- If you have diabetes, eat foods high in fiber, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Foods for diabetes include fatty fish, fruits, leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains.
- People with diabetes should avoid foods like refined grains and sugary beverages.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body is unable to properly process glucose – the sugar found in food that your body converts into energy. This causes elevated blood sugar levels which can damage blood vessels and eventually lead to high blood pressure and nerve damage if left untreated.
Diet control is crucial for managing diabetes because it can help regulate blood sugar levels to prevent complications, says Jocelyne Karam, MD, Director of the Division of Endocrinology at Maimonides Medical Center. Nutrition plans for people with diabetes will vary by person but in general, Karam recommends:
- Consuming carbohydrates rich in fiber, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber has been shown to improve blood glucose levels by preventing glucose spikes after meals.
- Avoiding sugary beverages, like soda and juice.
- Increasing consumption of lean protein
- Eating more unsaturated fat, which can improve insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
Here are six of the best foods within those categories that can help people with diabetes manage blood sugar levels.
Beans have two main components that make them great for people with diabetes: fiber and protein. Your body digests both fiber and protein more slowly, which reduces the risk of blood sugar spikes, says Dahlia Gomez, RD, a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES).
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends adding dried beans or canned beans with reduced sodium to meals. All beans contain fiber, but the ADA says the following are best for people with diabetes:
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
2. Dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale contain vitamin C and antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation. While most inflammation is short-lived, it can be chronic in people with diabetes, increasing the risk of complications, like heart disease and kidney problems.
These veggies are also low in calories and carbohydrates, making them a good choice for controlling both blood sugar levels and weight, Gomez says.
Dark leafy greens for people with diabetes include:
3. Fatty fish
In addition to salmon, other examples of fatty fish include:
- Albacore tuna
Fruits are high in natural sugar and carbohydrates, which is why there is a misconception that people with diabetes should avoid them. However, their high vitamin and mineral content means they’re a safe choice, Gomez says.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to count the carbohydrates in fruit as part of your overall meal plan.
Strawberries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels. Blueberries are also less likely to cause blood sugar spikes, thanks to their low glycemic index and high fiber content.
Some fruits for people with diabetes include:
Examples of nuts for people with diabetes include:
Examples of whole grains for people with diabetes include:
- Whole oats
- Whole grain barley
Some foods, like whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, and beans can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels. Increasing your intake of these foods can help you manage your diabetes, but the same diet won’t work for everyone. A diabetes education specialist or a registered dietitian can help you develop a plan that works for your individual needs.