May 8, 2024

wellness wednesday: diabetes friendly foods

Carbs are back on the menu… kind of!

Diabetes nutrition suffers from a common misconception – foods containing carbohydrates should be avoided. Carbs are actually very important for someone with diabetes to consume on a regular basis. So what foods support healthy nutrition for someone with diabetes?

Let’s start with the carb discussion.

Carbs are critical. When it comes to diabetes it is important that most of those carbohydrates should come from nutritious sources instead of foods containing added sugars or small amounts of other beneficial nutrients, and we want a stable amount of carbohydrates at a time.

The goal is to avoid drastic changes in blood sugar whether it be up or down. To put this in perspective, let’s imagine how our blood sugar reacts when we eat an apple, versus a donut.


  • Has carbs
  • Little fiber
  • Spike in blood sugar, followed by a steep drop


  • Has carbs
  • Contains fiber
  • Gradual increase in blood sugar, followed by a gradual decrease

Fiber is a beneficial carbohydrate that slows the breakdown of sugar, which helps keep blood sugar more stable.  The lesson this illustrates is that what carbohydrates we choose matter even more when we have a diagnosis of diabetes.

What foods and drinks are considered diabetes-friendly?

Whole Grains

When reaching for foods such as bread, tortillas and pasta, look for the whole grain option. They include more fiber than their regular counterparts as well as vitamins and minerals like iron, folate, magnesium and B vitamins.

Examples: Whole grain bread, wild or brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole grain pasta, popcorn (regular popped)

Dairy Products

Dairy can absolutely be a part of a healthy, diabetes friendly diet. Dairy products contain carbohydrates because of the naturally occurring sugar lactose. So, look for products low in additional added sugar. Not only are these products a good source of protein, but they are also high in calcium and typically fortified with vitamin D which is beneficial as well.

Examples: Milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheeses

Animal Proteins

Unless they are breaded, animal proteins contain very little, if any, carbohydrates. As usual, try to make the majority of your protein intake lean proteins to reduce saturated fat intake.

Examples: Chicken, beef, turkey, pork, fish, eggs, shellfish


Contrary to popular belief, fruits are perfectly fine to include in your diet as a diabetes-friendly food. Like dairy products, fruits contain a naturally occurring sugar called fructose,. They also contain fiber and TONS of beneficial vitamins and minerals making these important to include in a balanced diet.

Examples: Melons, grapes, apples, strawberries, cherries, pineapple, oranges


Veggies are a great source of fiber and vital vitamins and minerals. They promote a healthy immune system, weight and blood sugar control. Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes can be included in a healthy diet, but should be consumed in smaller portions like that of bread, pasta, or rice.

Examples: Leafy greens, carrots, green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower

Beans and Peas

These are not only great plant-based proteins, but they contain a large amount of fiber along with vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

Examples: Black beans, kidney beans, soy beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), split peas


Building a balanced meal

diabetes plate method

Now that you are armed with a ton of diabetes friendly food options, let’s talk building meals. The illustration on the right is a great visual representation of how to include these foods in a balanced meal. Aim for half the plate being veggies and fruits, with the other half split between proteins and whole grains.

Remember, if you have a diagnosis of diabetes, it’s important that you speak with your doctor or registered dietitian about how many carbohydrates you should aim to consume at meals and snacks. They can tailor your nutrition to your individual needs.

Better Health in 90: Diabetes-friendly Foods