Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of managing type 2 diabetes.

In the short term, the meals and snacks you eat affect your blood sugar levels. In the long term, your eating habits may affect your risk of developing complications from type 2 diabetes.

Read on to learn about some of the healthy changes you can make to your diet.

If you’re overweight, losing 5–10% of your body weight may help lower your blood sugar levels, according to a 2015 review.

Losing weight might also reduce your risk of developing heart disease, a common complication of type 2 diabetes.

To help you reach and maintain your target weight, your doctor will likely encourage you to practice portion control.

Depending on your current weight, eating habits, and medical history, they may advise you to try to cut back on the number of calories in your meals or snacks.

Practicing portion control can also help keep your blood sugar levels within the target range.

Eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods can help you meet your body’s nutritional needs. In general, “nutrient-dense” food means food that contains a high number of nutrients — such as vitamins and minerals — for its size or caloric value.

Nutrient-dense foods include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • legumes, such as beans and lentils
  • whole grains, such as whole wheat and brown rice
  • nuts and seeds, such as almonds and sunflower seeds
  • lean sources of protein, such as chicken and lean cuts of pork
  • fish and eggs
  • dairy products, such as unsweetened yogurt

However, depending on your health needs, your doctor or dietitian might advise you to limit some of these foods.

For example, some people with type 2 diabetes might benefit from following a low carbohydrate diet that limits fruits, starchy vegetables, dried legumes, and grains.

If that’s the case for you, stick to nutrient-rich foods that are also low in carbohydrates, such as lean proteins, nuts, and seeds. Certain vegetables — like leafy greens or broccoli — are packed with nutrients but low in carbohydrates.

Regardless of your specific eating pattern, it’s best to eat foods that contain lots of nutrients at every meal.

Refined carbohydrates tend to be low in nutrients but high in calories. Eating too many of them may raise your blood sugar levels and contribute to weight gain.

Foods that are rich in refined carbohydrates include:

  • sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, such as candy, cookies, and soda
  • refined grain products, including white rice, white bread, and white pasta
  • fruit juices

To help manage your blood sugar levels and weight, it’s best to save these foods for the occasional treat. Instead, choose whole grain products or other foods that are high in nutrients and fiber.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the types of fat you eat are more important than the total amount of fat you eat.

To lower your risk of heart disease, the ADA recommends eating foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Common sources of these healthy fats include:

  • avocado
  • nuts, such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, and peanuts
  • seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds
  • fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • soybean products, such as tofu
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • cottonseed oil
  • flaxseed oil
  • peanut oil
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • sunflower oil

On the other hand, the ADA recommends limiting your intake of saturated fat and avoiding trans fat.

Sources of saturated fat to avoid include:

  • high fat meats, such as regular ground beef, sausage, bacon, bologna, and hotdogs
  • high fat dairy products, such as cream, whole milk, and full-fat cheese
  • poultry skin, such as chicken skin or turkey skin
  • butter
  • lard
  • coconut oil
  • palm oil and palm kernel oil

Sources of trans fat include:

  • processed snack foods, such as potato chips
  • stick margarine
  • shortening

Beyond these basic principles, there’s no one-size-fits-all eating pattern for someone living with type 2 diabetes.

Some people find it helpful to follow the Mediterranean or DASH eating pattern. These eating patterns are rich in whole grains, legumes, and other complex carbohydrates.

Other people have reported success with low carbohydrate eating plans. This style of eating focuses on foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

The best approach is likely one that’s customized to your needs and preferences.

To help you develop an eating plan that works for you, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian.

A dietitian can help you design a personalized plan that meets your health needs while taking your food preferences, cooking habits, and budget into account.

To manage your blood sugar levels, body weight, and risk of complications from type 2 diabetes, eating a balanced diet is important.

Practicing portion control may help you reach and maintain your target weight while keeping your blood sugar in the target range.

Try to choose foods that are rich in essential nutrients and limit your intake of excess calories, refined carbohydrates, and saturated or trans fats.

For more personalized advice, consider making an appointment with a dietitian.