Eating well and maintaining a moderate weight can be important for your health. But if you have diabetes, excess weight may make it harder to manage your blood sugar levels and may increase your risk of some complications. Losing weight can be extra challenging for people with diabetes. But even a modest amount of weight loss — around
Eating healthfully while you try to reduce weight is important for everyone, but if you have diabetes, choosing the wrong diet could harm your health. Weight loss pills and starvation diets should be avoided, but many popular diets can be beneficial.
There is no one ideal eating pattern for diabetes. Instead, many diets may work well for individuals with diabetes who are trying to lose weight. Popular diets like the Mediterranean diet, low carb diets, and vegetarian diets can all be good choices.
When considering an eating pattern for diabetes, keep in mind that an ideal diet for diabetes:
- is rich in nutrients
- is high in fiber
- is low in calories
- emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats
When you have diabetes, managing your blood sugar is very important. Diets that include regular meals and snacks throughout the day may be better suited to losing weight with diabetes than those that involve long periods without food.
If you have diabetes, focus on eating:
- lean protein
- high fiber, less processed carbs
- fruits and vegetables
- low fat dairy
- healthy vegetable-based fats, such as avocado, nuts, canola oil, or olive oil
You also want to manage your carbohydrate intake. Have your doctor or dietitian provide you with a target carb number for meals and snacks. People with diabetes should aim to get about half of their calories from carbohydrates. These would ideally come from complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables.
The ADA offers a comprehensive list of the best foods for those with diabetes. Their recommendations include:
|Protein||Fruits and vegetables||Dairy||Grains||Healthy fats|
|beans, such as black, kidney, and pinto||fresh fruit, like apples, avocados, berries, citrus fruits, kiwis, melons, and plums||reduced fat cheese or small amounts of regular cheese||whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, whole oats, barley, farro, and quinoa||monounsaturated fats found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and canola oil|
|nuts and nut spreads, like almond butter, cashew butter, and peanut butter||nonstarchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, carrots, collard greens, eggplants, kale, mushrooms, okra, salad greens, and tomatoes||low fat, low added sugar yogurt||whole grain foods, like whole wheat pasta and whole grain breads — the first ingredient on the label should have the word “whole” in it||omega-3 fats found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds|
|oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines||canned fruit without added sugars — look for words like “packed in its own juices,” “unsweetened,” or “no added sugar”|
|whole eggs||dried fruits, like cherries, figs, prunes, and raisins|
|poultry, including chicken, turkey, and cornish hen|
|hummus and falafel|
|lentils, such as brown, green, and yellow|
|tofu or tempeh|
In low quantities, low or nonfat unflavored milk may also be a lower calorie option for people with diabetes.
Staying hydrated is also important when it comes to overall health. Swap in low or no-calorie options for full-calorie sweetened beverages. Choose calorie-free options such as water and tea whenever possible.
For people with diabetes, certain foods should be limited or consumed in moderation. These foods can cause spikes in blood sugar or contain unhealthy fats.
Foods to avoid or limit can include:
- processed grains, such as white rice or white pasta
- fruits with added sweeteners, including apple sauce, jam, and some canned fruits
- full-fat dairy
- fried foods or foods high in trans fats or saturated fats
- foods made with refined flour, such as white bread
- sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, some juices, and flavored coffee drinks
- foods high in added sugar, like some flavored yogurts, pastries, cakes, candies, and sweetened breakfast cereals
Everyone’s glucose responds differently to different foods. People living with diabetes as a lifelong chronic illness may still want to enjoy a small treat. You may be able to do this occasionally and make other adjustments to your eating plan to accommodate it.
The diabetes plate method is an easy way to think about and plan balanced, diabetes-friendly meals without having to measure, calculate, or count carbohydrates. The plate method divides a standard 9-inch plate into three sections. You fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, one-quarter of your plate with protein foods, and the other quarter with carbohydrate foods like whole grains and fruits.
The half of your plate containing nonstarchy vegetables can include foods like:
- green beans
- mixed salad greens
- Brussels sprouts
The quarter containing protein foods may include:
- lean poultry or meat
- fish or seafood
- plant-based protein foods, like black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, tofu, edamame (soybeans), or hummus
The quarter of your plate filled with carbohydrate foods could include:
- whole grains
- whole grain foods, like whole grain bread and pasta
- starchy vegetables, like potatoes
These foods have the most significant impact on your blood sugar. Limiting your portion of these higher carbohydrate foods to one-quarter of your plate helps keep your blood sugar under control.
Wash down your meal with water or a calorie-free beverage, like unsweetened tea, sparkling or infused water, or a diet beverage.
The DASH plan was originally developed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure, or hypertension. But it may also lower the risk of other diseases, including diabetes. It may have the additional benefit of helping you lose weight.
People following the DASH plan are encouraged to reduce portion sizes and eat foods rich in blood pressure-lowering nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
The DASH eating plan includes:
- Lean protein: fish, poultry
- Plant-based foods: vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds
- Dairy: fat-free or low fat dairy products
- Grains: whole grains
- Healthy fats: vegetable oils
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by traditional foods from the Mediterranean. This diet is rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid that occurs naturally in animal and vegetable-based fats and oils. Countries that are known for eating according to this diet pattern include Greece, Italy, and Morocco.
A Mediterranean-type diet may be successful in lowering fasting glucose levels, reducing body weight, and reducing the risk of metabolic disorder, according to a
Foods eaten on this diet include:
- Protein: poultry, salmon, other fatty fish, eggs
- Plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables like artichokes and cucumbers, beans, nuts, seeds
- Healthy fats: olive oil, nuts such as almonds
Lean red meat may be consumed occasionally. Wine may be consumed in moderation, as it may boost heart health. Remember to never drink on an empty stomach if you are on medications that raise the level of insulin in the body.
The paleo diet centers on the belief that the processing of foods is to blame for chronic disease. Followers of the paleo diet eat only what they believe our ancient ancestors would have been able to hunt and gather.
Foods eaten on the paleo diet include:
- Protein: meat, poultry, fish
- Plant-based foods: nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts (excluding peanuts)
- Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil
The paleo diet may be a good option for people with diabetes as long as they do not have kidney disease. According to a small, short-term
Gluten-free diets have become popular, but for people with celiac disease, eliminating gluten from the diet is necessary to avoid damage to the colon and body. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your gut and nervous system. It also promotes body-wide inflammation, which could lead to chronic disease.
Ask your doctor for a blood test for celiac disease. Even if it comes back negative, you could still be intolerant to gluten. Talk with your doctor about whether a gluten-free diet is right for you.
While anyone with diabetes can take up a gluten-free diet, it may add unnecessary restrictions for those without celiac disease. It’s also important to remember that gluten-free is not synonymous with low carb. There are plenty of processed, high sugar, gluten-free foods. There is usually no need to complicate meal planning by eliminating gluten unless you have to.
Some people with diabetes focus on eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. According to a 2019 review, these diets may help reduce weight, fasting glucose, and waist circumference. Vegetarian diets typically refer to diets where you won’t eat meat but will eat animal products like milk, eggs, and butter. Vegans will not eat meat or any other type of animal product, including honey, milk, and gelatin.
Foods that are healthy for vegetarians and vegans with diabetes include:
- dark, leafy vegetables
- whole grains
While vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy diets to follow, it is important to plan them carefully so you don’t miss out on vital nutrients.
Vegetarians and vegans may need to obtain some nutrients through supplements, including:
- Calcium. Found largely in animal products like dairy, calcium is an important nutrient that contributes to the health of bones and teeth. Broccoli and kale can help provide necessary calcium, but supplements may be needed in a vegan diet. This nutrient may also be found in fortified soy milk.
- Iodine. Required for metabolizing food into energy, iodine is mainly found in seafood. Without these animal products in their diets, vegetarians and vegans may have trouble meeting their iodine needs. Iodized salt may provide most of the iodine needed. Supplements may be beneficial, but taking too much iodine can damage your thyroid.
- B12. Since only animal products have vitamin B12, a supplement may be necessary if you’re following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Nutritional yeast and some fortified breakfast cereals may contain this nutrient.
- Zinc. The main source of zinc comes from high protein animal products, and a supplement may be advised for those on a vegetarian diet. Vegetarian sources can include beans, lentils, and whole grains.
Consult a qualified healthcare professional before starting any new supplements to make sure they are safe for you.
In addition to choosing the right diet for weight loss, regular exercise is crucial to the health of those with diabetes. Exercise can help lower your blood sugar and A1C levels, which can help you to avoid complications.
Even if you’re seeing improvement with regular exercise, do not change your prescribed insulin regimen without consulting a doctor. If you are on insulin and making changes to your exercise program, test prior to, during, and after exercise. This is true even if you think the insulin is causing you to gain weight. Changing your insulin plan could have a dangerous effect on your blood sugar levels. These changes could cause life threatening complications.
If you are concerned about your weight, speak with a doctor or dietitian. They can help you find a diet suited to your specific nutritional needs and weight loss goals. They will also help prevent complications from diets and pills that may interact with prescription medications.