When living with diabetes, your dietary decisions hold significant importance. While some food options are more beneficial for managing the condition, others are not as ideal.

Although no food is entirely prohibited, even those deemed as the most detrimental can be enjoyed occasionally, but only in small portions. However, consuming them will not provide much nutritional value, and it’s recommended to prioritize the “best” food choices for easier diabetes management.

Best and Worst Foods List for Diabetes

Selecting healthy food and drink options is crucial in managing diabetes. Below are some recommendations for choosing the best options and avoiding the worst.

1. Starches

Carbohydrates are essential for your body, but it’s important to make wise choices when selecting them. This list can serve as a guide to help you make informed decisions.

Best Choices

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, or amaranth
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Products created with whole grains and minimal or no added sugar are preferable.

Worst Choices

  • Processed grains, such as white rice or white flour
  • Cereals with little whole grains and lots of sugar
  • White bread
  • French fries
  • Fried white-flour tortillas

2. Vegetables

Go ahead and fill up your plate! By doing so, you’ll consume high amounts of fiber with minimal fat or salt, unless you intentionally include them. Keep in mind that potatoes and corn should be considered as carbohydrate sources.

Best Choices

  • Fresh veggies, eaten raw or lightly steamed, roasted, or grilled
  • Plain frozen vegetables, lightly steamed
  • Vegetables like kale, spinach, and arugula are excellent options due to their nutrient density. However, iceberg lettuce is not as beneficial as it lacks many essential nutrients.
  • Low sodium or unsalted canned vegetables

Incorporate a range of colors into your vegetable intake, including deep greens, reds, oranges (such as carrots or red peppers), whites (like onions), and even purples (such as eggplants). The 2015 U.S. dietary guidelines suggest consuming 2.5 cups of vegetables daily.

Worst Choices

  • Canned vegetables with lots of added sodium
  • Veggies cooked with lots of added butter, cheese, or sauce
  • Pickles, if you need to limit sodium. Otherwise, pickles are OK.
  • Similar to pickles, sauerkraut should be limited if you have high blood pressure.

3. Fruits

Fruits offer a combination of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber while also being naturally low in fat and sodium. However, they generally contain more carbohydrates compared to vegetables.

Best Choices

  • Fresh fruit
  • Plain frozen fruit or fruit canned without added sugar
  • Sugar-free or low-sugar jam or preserves
  • No-sugar-added applesauce

Worst Choices

  • Canned fruit with heavy sugar syrup
  • Chewy fruit rolls
  • Regular jam, jelly, and preserves (unless you have a very small portion)
  • Sweetened applesauce
  • Fruit punch, fruit drinks, fruit juice drinks

4. Protein

You have an extensive range of options to choose from, such as beef, chicken, fish, pork, turkey, seafood, beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, and tofu.

Best Choices

The top choices as listed by the American Diabetes Association include:

  • Plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, or tofu
  • Fish and seafood
  • Chicken and other poultry (Choose the breast meat if possible.)
  • Eggs and low-fat dairy

If you consume meat, opt for leaner cuts with minimal fat content. Remove the skin from poultry to reduce fat intake.

Consider incorporating plant-based protein sources such as beans, nuts, or tofu into your diet, even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan. Doing so will provide essential nutrients and fiber that are not present in animal products.

Worst Choices

  • Fried meats
  • Higher-fat cuts of meat, such as ribs
  • Pork bacon
  • Regular cheeses
  • Poultry with skin
  • Deep-fried fish
  • Deep-fried tofu
  • Beans prepared with lard

5. Dairy

Maintain a low-fat diet, and if you desire to indulge, ensure that your portion size is small.

Best Choices

  • 1% or skim milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat or nonfat sour cream

Worst Choices

  • Whole milk
  • Regular yogurt
  • Regular cottage cheese
  • Regular sour cream
  • Regular ice cream
  • Regular half-and-half

6. Fats, Oils, and Sweets

Although tempting, it’s effortless to overindulge in certain foods and gain weight, resulting in increased difficulty managing diabetes.

Best Choices

  • The following are some natural sources of vegetable fats that are beneficial for your health: nuts, seeds, and avocados. However, it’s essential to limit your portion sizes as they are high in calories.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are also recommended.
  • Furthermore, plant-based oils such as canola, grapeseed, or olive oils are healthy alternatives to animal-based fats.

Worst Choices

  • Avoid consuming anything that contains trans fats, as they are detrimental to your heart health. Always check the ingredient list for anything that contains “partially hydrogenated” ingredients, even if the label claims to have 0 grams of trans fat.
  • Large portions of saturated fats should also be limited, primarily found in animal products but also present in coconut oil and palm oil. It’s crucial to consult with your doctor to determine your limit, particularly if you have both heart disease and diabetes.

7. Drinks

Consuming your favorite drink may result in consuming more calories, sugar, salt, or fat than you intended. Therefore, it’s crucial to read the labels of the beverage to determine the ingredients and nutritional information in a single serving.

Best Choices

  • Unflavored water or flavored sparkling water.
  • Unsweetened tea with or without a slice of lemon.
  • Light beer, small amounts of wine, or non-fruity mixed drinks.
  • Coffee, black or with added low-fat milk and sugar substitute.

Worst Choices

  • Regular sodas
  • Regular beer, fruity mixed drinks, dessert wines
  • Sweetened tea
  • Coffee with sugar and cream
  • Flavored coffees and chocolate drinks
  • Energy drinks
American Diabetes Association. 
U.S. Department of Agriculture: "2015 Dietary Guidelines."


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