Eating a balanced diet can help keep your blood sugar levels in range if you have type 2 diabetes. Knowing how certain foods may affect your glucose levels is an important part of diabetes management.

The foods you eat are a big part of your diabetes management. Certain foods can affect your blood sugars more than others. It’s important to understand how different types of foods and eating styles may have more impact on how you manage your diabetes.

By keeping your blood sugar levels within your target range, it may reduce your risk of complications, such as nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke.

Read on to learn more about how different diets and eating patterns can affect your health and management of type 2 diabetes.

You can follow many different eating patterns and diets to meet your health needs.

With type 2 diabetes, be sure to pick a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, which can help provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs.

Diabetes nutrition experts also encourage a variety of heart-healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These can help reduce your cholesterol levels to support heart health.

Similarly, eating plenty of foods high in fiber can enhance blood sugar management and help keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Make sure your meal plans are sustainable and easy to follow. Diet plans that are overly restrictive or don’t fit your lifestyle can be much more difficult to stick with in the long run.

Here are some examples of nutritious foods your diet may include:

  • fruits (apples, oranges, berries, melons, pears, peaches)
  • vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini)
  • whole grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice, farro)
  • legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, cashews)
  • seeds (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds)
  • protein-rich foods (skinless poultry, seafood, lean cuts of red meat, tofu, tempeh)
  • heart-healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, canola oil, sesame oil)
  • beverages (water, black coffee, unsweetened tea, vegetable juice)

Your diabetes may vary

What works best for some people with diabetes may not work best for you. The American Diabetes Association recommends that everyone’s care and nutrition plan be individualized. Make sure to consult your diabetes care team to determine the individual meal planning and eating styles that might be best for you.

One option recommended by the American Diabetes Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is known as the plate method.

The plate method is a simple and effective way to support healthy blood sugar levels without tracking or measuring your food. It requires you to adjust the portions of certain food groups on your plate to create a nutritionally balanced meal.

You can read more about type 2 diabetes self-care and what might be worth discussing with your doctor and healthcare team.

Was this helpful?

There aren’t many foods you need to avoid entirely when you have type 2 diabetes.

However, some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. This means they’re richer sources of vitamins and minerals. Plus, they typically contain less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar that play a part in blood sugar management.

Limiting your consumption of foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugar can help support better blood sugar management and prevent health complications related to diabetes.

Here are some of the foods experts recommend you limit with type 2 diabetes:

  • high fat meat (fatty cuts of pork, beef, and lamb, poultry skin, dark meat chicken)
  • full-fat dairy (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream)
  • sweets (candy, cookies, baked goods, ice cream, desserts)
  • sugar-sweetened beverages (juice, soda, sweet tea, sports drinks)
  • sweeteners (table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses)
  • ultra-processed foods (chips, microwave popcorn, processed meat, convenience meals)
  • trans fats (vegetable shortening, fried foods, dairy-free coffee creamers, partially hydrogenated oil)

Carbohydrate counting is one approach you can take to help manage your blood sugar levels. In carb counting, you add the number of grams of carbohydrates you eat during each meal.

With careful tracking, you can learn how many grams of carbohydrates you need to eat to maintain a safe blood sugar level while taking insulin injections. A doctor, nurse, or dietitian can help you get started.

Many foods contain carbohydrates, including:

  • wheat, rice, and other grains and grain-based foods
  • dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
  • potatoes and other starchy vegetables
  • fruit and fruit juice
  • milk and yogurt
  • processed snack foods, desserts, and sweetened beverages

There are many books and online resources you can use to learn how many grams of carbohydrates are found in servings of common foods. You can also check the nutritional labels of packaged foods.

The keto diet is a low carb diet that emphasizes foods rich in protein and fat, such as:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • seafood
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • nuts and seeds

The keto diet also includes non-starchy vegetables, such as:

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
  • kale and other leafy greens

The diet limits foods high in carbohydrates, including grains, dried legumes, root vegetables, fruits, and sweets. Typically, keto diets only include 20–50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

According to a 2017 review of nine studies, low carb diets could help enhance blood sugar management in people with type 2 diabetes while also improving levels of triglycerides and HDL (good) cholesterol.

A 2018 study had similar findings, reporting that the keto diet could improve blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance.

However, depending on the protein-rich foods you choose, the keto diet and many other low carb diets can be high in saturated fat. You can decrease your consumption of saturated fat by limiting the amount of red meat, fatty cuts of pork, and high fat cheese you eat.

Keep in mind, too, that packaged snacks — including those labeled “keto-friendly” — can also contain saturated fats.

Getting enough fiber while following the keto diet can also be challenging. For this reason, it’s important to eat plenty of low carb foods that are rich in fiber, like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.

Still, more research is needed to learn about the long-term benefits and risks of the keto diet and other low carb approaches to eating.

Make sure to consult your diabetes care team before starting a keto diet. A drastic reduction in the carbs you eat each day can increase the risk of low blood sugars, especially for people taking insulin or other glucose-lowering medications.

The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that emphasizes plant-based foods, including:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • dried legumes
  • whole grains
  • nuts seeds
  • olive oil

The Mediterranean diet also includes fish and seafood as well as some poultry, egg, and dairy products. It limits red meat.

The Mediterranean diet aims to be rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. It’s low in refined grains, saturated fat, trans fats, and added sugars.

People with type 2 diabetes who follow this eating style tend to have better blood sugar management than those who follow more glucose-raising meal plans, according to a 2020 review.

The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to reduced weight and improved heart health. A 2017 review found that closely following the Mediterranean diet can lead to a 20–23% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was designed to lower blood pressure.

Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dried legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

It also includes fish, poultry, and low fat dairy products. It limits red meat, sweets, and foods high in saturated fat, sodium, or added sugar.

According to a 2017 review, the DASH diet can be a nutrient-rich and sustainable eating plan for people with type 2 diabetes. It can also help reduce:

  • blood pressure
  • blood cholesterol
  • insulin resistance
  • body weight

A 2019 study including 80 adults with type 2 diabetes found that following the DASH diet for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This could help protect against diabetes-related complications in the long term.

Vegetarian diets don’t contain red meat, poultry, and, in many cases, seafood.

Vegan diets don’t contain any animal products, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or dairy.

Instead, these diets emphasize plant-based sources of protein, such as:

  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • beans
  • lentils
  • split peas
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains

They also include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Vegetarian diets typically include eggs and dairy, but vegan diets don’t.

According to a 2018 study, eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal products could reduce the risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and diabetes.

However, while it’s possible to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet while meeting your nutritional needs with type 2 diabetes, not all vegetarian and vegan diets are created equal. Furthermore, just because a food is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean it contains beneficial nutrients.

Sometimes, when people try to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, they don’t eat enough protein or sources of certain vitamins and minerals, like vitamins B12 and D, and iron and zinc.

For optimum health, experts generally recommend eating a wide variety of foods to ensure you get the key nutrients you need. A dietitian can advise you on what foods to include in your meal plan to meet your nutritional needs.

Whichever diet or eating pattern you choose, it’s best to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods and practice portion management.

Make an effort to limit your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, refined grains, and added sugars.

A doctor or dietitian can also help you develop a sustainable meal planning approach that fits your health needs and lifestyle.

Read this article in Spanish.