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Foods for Diabetics

foods for diabeticsA diabetes diagnosis can cause a person to feel like a prisoner in his or her own body. Suddenly, there are all these rules about what can or can’t be eaten. Individuals need to be mindful of every piece of food that go into their bodies – or suffer myriad unpleasant consequences, ranging from frequent urination and extreme thirst, to vomiting and lethargy. Foods for diabetics are not just recommended: they are essential to feeling better. Following a carefully considered diabetic food list is one way to start eating right. In time, your choices will become a habit.

Foods for diabetics: as good as bariatric surgery?

A 2013 study published in Diabetes Care found that “patients with type 2 diabetes who consume a diet identical to the strict regimen followed after bariatric surgery are just as likely to see a reduction in blood glucose levels as those who undergo surgery.”

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center reported that blood glucose levels dropped 21 percent on average when patients followed the diet, compared to a decrease of 12 percent after combining diet with surgery.  After a meal, test subjects on the diet had a 15 percent decrease in blood glucose level, compared to an 18 percent decrease when the diet was combined with surgery.

“Everything in moderation,” say diabetic foods experts

Researchers concluded that “reduction of patients’ caloric intake following bariatric surgery is what leads to the major improvements in diabetes, not the surgery itself.” They admitted that the diet is very hard to adhere to long-term in the absence of bariatric surgery, but emphasized that “controlled food intake” is the key to lasting beneficial health effects. Generally speaking, less than 2,000 calories a day is recommended for most people on diabetic diets.

Marion Franz, a certified diabetes educator and health consultant from Minneapolis, echoed this statement, saying, “What matters most is how much people eat.” Cutting back on total calories, regardless of food source, will reduce blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss, she explained. Eating anything in excess – even healthy foods – could be harmful, she added.

“When patients lose five to ten percent of their body weight, it is a given that they will reduce their blood sugar significantly,” says Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder of the Center for Medical Weight Loss. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that participants following the Center’s guidelines reduced their body weight by 11.1 percent in 12 weeks. He explains that his approach is highly individualized and that there is no one-size-fits-all diet.  Patients are offered a comprehensive diabetic food list from which they can build a sustainable diet.

“Eating is a constant challenge and a frustrating one for people with weight problems and diabetes. Success involves breaking down food addictions and assembling healthy alternatives that meet specific cravings, without driving blood sugar levels through the roof,” Dr. Kaplan explains.

The elephant in the room: carbohydrates

Carbohydrates always come up when talking about food for diabetics. While diets like Atkins decry carbs as “enemy #1,” it’s not always wise to avoid this category of food altogether. Rather, items on a diabetic food list are nutritionally rich carbohydrates like whole grains and vegetables, rather than “empty” ones like white refined grains and sugary fruit juice.

The Glycemic Index chart can be very helpful in choosing “good carbs” versus “bad carbs.” For instance, a sweet potato has a GI score of 54 (medium), whereas a white potato has a GI score of 85 (high). A side of long-grain brown rice would be an even better choice, with a GI score of 47. Upon looking at the Glycemic Index, diabetics will find that not all fruits are created equal when looking at their effects on blood sugar levels. Watermelon is a high GI food with a score of 72 – the same as corn tortilla chips! On the other hand, cherries are low on the totem pole, with a score of 22. Free Glycemic Index charts are available online.

Diabetics should strive for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15 to 30 grams per snack to spread their intake out over the course of the day and avoid any radical blood sugar spikes, says Amy Campbell, manager of the Joslin Diabetes Center education programs.

Since it can be difficult to count carbohydrates, she recommends the American Diabetes Association “plate method.” Half the plate should be filled with non-starch vegetables like carrots, broccoli and spinach. A quarter of the plate should consist of lean protein like chicken or fish. The other quarter can consist of high-fiber starches like brown rice, quinoa, or beans. Add a piece of whole fruit and an 8-ounce of low-fat milk and a balanced meal is met.

Best diabetic food list

  • Low Glycemic Index diabetic foods – Peaches, Raspberries, Melon, Blueberries, Cherries, Pears, Plums, Grapes, Mandarin Oranges, Asparagus, Artichokes, Broccoli, Cabbage, Eggplant, Green Beans, Spinach, Mushrooms, Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Cottage Cheese, Soy Milk, Low-Fat Ice Cream, Low-Fat Yogurt, Mozzarella Cheese, Wild Salmon, Avocado, Tuna, Almonds, Pecans, Olive Oil, Walnuts, Flax Seed, Quinoa, Whole Wheat Bread
  • Complex Carbs – Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice, Whole Grain Cereal, Whole Grain Bread, Whole Grain Tortilla
  • Vegetables – Fresh, Frozen & Lightly Steamed, Cucumbers, Shredded Cabbage
  • Fruits  – Fresh, Frozen, Sugar-Free Jam/Preserves, 100% Low-Carb Juices
  • Proteins – Baked/Broiled/Grilled, Top Sirloin, Turkey Bacon, Low-Fat Cheese, Skinless Chicken and Turkey, Fish, Tofu, Baked Beans
  • Dairy – 1% Milk, Low-Fat Yogurt, Low-Fat Cottage Cheese, Nonfat Sour Cream, Nonfat Half & Half
  • Fats  – Baked Snacks, Vegetable Oils / Spreads, Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise, Light Salad Dressings, Low-Fat Popcorn
  • Beverages  – Water, Light Beer, Wine, Unsweetened Tea, Black Coffee, Hot Chocolate, Light Sports Drinks

Worst foods for diabetics

  • White Starchy Carbs – White Flour, White Rice, White Bread, Sugary Cereals, French Fries, White Tortillas
  • Vegetables – Canned (full of sodium), Pickles, Sauerkraut
  • Fruits – Sugary Juice, Canned Fruit (heavy syrup), Sweetened Applesauce, Jam/Jelly/Preserves, Fruit Rollups
  • Proteins – Fried/Cooked In Fat, Ribs, Pork Bacon, Red Meat, Regular Cheese, Poultry With Skin
  • Dairy – Whole Milk, Regular Yogurt, Regular Cottage Cheese, Regular Sour Cream, Regular Ice Cream, Half & Half
  • Fats – Fried Chips, Butter, Regular Mayonnaise, Regular Salad Dressings, Buttery Stovetop Popcorn
  • Beverages – Soda, Beer, Fruity Cocktails, Dessert Wines, Sweet Tea, Coffee With Cream & Sugar, Energy Drinks

Diabetic desserts that satisfy the sweet tooth

“At diagnosis, people think that their life’s going to change, and in many ways it does,” says Lara Rondinelli RD from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. However, this doesn’t mean swearing off all desserts for good. “If people are too restrictive and don’t allow themselves any sweets or favorite foods, they can get frustrated and go on binges,” she explains. When planning to have a slice of birthday cake, a diabetic can simply nix the rice during dinner to make room for the extra carb indulgence.

Healthy diabetic desserts may include:

  • Angel food cake with fresh strawberries
  • Sugar-free hot chocolate with cinnamon on top
  • Sugar-free pudding topped with Cool Whip
  • Sugar-free gelatin with canned fruit packed in extra-light syrup
  • Melon fruit salad garnished with mint leaves and 1 tbsp honey
  • Creamy baked custard made with 1% milk, vanilla bean, and pitted cherries
  • Berry fruit salad with fat-free yogurt, 1 tbsp honey, ¼ tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Oatmeal peanut butter trail mix bars with whole wheat flour, cranberries, walnuts and chocolate chips
  • Banana split cake made with bananas, light whip topping, sugar-free vanilla pudding, pecans, graham crackers
  • Chocolate mousse pie made with sugar-free chocolate pudding, fat-free milk, fat-free whipped topping
  • Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars made with whole wheat pastry flour and reduced-fat cream cheese
  • Mocha tiramisu made with ladyfingers, low-fat ricotta, low-fat yogurt, coffee liqueur, and semi-sweet chocolate

Eating foods for diabetics can be an enjoyable experience. Many people find it helpful to keep a food diary to track their progress and control how much food they consume. One of the keys to success is pre-planning all meals and customizing food consumption to one’s weekly agenda – taking busy days, parties, birthdays, and other plans into consideration. Given that two-thirds of Americans are struggling with their weight, many resources have become available in recent years.

There are proven facilities like The Center for Medical Weight Loss that help diabetics lead healthier, happier lives. To learn more about the advantages of physician-guided weight loss for the management of diabetes, visit

  1. WebMD’s Best and Worst Foods For Diabetics

  2. Prevention’s 14 Foods That Could Change A Diabetic’s Life