What Foods to Avoid (and Enjoy!)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2021.

Especially when you are first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is common to ask, “What foods can I still eat, and what foods do I have to avoid?” Even people who have been living with diabetes for years ask these questions as their body ages and changes.1-3

Foods to avoid when you have diabetes

You may be surprised to learn that you rarely have to completely give up a food if you have diabetes. It is just that ice cream may need to become a twice-a-month-treat rather than a daily dessert. Or, you may need to eat more chicken and beans instead of beef.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules to what you can or cannot eat, there are some general guidelines of foods you will be told to avoid, including:1-3

  • Foods high in saturated fats such as high-fat dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and butter)
  • Animal proteins (beef, chicken, and pork)
  • Processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, and bacon)
  • Foods with trans fats (processed snacks, baked goods, shortening, and stick margarine)
  • Foods high in cholesterol (high-fat dairy products, high-fat meats, egg yolks, some types of seafood, organ meats)
  • Foods high in sugars or starches and low in fiber (baked goods, white bread, pastries, and candy)
  • Salt, which is also called sodium (processed foods like chips, frozen meals, and canned soup)
  • Alcohol (beer, wine, and mixed drinks)
  • Fried food and fast food

Foods to enjoy when you have diabetes

There are plenty of foods you can enjoy when you live with diabetes. A diabetes educator or nutritionist will be able to help you focus on the many foods you can eat and in what quantities. Some common suggestions for foods to enjoy when you have diabetes include:1-3

  • Nutrient-rich carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, brown rice, beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Foods high in fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (cod, tuna, salmon, mackerel, and halibut, nuts)
  • Foods high in healthy fats and nutrients (almonds, avocados, nuts, low-fat dairy products, and plant-based oils like olive oil)
  • Foods that are broiled, baked, poached, or grilled rather than fried
  • Fresh fruit rather than fruit juice
  • Certain sugar-free foods, such as sugar-free gelatin, diet soda, sugar-free gum, unsweetened coffee, and tea, or water with lemon or lime slices
  • Foods flavored with herbs and spices instead of salt

Concentrate on superfoods

The American Diabetes Association encourages people to concentrate on eating what it calls “diabetes superfoods.” These are foods especially rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Nutrient-rich foods not only help your body work better but also make you feel fuller, longer. These foods include:3

  • Beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Citrus fruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Milk and yogurt

These general guidelines apply to most people with both prediabetes and diabetes. Your nutritionist and doctor may have more specific recommendations if you are taking insulin, are pregnant, or have other health conditions.

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