I’ve got Type 2 Diabetes. What Can I Eat?

You've been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, but you've still got to eat! If you are constantly asking yourself, "What Can I EAT?" It's time to stop worrying.  You don't have to stop enjoying the food you've eaten all your life, you just have to balance them out and make healthier choices.  Once you get it figured out, you can stop stressing out about it and enjoy a wide variety of delicious meals and snacks.

Choosing Healthy Foods

It all seems so confusing, right? Everywhere you turn, everything you read, it's always 'this is bad for you or that is bad for you'.  A few things, however, have weathered all the fads, and withstood the test of time.  Check out the sections below to learn the best and worst choices from each food group.  This will help you focus on what's best for you when planning meals and snacks.

1. Grains and Starchy Vegetablesvegstarch

Do grains help or hurt when trying to lose weight? What about their effect on blood glucose management? One thing is certain, if you're going to eat grain foods, you need to pick the most nutritious.  Best choice? Whole Grains. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber.

What is a Whole Grain?

Just what it sounds like. It is the "whole" grain, the bran, germ and endosperm (the starchy part). The most popular grain in the US is wheat. To make 100% whole wheat flour, the entire wheat grain is ground up. "Refined" flours like white and enriched wheat flour include only part of the grain – the starchy part, and are not whole grain. They are missing many of the nutrients found in whole wheat flour. Some examples of whole grain wheat products include 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, tortillas, and crackers. But there are many more...

Best Grain Choices

You're going to have to read the label. Some foods only contain a small amount of whole grain but will say it contains whole grain on the front of the package. For all cereals and grains, read the ingredient list and look for the following sources of whole grains as the first ingredient:

  • Whole wheat flour, Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole grain corn/corn meal, Popcorn
  • Brown rice, Wild rice
  • Whole grain barleyWhole rye
  • Whole farro, Triticale, Millet
  • Buckwheat, Buckwheat flour
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat), Quinoa, Sorghum

Reading labels is essential for this food group to make sure you are making the best choices. Every time you choose to eat a starchy food, make it count! Leave the processed white flour-based products, especially the ones with added sugar, on the shelves or use them only for special occasion treats.  Most rolls, breads, cereals, and crackers labeled as "made with" or "containing" whole grain do not have whole grain as the first ingredient.

Best Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber . The best choices do not have added fats, sugar or sodium.

  • Parsnip, Plantain, Acorn squash
  • Potatoes, Green Peas, Corn
  • Pumpkin, Butternut squash

Best Dried Beans, Legumes, Peas and Lentilsbeans_legumes

Beans are a great source of protein and are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Try to eat them several times a week.

  • Dried beans such as black, lima, and pinto beans
  • Lentils, Vegetarian baked beans
  • Dried peas such as black-eyed and split
  • Fat-free refried beans

2. Protein Foods

Certain foods that are high in protein are fish, chicken, meats, soy products, and cheese. They are sometimes referred to as ‘meats or meat substitutes.” The biggest difference among foods in this group is how much fat they contain, and for the vegetarian proteins, whether they have carbohydrates.

The best choices are:proteinfoods

  • Plant-based proteins
  • Fish and seafood
  • Chicken and other poultry
  • Cheese and eggs

Plant-Based Proteins

These products vary in how much fat and carbohdyrate they contain, so make sure to read labels. Fresh is always better, canned vegetables tend to have a lot of sodium (salt) in them. Plant-based protein foods provide quality protein, healthy fats, and fiber.

  • Beans such as black, kidney, and pinto
  • Bean products like baked beans and refried beans
  • Hummus and falafel, Tempeh, tofu
  • Lentils such as brown, green, or yellow
  • Peas such as black-eyed or split peas
  • Edamame, Soy nuts
  • Nuts and spreads like almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter
  • Products like meatless "chicken" nuggets, "beef" crumbles, "burgers", "bacon", "sausage", and "hot dogs"

Fish and Seafood

Many of us do not like fish.  Fish, however, are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Try to include fish at least 2 times per week.

  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like Albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines, and salmon
  • Other fish including catfish, cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, orange roughy, and tilapia
  • Shellfish including clams, crab, imitation shellfish, lobster, scallops, shrimp, oysters.


Choose poultry without the skin for less saturated fat and cholesterol. Some examples are chicken, turkey, or cornish hens.

milk-eggs-cheese-350Cheese and Eggs

  • Reduced-fat cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Egg whites and egg substitutes

Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb

Should you decide to eat these food items, choose the leanest options, which are:

  • Select or Choice grades of beef trimmed of fatMeat_-_Large
  • Lamb: chop, leg, or roast
  • Organ meats: heart, kidney, liver
  • Veal: loin chop or roast
  • Pork: Canadian bacon, center loin chop, ham, tenderloin

3. Dairy

Dairy is one of the best ways to get calcium and high-quality protein into your diet. Many dairy products, like non-fat light yogurt, can be eaten as a dessert with only about 15 grams of carbohydrate and 100 calories per 6 oz container. Don't like milk, or lactose intolerant? Try fortified soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk as a source of calcium and vitamin D.dairy


The best choices of dairy products are:

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1% milk)
  • Plain [light is best] non-fat yogurt (regular or Greek yogurt)
  • unflavored fortified soy milk

General Tips

  • Each 1 cup serving of milk or 6 ounce serving of yogurt has about 12 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein. Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, with about 12 grams per 6 ounce serving.
  • If you are trying to switch to lower fat dairy products, take the time to get used to the taste and texture difference. For example, first change from whole milk to 2%. Then to 1% or non-fat milk.  Switching from whole to 1% milk will save you 70 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat in every serving!  This is one of the first things we did in our family and I was really very pleased at how easy it was.

 4. What Can I Drink?

People worry most about the food they eat, but don't forget that the beverages you drink can also have an effect on your weight and blood glucose!

Try to stay with zero-calorie or very low-calorie drinks. All of these drinks provide minimal calories and juicecarbohydrate. These include:

  • Water (put a shot of lemon or lime juice in it, if desired)
  • Unsweetened teas
  • Coffee
  • Diet soda
  • Other low-calorie drinks and drink mixes

What to Avoid

Sugary drinks like regular soda, fruit punch, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks will raise blood glucose and can provide several hundred calories in just one serving! See for yourself:

  • One 12-ounce can of regular soda has about 150 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrate. This is the same amount of carbohydrate in 10 teaspoons of sugar!
  • One cup of fruit punch and other sugary fruit drinks have about 100 calories (or more) and 30 grams of carbohydrate.

Tired of Water?

Most diet drinks (like diet soda or diet tea) have zero grams of carbohydrate per serving, so they will not raise blood glucose on their own. These diet drinks are sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners instead of added sugars.  You can also mix it up by choosing unsweetened teas: hot or cold - black, green, and herbal teas provide lots of variety. You could also try sparkling water or making your own infused water at home. To make infused water, simply put water in the fridge with cucumbers, strawberries or fresh mint for a refreshing low-calorie drink. Other low-calorie drinks and drink mixes are available in several flavors. They may be a good alternative to regular lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch, etc.

Milk and Juice

Low-fat milk and 100% juice with no added sugar are also options. These drinks provide more calories and carbohydrates than the other recommended choices, but they also contain important vitamins and minerals. In addition, milk is also a source of protein. Just remember to control portion size when you drink them, because the calories and carbohydrates can add up when you have too much. Choose low-fat 1% or skim milk, and make sure that you count it in your meal plan.  If you choose to drink juice, be sure the label says it is 100% juice with no sugar added.

5. Alcohol

Do I have to quit drinking, too? Is alcohol now off limits with diabetes? Most people with diabetes can have a moderate amount of alcohol. Research has shown that there can be some health benefits such as reducing risk for heart disease. But, you need to exercise caution. If you have any questions about whether alcohol is safe for you, check with your doctor. People with diabetes should follow the same guidelines as those without diabetes if they choose to drink:

  • Women should have no more than 1 drink per day.
  • Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day.

*One drink is equal to a 12 oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine or 1 ½ oz distilled spirits (vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.).

6. Fats

Let's face it: "carbs" get most of the attention when it comes to managing your diabetes.  Actually the type of fats you eat is more important than the total amount. There are "healthy fats" and "unhealthy fats."

To lower the risk of heart disease, try to eat less saturated and trans fat — the unhealthy fats. At the same time, you can protect your heart by eating more mono and polyunsaturated fats including omega-3s — the healthy fats.It is true that all fat is high in calories so be carefule to watch portion sizes but you can keep your calories the same by cutting back on the sources of saturated and trans fats, while substituting the healthy fats in their place.

We’re Here for You!

Yes, there’s a lot to learn about living well with diabetes. Getting in control might take some time. It’s going to mean making some changes in your life, but you can start with small changes, and you don’t have to make them all at once. And you don’t have to do it alone.   If you have any questions, join us in the community and ask.  

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