a dozen healthy foods for anyone with diabetes, as well as five things to skip.

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Marinated BroccoliTaste of Home

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. Eating broccoli can help to lower insulin levels, so load up with a cup of cooked or 2 cups of fresh in this marinated broccoli salad.

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Berry popsTaste of Home

Good to Eat: Berries

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

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Citrus Salmon en PapilloteTaste of Home

Good to Eat: Salmon

The American Diabetes Association recommends eating 3 ounces of fatty fish like salmon twice per week. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon help keep your arteries healthy and clear. Top your spinach salad with grilled salmon or enjoy any of these quick and easy salmon dinners. By the way, 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 healthy 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.

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Rosemary lemon grilled chickenTaste of Home

Good to Eat: Chicken

Try grilling 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. Aim for 3 ounces per serving and marinate it in homemade, low-sugar salad dressing (or try these diabetic chicken recipes). Then use it as a protein-packed salad topper or whip up 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 like almonds or cashews are a satisfying, crunchy snack perfect for diabetics. Their protein and healthy fats keep you full and keep your blood sugar stable. Just watch the portion sizes; aim for one-half ounce when enjoying 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 contain carbs, so limit your portion to about one-quarter 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: Kale

Leafy greens like kale can 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. Two cups of kale will keep you full and healthy. Not so sure about the taste? Try tossing it in a smoothie or baking these Old Bay crispy kale chips.

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Raw sweet potatoes on wooden backgroundmama_mia/Shutterstock

Good to Eat: Sweet Potatoes

Skip the marshmallow-topped, brown sugar-packed casseroles at Thanksgiving, and roast your own sweet potatoes for a vitamin-packed snack. One cup of roasted sweet potatoes is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium. Make your own baked 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, 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. 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 diabetics drink besides water? Unsweetened coffee and herbal teas are also a great option. Skip the diet sodas, though. What they lack in calories, they make up for in artificial sweeteners and chemicals.

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closeup woman drinking ice cola in the glass.AN Photographer2463/Shutterstock

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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Sliced white bread; Shutterstock ID 352819853Gamzova Olga/Shuttertock

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 lunch sandwich in lettuce. These easy buffalo chicken lettuce wraps are an editor-favorite.

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Fresh fried french fries with ketchup on wooden backgroundChristian-Fischer/Shutterstock

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 cut back on 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 light and yummy diabetic-friendly recipes, stick to the perimeter of the store where all the fresh produce, lean proteins and low-fat dairy are. Once you start walking down the aisles full of processed 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.

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.

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