Food that cause diabetes


What to eat, how much, and when

Meal planning is one of the most important things you can do to keep your blood sugar in control. Paying attention to what you’re eating, how much, and when might seem like a huge challenge at first, but these tips can help make it easier.

Quality: What can I eat?

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t eat food you enjoy. You can keep eating the foods you like. Just make sure to include lots of nutritious, healthy choices.

Healthy, nutritious choices include whole grains, legumes (dried beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, vegetables, non-fat or low-fat dairy, and lean meats, such as fish and poultry. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and lean protein, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and refined sugar.

Healthier food choices aren’t only good for people with diabetes. They’re good for everyone. People who eat a variety of these foods every day have a well-balanced diet and get the nutrients their bodies need.

Quantity: How much can I eat?

Learning about serving sizes is key to meal planning. Food labels on packaged foods and many recipes tell you what a serving size is. These labels tell you how many calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat are in each serving.

You’ll need to know serving sizes to help you choose foods that keep your blood sugar from going too high after you eat. If you take fast-acting insulin to control your blood sugar, knowing the serving size will tell you how much insulin you need to take before you eat.

Eating carbohydrates affects your blood sugar more than other foods. The more you eat, the faster and higher your blood sugar will rise. Eating fat and protein can affect how quickly your body turns carbohydrates into sugar. When you know the amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you’re eating at a meal, you can learn to choose foods that help to keep your blood sugar levels even.

The total amount of calories you eat every day is also important. Eating the right amount of calories will keep you at a healthy weight or help you lose weight if you need to.

Work with your health care team to figure out how many calories you should have. The number will depend on your age, height, activity level, health goals, and current weight.

If your blood sugar levels are in good control, you can use the following tips to help you lose or gain weight:

  • If you eat fewer calories than you need, you’ll lose weight.
  • If you eat more calories than you need, you’ll gain weight.
  • If your weight is staying the same, your body is using up about the same number of calories as you eat.
  • To gain 1 pound, you need to eat 3,500 more calories for one week.
  • To lose 1 pound, you need to cut 3,500 calories from your diet for one week or 500 for one day.

Timing: When can I eat?

When you eat is as important as how much you eat. When you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to adjust the amount of insulin that goes into your bloodstream in response to what you eat. Eating the same amount of carbohydrate at the same time every day can help you keep your blood sugar levels closer to normal.

Most diabetes medicine helps your body use up sugar. Every time you take diabetes pills or insulin, you need to make sure you time the amount of carbohydrates you eat. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates at the right time, diabetes medicine can cause your blood sugar to drop.

If you eat too much carbohydrate at the wrong time, you might not have enough diabetes medicine in your body to keep your blood sugar level close to normal. In that case, your blood sugar will get too high.

Your doctor can tell you how much carbohydrate to eat to match the medicine you take and how to time your meals with your medicine.

Helpful tip

Many people find that eating smaller amounts of food four to six times a day, instead of eating two or three big meals, meets their energy needs and keeps them from getting too hungry. It also helps keep blood sugar from going too high after a big meal.

Here are some reasons eating small amounts throughout the day might make you feel better:

  • Your body will have a constant source of energy.
  • You’re less likely to get so hungry that you overeat when you finally have a meal.
  • You might be able to control your weight better because you’re not tempted to overeat.
  • It can help you keep your blood sugar in a normal range.

Once you learn the basics about serving sizes and food groups, you’ll be able to develop new eating habits that fit into your lifestyle and help you manage your diabetes.

Clinical review by Meredith Cotton, RN
Kaiser Permanente
Reviewed 01/03/2019

What Is Hypoglycemia?

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Lots of people wonder if they have hypoglycemia (pronounced: hy-po-gly-SEE-mee-uh), but the condition is not at all common in teens. Teens who do have hypoglycemia usually have it as part of another health condition, such as diabetes.

Hypoglycemia happens when a person’s blood sugar levels are abnormally low, and it’s a potentially serious condition. If you know someone who has diabetes, you may have heard them talk about “insulin shock,” which is the common name for a severe hypoglycemic reaction.

The body’s most important fuel is glucose, a type of sugar. When you digest most foods, sugar is released, and that sugar ends up in your bloodstream as glucose. Your body, particularly your brain and nervous system, needs a certain level of glucose to function — not too much, and not too little. If your blood glucose level isn’t right, your body will react by showing certain symptoms.

People with diabetes may experience hypoglycemia if they don’t eat enough or if they take too much insulin — the medicine most commonly used to treat diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms?

Some symptoms of hypoglycemia are caused when the body releases extra adrenaline (epinephrine), a hormone that raises blood sugar levels, into the bloodstream to protect against hypoglycemia. High blood levels of adrenaline can make the skin become pale and sweaty, and a person can also have symptoms such as shakiness, anxiety, and heart palpitations (a fast, pounding heartbeat).

Other symptoms of hypoglycemia are caused when not enough glucose gets to the brain; in fact, the brain is the organ that suffers most significantly and most rapidly when there’s a drop in blood sugar. These symptoms include headache, extreme hunger, blurry or double vision, fatigue, and weakness. At its most severe, insufficient glucose flow to the brain can cause confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness (coma).

Who Gets Hypoglycemia?

Almost all teens who take blood sugar-lowering medicine for diabetes get hypoglycemia from time to time. Insulin moves sugar out of the blood and into the body’s cells, where it’s used as a fuel. Someone with diabetes who takes too much insulin or doesn’t eat enough food to balance the effects of insulin may have a drop in blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia related to not eating rarely happens in teens and adults unless the starvation is severe, as in anorexia.

Poisoning or overdoses of some substances, such as alcohol, or certain drugs, like insulin or other diabetes medicines, can cause some otherwise healthy people to develop hypoglycemia. People with certain types of cancer or severe chronic illness also can get hypoglycemia. There are also rare genetic forms of hypoglycemia, but the symptoms are severe and almost always begin in infancy.

If hypoglycemia is so rare among people in their teen and adult years, why do a lot of people think they have it?

There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, the symptoms that happen with hypoglycemia overlap with those that people can have for many other reasons — or no reason at all. It’s normal to feel very tired or weak, or have a headache periodically, especially if someone has had a stressful day or too little sleep. And drinking a lot of coffee, cola, or other caffeine-containing beverages can certainly make a person feel a bit shaky or jittery.

Also, it seems that some people’s bodies react differently to eating high amounts of sugar than others. When these people eat meals that contain lots of sugar and starch, the rise and fall of blood sugar that results can trigger hypoglycemia-like symptoms. This can happen even though the blood sugar doesn’t actually drop to below-normal levels.

How Is Hypoglycemia Diagnosed?

A doctor who thinks a person might have hypoglycemia will ask about the patient’s medical history and diet, in particular about the timing of the symptoms, whether they tend to happen after eating high-sugar meals, and if the symptoms go away quickly with eating sugar.

The only way to tell for sure whether someone’s symptoms are related to hypoglycemia is to test the blood sugar while the person is having the symptoms. If the test shows that the blood sugar is truly low, the doctor may do other tests to diagnose specific diseases that can cause hypoglycemia.

How Is Hypoglycemia Treated?

The treatment of hypoglycemia depends upon its cause. If you’re otherwise healthy and you notice occasional hypoglycemia-like symptoms, try eating a diet that’s lower in simple sugars and/or try cutting down on your caffeine intake. If this doesn’t make the symptoms go away, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mauri Carakushansky, MD and Jennifer L. Seekford, ARNP Date reviewed: October 2016

Gestational Diabetes Treatment Plan

Many women with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies because they follow the treatment plan that their health care providers set up for them.

One of the most important things you can do to help ensure a healthy pregnancy is to make regular health care appointments and keep them.

A general treatment plan to control gestational diabetes may include these items:

  • Knowing your blood sugar (also called glucose) level and keeping it under control
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Getting regular, moderate physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight gain
  • Keeping daily records of your diet, physical activity, and glucose levels
  • Taking medications as prescribed, you may need a medication if:
    • Your blood sugar level is too high.
    • Your blood sugar level is high too many times.
    • Your blood sugar level remains high, but you are not gaining much weight or are not eating poorly.
    • You cannot safely add physical activity to your treatment plan.

Know Your Blood Sugar Level and Keep it Under Control

The first step in this general treatment plan has two parts:

1) Knowing your blood sugar level—means you test to see how much glucose is in your blood; and

2) Keeping your blood sugar level under control—means you keep the amount of glucose within a healthy range at all times, by eating a healthy diet as outlined by your health care provider, getting regular physical activity, and taking medication, if needed.

Your blood sugar level changes during the day based on what foods you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. Your level of physical activity and when you do physical activities also affect your blood sugar levels.

By getting to know your body and how it uses glucose during the day, you can help your health care provider to adjust your treatment program. Measuring your glucose level every day, and often during the day helps pinpoint when you need to eat, how much you should eat, and what kinds of foods are best for you.

As you get closer to your due date, your insulin resistance could increase. If that happens, you might need to take medication to help keep your glucose level under control. Knowing your glucose levels at specific times of the day will allow your health care provider to figure out the right medicine for you.

Follow your health care provider’s advice about when to test your glucose level. You will have to test your blood sugars four times a day and keep track of the numbers in a log book.

Even though your glucose level changes during the day, there is a healthy range for these levels. The goal is to keep your glucose level within this range. The following chart shows the healthy “target” range for each time you test.

Healthy Target Range for Glucose Levels

Time of Blood Sugar Test Healthy Target Level
Fasting glucose level (first thing in the morning before you eat) No higher than 95 mg/dl
One hour after breakfast, lunch and dinner No higher than 140 mg/dl

Talk to your health care provider about what to do if your glucose level is outside the healthy target listed here. You may have to adjust your treatment plan to get your levels into a healthy range.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Eating a healthy diet is an important part of a treatment plan for gestational diabetes. A healthy diet includes a balance of foods from all the food groups, giving you the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy. For women with gestational diabetes, eating a balanced diet also helps to keep blood sugar levels in the healthy target range. Following a meal plan and eating a healthy diet is a key part of managing gestational diabetes. It is essential that you work with your health care provider to create a plan for your healthy diet. The information in this booklet is for women who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. These guidelines are not appropriate for all pregnant women.

  • Carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet for a woman with gestational diabetes.
  • Carbohydrates are nutrients that come from certain foods, like grains, milk and yogurt, fruits, and starchy vegetables.
  • During digestion, your body breaks down most carbohydrates into simple sugars, which is your body’s main source of energy.
  • Eating carbohydrates increases your blood sugar level. If you eat a small amount of carbohydrate at a meal, your blood sugar level goes up a small amount. If you eat a large amount of carbohydrate at a meal, your blood sugar level goes up a large amount.
  • You need to find a balance between eating enough carbohydrates to get the energy and glucose you need, and limiting the carbohydrates you eat to control your blood sugar level. The best way to do this is to spread them throughout the day.
  • Your health care team will come up with a healthy diet for you that includes the right amount of carbohydrates to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
  • Women with gestational diabetes usually need to avoid foods that are high in sugar, like sweets and desserts, in order to keep their blood sugar level in control.
  • Not getting enough carbohydrates can also cause problems. You should follow the meal plan provided by your health care provider.

Balancing your diet

  • All foods contain some combination of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Fat and protein affect your blood glucose over many hours, but carbohydrate affects it much faster. For this reason, you will need to regulate your intake of foods that are rich in carbohydrate (“carbs”). Your healthcare provider will show you how and your meal plan will help you stay on track.
  • It is important to make healthy food choices. Nutritious foods support your baby’s growth and development, help control your gestational diabetes, and keep you feeling well.
  • Controlling your gestational diabetes requires controlling the pattern of your eating. Your meal plan gives you targets for when to eat and how much to eat.

Steps to get started

  1. Begin Counting Carbohydrates. To manage your blood sugar you will learn a technique called “carbohydrate (“carb”) counting”. This system helps you balance your meals and snacks throughout the day. Begin by reading the Nutrition Facts labels for “Total Carbohydrates”. Your target for will likely be 30-45 grams for meals and 15-30 grams for snacks. Details about Carbohydrate Counting.
  2. Eat smaller amounts of carbohydrates at each meal. Rather than eating a large amount of carbohydrate at a single meal, spread out your carbohydrates throughout the day. Eating carbohydrates directly affects your blood sugar level, so eating a smaller amount of carbohydrate at regular intervals through the day will help keep your blood sugar from rising too high after a meal
  3. Eat small, frequent meals and snacks. Eat about every 2 to 3 hours. Because you are eating fewer carbohydrates at your meals, you will needs to eat more frequently in order to meet your daily nutritional needs. Plan at least 3 meals and 3 snacks a day.
  4. Include protein at meals and snacks. You protein needs increase during your last trimester. Protein may help even out your blood glucose. It may also help you feel more satisfied throughout the day.
  5. Eat a very small breakfast, with a similar mid-morning snack about 2 hours later. Blood glucose levels tends to be higher in the morning. To offset this, your meal plan will probably include fewer carbs at breakfast than at lunch or dinner.
  6. Have a nighttime snack. It is good to eat a snack before you go to sleep to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level overnight. Some examples of healthy snacks include: a Greek yogurt, an apple with peanut butter or whole grain crackers with cheese.Choose high-fiber foods. Good sources include whole-grain breads and cereals, fresh and frozen vegetables, and beans. Fruits can also a good source of fiber — most plans include fruit in afternoon or evening meals and snacks.
  7. Watch out for sugar and concentrated sweets.
    • Do not drink fruit juice. Plan to get your fruit servings later in the day (not at breakfast). Although fruits are a healthy source of carbohydrate, their carbs are easily absorbed and tend to raise blood glucose levels quickly.
    • Avoid regular soft drinks, fruit juice and fruit drinks. High-carbohydrate drinks like these raise your blood glucose quickly.
    • Limit desserts such as ice cream, pies, cakes, and cookies. These foods often have large amounts of added sugar, honey, or other sweeteners.
    • Read labels carefully and check them for total carbohydrates per serving.
  8. Be careful about fat
    • Consume lean protein foods, such as poultry and fish. Avoid high fat meats, lunch meat, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
    • Remove all visible fat by removing the skin of poultry and trimming fat from meat.
    • Bake, broil, steam, boil, or grill foods.
    • Avoid frying. If you do fry foods, use nonstick pans, vegetable oil spray, or small amounts (1 to 2 teaspoons) of oil.
    • Use skim or low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products.
    • Limit or avoid adding extra fat, such as butter, margarine, sour cream, mayonnaise, avocados, cream, cream cheese, salad dressing, or nuts.
    • Limit convenience foods. These are often higher in carbohydrate, fat, and sodium.
    • Avoid instant noodles, canned soup, instant potatoes, frozen meals, and packaged foods.

Four Food Choices That Greatly Increase Your Diabetes Risk

The food choices we make every day greatly influence our risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The power of food was revealed in a study of more than 20,000 people from the Netherlands, published earlier this year in the European Journal of Nutrition. It showed that a diet heavy in junk food—characterized by soft drinks, fries, and chips—increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 70 percent.

“Diet is of primary importance,” says Dr. Isaac Eliaz, medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in California, who was not involved with the study. “If someone wants to reduce their risk of getting type 2 diabetes, dietary changes have to be a part of the strategy, together with exercise and stress management.”

To start eating better today, watch out for these four types of food that are known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Learn Everything You Need to Know About Type 2 Diabetes “

Highly Processed Carbohydrates

Heavily processed carbohydrates, such as those made with white flour, white sugar, and white rice, are essentially whole foods stripped of important bran and fiber, as well as healthy vitamins and minerals.

“Calories devoid of nutrients, with high sugar content, are the primary offenders,” says Eliaz. “As much as possible, these foods should be eliminated.”

Because they are so easy to digest, these foods can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Over time, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.

According to a 2007 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a diet high in heavily processed carbohydrates increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent in Chinese women, compared with those who ate a diet rich in whole foods.

To reduce your risk, limit your intake of foods made with processed carbohydrates, such as breads, muffins, cakes, crackers, and pasta, in favor of whole-grain options.

Read More: Understanding Glucose Levels and Diabetes “

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

“Sugary beverages like sodas, sweet teas, and lemonade are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes,” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., and author of the book Diabetes Weight Loss: Week by Week, “presumably because the excess calories lead to weight gain and because the sugar load might increase insulin resistance.”

According to a 2010 study in Diabetes Care, drinking one to two sugary drinks per day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 percent, compared with having less than one serving a month.

One of the best ways to minimize the effect of sugar on your health is to limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit drinks.

To stay hydrated, drink more water. Also, avoid loading up your coffee or tea with sugar and cream.

Tell the Difference Between Good Fats and Bad Fats “

Saturated and Trans Fats

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats can increase cholesterol levels in the blood, and high cholesterol is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Trans fats appear in packaged baked goods and fried foods in restaurants, while saturated fats can be found in fatty meats, butters, and full-fat milk and cheese.

To avoid saturated fats, Weisenberger offers the following suggestions: “Cook and bake with olive and canola oils, snack on nuts instead of sweets, choose lean meats and poultry without the skin, and dress salads with vinaigrette instead of blue cheese dressings.”

23 Popular Diet Plans: Do They Work? “

Red and Processed Meats

Red meat and processed red meat are both linked to type 2 diabetes. Processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats are particularly bad because of their high levels of sodium and nitrites.

In a 2011 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that one 3-ounce serving per day of red meat—about the size of a deck of cards—increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 19 percent. For an even smaller amount of processed red meat, the increase was 51 percent.

Switching to other sources of protein can improve your health, says Eliaz. “Wild Alaskan salmon, small fish such as sardines, small portions of organic poultry and eggs, and occasional grass fed beef can all be incorporated into a healthy diet with a predominance of vegetables.”

The Best and Worst Foods to Eat in a Type 2 Diabetes Diet

How Many Carbs Can You Eat If You Have Diabetes?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), you can calculate the amount of carbs you need by first figuring out what percentage of your diet should be made up of carbohydrates. (The NIDDK notes that experts generally recommend this number be somewhere between 45 and 65 percent of your total calories, but people with diabetes are almost always recommended to stay lower than this range.) Multiply that percentage by your calorie target. For example, if you’re aiming to get 50 percent of your calories from carbs and you eat 2,000 calories a day, you’re aiming for about 1,000 calories of carbs. Because the NIDDK says 1 gram (g) of carbohydrates provides 4 calories, you can divide the calories of carbs number by 4 to get your daily target for grams of carbs, which comes out to 250 g in this example. For a more personalized daily carbohydrate goal, it’s best to work with a certified diabetes educator or a registered dietitian to determine a goal that is best for you.

RELATED: What Is the Ketogenic Diet? Everything You Need to Know

The Best and Worst Type 2 Diabetes Choices by Food Group

As you pick the best foods for type 2 diabetes, here’s a helpful guideline to keep in mind: Fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Round out the meal with other healthy choices — whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean protein, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and small portions of fresh fruits and healthy fats.

Sugar and processed carbohydrates should be limited, says Massey. That includes soda, candy, and other packaged or processed snacks, such as corn chips, potato chips, and the like. And while artificial sweeteners like those found in diet sodas won’t necessarily spike your blood sugar in the same way as sugar, they could still have an effect on your blood sugar and even alter your body’s insulin response, though more research is needed to confirm this.

For now, here’s what you need to know about choosing the most diabetes-friendly foods from each food group.

What Foods High in Protein Are Good for Type 2 Diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends lean proteins low in saturated fat for people with diabetes. If you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet, getting enough and the right balance of protein may be more challenging, but you can rely on foods like beans, nuts, and tofu to get your fix. Just be sure to keep portion size in mind when snacking on nuts, as they are also high in fat and calories.

Meanwhile, processed or packaged foods should be avoided or limited in your diabetes diet because, in addition to added sugars and processed carbohydrates, these foods are often high in sodium and therefore may increase your blood pressure and, in turn, the risk of heart disease or stroke — two common complications of diabetes. It’s important to keep your blood pressure in check when managing diabetes.

In addition to getting enough fiber, incorporating protein-rich foods in your diet can help keep you satiated and promote weight loss, thereby reducing insulin resistance, the hallmark of diabetes.

Best options:

  • Fatty fish, like sockeye salmon
  • Canned tuna in water
  • Skinless turkey
  • Skinless chicken
  • Beans and legumes
  • Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Raw, unsalted nuts, like almonds and walnuts (in moderation)
  • Eggs
  • Tofu

Worst options:

  • Deli meats, like bologna, salami, ham, roast beef, and turkey
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages and pepperoni
  • Beef jerky
  • Bacon
  • Sweetened or flavored nuts, like honey-roasted or spicy
  • Sweetened protein shakes or smoothies

RELATED: What Is the Paleo Diet? What to Eat and Avoid, Benefits and Risks, and More

What Are the Best Grains for Type 2 Diabetes?

Contrary to popular belief, not all carbs are off-limits if you’re managing diabetes. In fact, the ADA recommends vitamin-rich whole grains in a healthy diabetes diet. These foods contain fiber, which is beneficial for digestive health. Fiber can also promote feelings of fullness, preventing you from reaching for unhealthy snacks, and it can help slow the rise of blood sugar. Plus, whole grains contain healthy vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are healthy for anyone, regardless of whether they have diabetes or not.

On the other hand, grains in the form of popular foods such as white bread, as well as sugary, processed, or packaged grains, should be avoided or limited to avoid unwanted blood sugar spikes. Also, refined white flour doesn’t contain the same vitamins, minerals, fiber, and health benefits as whole grains.

Just keep in mind that any type of grain contains carbs, so counting carbs and practicing portion control are keys to keep your blood sugar level steady.

Best options (in moderation):

  • Wild or brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-grain breads, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain cereal, such as steel-cut oats
  • Whole-wheat pasta

Worst options:

  • White bread
  • Pastries
  • Sugary breakfast cereals
  • White rice
  • White pasta

Which Types of Dairy Can People With Diabetes Eat?

When picked well and eaten in moderation, dairy can be a great choice for people with diabetes. Just keep fat content in mind, as being overweight or obese can reduce insulin sensitivity, causing prediabetes to progress to full-blown diabetes or increasing the risk of complications if you have type 2 diabetes. Whenever possible, opt for fat-free dairy options to keep calories down and unhealthy saturated fats at bay.

Best options:

  • Skim milk
  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Nonfat, low-sodium cottage cheese
  • Reduced-fat cheese (in moderation)
  • Nonfat, unsweetened kefir

Worst options:

  • Full-fat or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk, especially chocolate or other flavored milks
  • Full-fat or reduced-fat cottage cheese
  • Full-fat yogurt
  • Full-fat cheese
  • Full-fat, sweetened kefir

RELATED: Yogurt for Diabetes: Is One Type Better Than Another?

What Vegetables Are Good for People With Diabetes and Which Aren’t?

Vegetables are an important food group to include in any healthy diet, and a diabetes diet is no exception. Veggies are full of fiber and nutrients, and nonstarchy varieties are low in carbohydrates — a win for people with diabetes who want to gain control over their blood sugar level, Massey says.

As for packaging, frozen veggies without sauce are just as nutritious as fresh, and even low-sodium canned veggies can be a good choice if you’re in a pinch. Just be sure to watch your sodium intake to avoid high blood pressure, and consider draining and rinsing salted canned veggies before eating, per the ADA. If possible, opt for low-sodium or sodium-free canned veggies if going that route.

Follow this general rule: Aim to fill half your plate with nonstarchy veggies. And if you’re craving mashed white potatoes, try mashed cauliflower, Massey suggests. You could also opt for sweet potatoes, which people with diabetes may enjoy safely in moderation.

Best nonstarchy veggie options:

  • Greens, like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
  • Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Jicama
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Onions
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Peppers

RELATED: What’s the Best Way to Prep Veggies if You Have Diabetes?

Veggies to enjoy in moderation (starchy veggies to count toward your carb total):

  • Corn
  • White potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Peas
  • Beets

What Fruits Are Good for Diabetes and Which Should You Avoid?

Fruit often gets a bad rap due to its carb content, but this food group can actually be great in a diabetes diet when chosen wisely and eaten in moderation. In particular, fruit can be a great replacement for unhealthy processed sweets, such as pastries, cakes, and cookies, while providing disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and satiating fiber to boot.

But just as with grains, it’s important to roll out your carb-counting skills when noshing on nature’s candy. The ADA notes that a small piece of whole fruit or ½ cup of canned fruit in natural juices or frozen fruit typically contains 15 g of carbs, while fruit juice — a less ideal source of fruit for diabetes — can have that much in 1/3 to ½ cup.

Also, dried fruit isn’t the best way to get your fix. Because so much water is removed, a serving of this variety is much smaller and usually less filling than whole fruit — the ADA warns that just 2 tablespoons of raisins contains the same 15 g that a whole apple contains!

Same goes for canned fruit: This variety often contains sugary syrup at a high concentration, which should be avoided at all costs. Trendy juices are similarly less than ideal, as they’re stripped of the beneficial fiber that you’d find in whole fruit with the skin on.

But some pleasant news: When consumed in moderation and made with whole ingredients and without added sugar, fruit smoothies can be a good food for diabetes. Consider stocking your fridge with unsweetened frozen fruit so you can whip up one in a hurry for breakfast. Adding ingredients with protein, such as yogurt or a small amount of nut butter, will also help your body break down the carbohydrates more slowly, leading to less of a spike in blood sugar.

When in doubt, consult the glycemic load (a scale that can help you measure how much a serving of a certain food is likely to spike your blood sugar) to pick a diabetes-friendly fruit. Your healthcare team can also help you safely incorporate fruit in your diabetes diet.

Best options:

  • Berries, like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries
  • Apples with the skin on
  • Peaches with the skin on
  • Cherries
  • Apricots with the skin on
  • Pears with the skin on
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Melon

Worst options:

  • Dried fruit
  • Packaged juices
  • Fresh juices that are part of fad cleanses
  • Canned fruit in syrup

RELATED: The Best Fiber-Rich Foods for People With Diabetes

What Sources of Fat Are Good and Bad for Diabetes?

Fat is not the enemy! In truth, getting enough of the right kind of fat can help you curb unhealthy cravings, lose weight, and ultimately attain better control over your blood sugar. The key is knowing how to tell good fat from bad fat.

The monounsaturated fats found in avocados, almonds, and pecans or the polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts and sunflower oil, which can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, are great picks when eating for type 2 diabetes.

Meanwhile, saturated fats and trans fats can harm your heart and overall health, according to the American Heart Association. To spot trans fats, look for the term “hydrogenated” on labels of processed foods, such as packaged snacks, baked goods, and crackers. “I always tell my clients to double-check the ingredient list to make sure they don’t see any partially hydrogenated oil in their food products,” Massey says.

Best options:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts, like almonds, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios
  • Nut butters
  • Olives
  • Edamame
  • Plant-based oils, like soybean oil, corn oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil
  • Seeds, like flaxseed and chia seed
  • Fish, like salmon and tuna
  • Tofu

RELATED: 5 ‘Low-Fat’ Foods That Are Making It Harder to Control Diabetes

Worst options:

  • Fast food
  • Beef, veal, lamb, and pork
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Coconut and palm oil
  • Packaged snacks, like crackers, corn chips, and potato chips
  • Processed sweets, like doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and muffins

Additional reporting by Stephanie Bucklin and Melinda Carstensen

Junk food and diabetes: Tips for eating out

Junk foods may contribute to diabetes in the following ways:

  • Rapid effect on blood sugar levels: Highly processed foods that are high in calories and low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber break down quickly in the body and can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.
  • Inappropriate portion size: Junk foods are usually not very filling and frequently come in large portion sizes. Both these factors may lead people to overeat junk foods. This can have a negative impact on diabetes, including blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
  • Weight gain: Due to its poor nutritional qualities and ability to encourage overeating, people who eat junk food may gain weight. Excess weight and body fat are major risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90–95 percent of all cases of diabetes.
  • High blood pressure. Junk food is usually very high in sodium (salt), which contributes to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Triglyceride levels. Junk foods are high in trans and saturated fats, which can raise levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that is present in the blood. High levels of triglycerides increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

According to a 2016 study published in Experimental Physiology, regularly eating junk foods can cause as much damage to the kidneys of people without diabetes as it does to those with the disease itself. Junk food also causes high blood sugar levels similar to those experienced by people with type 2 diabetes.

As people with diabetes are already at a higher risk of kidney disease, diets containing a lot of junk foods can be especially problematic.

Saturated and trans fats

Share on PinterestNuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil are all healthful fats.

The American Diabetes Association recommend eating less saturated and trans fats to lower the risk of heart disease, which can be a complication of diabetes.

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Health authorities recommend that less than 10 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake comes from saturated fats.

For a person on an 1,800-calorie diet, this means they can consume 20 grams of saturated fat in a day. This can be difficult to do on a diet containing junk foods.

Sources of saturated fat include:

  • chicken and turkey skin
  • chocolate
  • dairy products (butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, whole milk, sour cream)
  • ground beef
  • hot dogs
  • lard
  • palm oil
  • pork, including sausage, bacon, ribs, and fatback pork

A review article published in 2016 suggested that trans fats could have a negative impact on insulin sensitivity and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but the study author notes that more research is necessary.

Sources of trans fats include:

  • crackers and chips
  • cookies
  • fast food items, including fries
  • hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil
  • margarines
  • muffins and cakes
  • shortening

When calculating amounts of trans fat in a product, remember that food producers can label their food as containing 0 grams (g) of trans fats if the product contains less than 0.5 g.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration determined that partially hydrogenated oils, a main source of trans fat, are not “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).”

They have since banned the adding of partially hydrogenated oils to foods. All food companies have until January 1, 2020 to fully remove these oils from their current food manufacturing processes.


Understanding both quantity and type of carbohydrates is important in managing diabetes. Balancing insulin levels in the body with carbohydrate intake is key to managing blood glucose levels.

Heavily processed and junk foods often contain added sugar, a fast-acting carbohydrate that can quickly spike insulin levels.

They also tend to contain refined, rather than whole, grains and so lack the nutrients and fiber that slows down the body’s breakdown of carbohydrates.

The quantity and types of carbohydrates that a person with diabetes should consume varies between individuals. It depends on a number of factors, including height, weight, activity level, and the use of medications. A doctor or dietitian will advise on a suitable amount for each person.

Learn more here about what foods to eat and what to avoid with diabetes.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

We don’t know exactly what causes Type 1 diabetes. But it isn’t linked to lifestyle and so sugar doesn’t directly cause the condition. The question of whether sugar directly causes Type 2 diabetes is a bit complicated.

So here we explain what we mean by sugar, the impact sugar can have on your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and whether you can eat sugar when you have diabetes.

Because diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are too high, it’s all too easy to think eating too much sugar is the cause. But what’s the truth about sugar and how does it affect diabetes?

What is sugar?

Sugar is found naturally in fruit, vegetables (fructose) and dairy foods (lactose). It’s also added to food and drink by food manufacturers, or by ourselves at home. These types of added sugars are called ‘free sugars’ and they are also present in pure fruit juices, smoothies, syrups and honey. The debate about sugar and health is mainly around free sugars. This includes:

  • table sugar that we add to our hot drinks or breakfast cereal
  • caster sugar, used in baking
  • sugars hidden in sauces, ready meals, cakes and drinks.
  • honey and syrups, like golden syrup or agave syrup
  • pure fruit juice
  • smoothies.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

In Type 1 diabetes, the insulin producing cells in your pancreas are destroyed by your immune system. No amount of sugar in your diet – or anything in your lifestyle – has caused or can cause you to get Type 1 diabetes.

With Type 2 diabetes, though we know sugar doesn’t directly cause Type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to get it if you are overweight. You gain weight when you take in more calories than your body needs, and sugary foods and drinks contain a lot of calories.

So you can see if too much sugar is making you put on weight, then you are increasing your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. But Type 2 diabetes is complex, and sugar is unlikely to be the only reason the condition develops.

We also know that sugar sweetened drinks, like canned soft drinks, are associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and this is not necessarily linked to their effect on body weight.

If I have diabetes, can I eat sugar?

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to cut sugar out of your diet completely. We all enjoy eating sugary foods occasionally, and there’s no problem including them as a treat occasionally. And, for some people with diabetes, sugary drinks or glucose tablets are essential to treat a hypo, when your blood glucose levels get too low.

However, we are eating too much free sugar and harming our health as a result. Being overweight can make it difficult to manage your diabetes and increase your risk of getting serious health problems such as heart disease and stroke in the future. Too much sugar is bad for your teeth too.

Should I stop eating sugar altogether?

You don’t have to cut sugar out of your diet completely. Sugar is found naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy foods, and most of us in the UK are not getting the recommended five fruit and veg a day so it’s important we don’t cut these out as they are so good for you. It’s better to eat whole fruit and vegetables rather than having juices or smoothies, as even the pure fruit juices contribute to free sugar intake. If you do have juice, keep to just one small glass – 150ml – a day.

It’s the free sugar that we all need to cut down on. And it’s not just the obviously sweet things like biscuits and chocolate. It’s the hidden sugar lurking in many foods, such as baked beans, pasta sauces, tomato ketchup, yogurts and ready meals. Some drinks are packed with sugar, too.

How can I tell from a label if there are free sugars?

Food labels are the best way to work out how much sugar is in what you’re eating. The figures for sugar are for total sugar and don’t tell you how much of the sugar comes from natural sugars, such as in fruit, and how much comes from free sugar. Some foods and drink don’t have the word ‘sugar’ in the ingredients list, but still have sugar added. Honey, sucrose, glucose, glucose syrup, dextrose, fructose, hydrolysed starch, corn and maize syrup are all free sugars. If you see any of these words on the ingredients list, you know sugar has been added.

How much sugar should I be eating?

We all should be cutting down our free sugar intake, and the maximum recommended daily amount is 30g for adults – which works out at just seven teaspoons a day. Given that a tablespoon of ketchup contains around one teaspoon of sugar, a chocolate biscuit has up to two, and a small serving of baked beans almost three – you can see how quickly the teaspoons tot up.

How can I reduce my sugar intake?

Simple changes can dramatically reduce the amount of free sugar in your diet.

  • Instead of chocolate bars, sweets, cakes and biscuits, choose healthier snacks such as unsweetened yogurts, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. For example, try natural yogurt mixed in with chopped fruit or a small handful of nuts.
  • Experiment with reducing the sugar you use in recipes – most recipes will work just as well.
  • Try artificial sweetener in place of sugar.
  • If you normally have sugary drinks, choose diet fizzy drinks and no added sugar squashes instead. Or go for water with natural flavourings, like mint or sliced lemon. Sugary drinks are best used as a treatment for hypos.
  • Try to cook from scratch where possible – that way you can be sure of what’s in your food. Check out our tasty, easy-to-follow and simple recipes.
  • Keep an eye on reduced-fat foods – many actually contain more sugar as food manufactures add sugar to compensate for the altered taste and texture caused by the fat being removed. Look at the whole food label to be sure.
  • To see whether a product is high in free sugar look at the ingredients list, which always starts with the biggest ingredient first. So if sugar or syrup is listed in the first few ingredients, the product you’re buying will contain a high proportion of sugar.

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