What to Eat When You Have Type 2 Diabetes

If you've been diagnosed with – or want to prevent – Type 2 diabetes, these plant-based food tips can help

Photo: Claudia Totir/gettyimages.ca

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95 percent of all diagnosed cases and more than 34 million Americans have it. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t affect people of just one body type, gender, age or race. In fact, anyone can get type 2 diabetes over time. All types of diabetes occur as a result of a body that doesn’t produce or respond to insulin, or both. A diagnosis can be scary, but a great place to start your treatment (or prevention) is with how you eat. Here is a guide from our friends at Clean Eating to how to eat for Type 2 diabetes. 

Foods high in fiber 

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that isn’t digested. It doesn’t increase blood sugar, and can help reduce blood sugar by slowing the absorption of sugars and starches in other foods. Additionally, some research shows that improved gut microbiome health – as a result of eating prebiotic fiber foods – can improve insulin resistance. These are especially good fibrous food choices:

Beans: black beans, black-eye peas, edamame (soybeans), chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, pinto beans

Non-starchy vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, bean sprouts, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, jicama, lettuce greens, peppers, radishes, snow peas, squash and zucchini, tomatoes, turnips 

Whole grains: air-popped popcorn, bran, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, whole-grain bread and pasta, wild rice

Whole fruits: ½ cup serving of avocado, berries, banana, citrus, fresh mango, grapes, peaches, pears, skin-on apples

Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, pistachios, skin-on almonds, sunflower kernels

Sugar-free fluids

Elevated blood sugar can cause dehydration, so it’s important for people with diabetes to drink fluids. But, as a category, beverages are the single highest source of added sugars in the standard American diet. Selecting no-added-sugar drinks can have a great impact on lowering blood sugars. 

Water: Make regular H2O your main fluid since it doesn’t raise blood sugar and can help flush blood sugar out of the body through urination

Something sweet: If you want sweetened flavor, select 0-calorie drinks sweetened with natural sugar alternatives, such as stevia or monk fruit sweetener

Carbonation: If it’s carbonation you love, try sparkling water with a squeeze of citrus, berries or fresh herbs

Healthy fats

Studies have shown that replacing sources of unhealthy fat and carbohydrate in the diet with mono- and polyunsaturated fats provides a dual benefit. It lowers blood glucose (by improving insulin resistance and secretion) and also improves heart health.

Oils: Use extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil 

Better-Fat Snacks: Select nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, peanuts) instead of palm-oil based packaged snacks like microwave popcorn and cookies; mashed avocado or hummus with veggies instead of cheese and crackers; Greek yogurt instead of ice cream or processed frozen yogurt products. (Brands with under 12 g carb/serving, no added sugars or sweeteners, and no palm/coconut oil)

Avocado: Top foods with chopped or mashed avocado 

Foods to reduce when you have type 2 diabetes

Simple sugars: Foods that contain added sugars, as well as foods that are highly processed and high in carbohydrate have been shown to significantly increase blood sugar levels. These foods are often low in fiber and other beneficial nutrients. 

Added-sugar foods: Added sugar shows up in obvious places (cereal and granola, baked goods and desserts, candy, packaged snacks and bars, jelly and honey) and less obvious places (condiments, flavored yogurts, some pasta sauces and soups, low-fat products, frozen entrees)

Processed grains: white bread, white pasta, white rice and rice-based gluten-free products raise blood sugar the highest and the fastest

Certain beverages: Beverages can be a double whammy for people with diabetes, providing things that can make diabetes management harder while also not providing much (if any) nutrition or feeling of fullness.

Sugar- or artificially sweetened beverages: Avoid soda, energy drinks, juice, smoothies, flavored and sweetened dairy and non-dairy milks, and lemonade or tea sweetened with sugar, syrups or artificial sweeteners

Caffeine: Growing research shows that people with type 2 diabetes react to caffeine differently than people without diabetes. Caffeine can lower insulin sensitivity, so limit coffee and caffeinated tea to less than 16 ounces (2 cups) per day. Also avoid sweetened caffeinated beverages

Alcohol: For people with diabetes, alcohol can be detrimental in several ways. Alcohol can temporarily increase blood sugar and also cause dangerous drops in blood sugar. It can also cause weight gain, impair your liver from processing blood sugar and interfere with diabetes medications. Men diagnosed with diabetes should limit alcohol to two drinks or less per day. Women with diabetes should limit to one drink or less per day. (This is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits) 

Supplements that can help with type 2 diabetes

There are several supplements that could help lower blood sugar. And while supplements will likely never replace a prescribed medication, they have been connected with lowered dosages over time. Always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement. 

Vitamin D: Deficiency in vitamin D has been connected to type 2 diabetes, and in one study three out of four people with type 2 diabetes were shown to be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D may improve the function of pancreatic cells to increase your body’s ability to make and react to insulin

Magnesium: Low blood levels of magnesium have been observed in up to 1 in 3 adults with type 2 diabetes, and studies show that supplemental magnesium taken for up to six months could reduce blood sugar. The recommended dose for people with diabetes is 250 to 350 milligrams taken daily with a meal

Prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics: Damage to the gut and poor microbiome health has been connected to many conditions, including diabetes. Improved microbiome health has been linked to improved insulin resistance 

Cinnamon: There is promising research connecting lowered blood sugar with high doses of cinnamon taken before meals. The recommended dose is 250 milligrams of cinnamon extract or 500 milligrams of non-extract cinnamon taken twice a day before meals

What else to know about type 2 diabetes

There are many things that you can do to control diabetes beyond what’s on your plate. Combine the above recommended changes to your diet with the following in mind: 

Medication: Depending on your A1C, motivation to make lifestyle changes, family history and other factors, your doctor may or may not prescribe one or more medications after a diagnosis of diabetes. Diabetes medications can be helpful in your quest to control your blood sugar. But medications can also come with side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, or too-low blood sugars. Work with your doctor if you would like to make lifestyle modifications before going on medication or in conjunction with lower-dose medications. But never stop taking a prescribed medication without consulting your doctor first. Common type 2 diabetes medications include those that improve insulin sensitivity (like metformin and thiazolidinediones), those that help your body make more insulin (sulfonylureas and glinides), as well as taking insulin itself.

Consistency and monitoring: Creating a pattern of consistent meal times, consistent food and beverage amounts, consistent movement, consistent mood and consistent bedtimes is extremely beneficial at regulating blood sugar. Consistent monitoring of your blood sugar can also help you understand helpful and harmful patterns in your life. 

Reign in portions: Many people find that they can eat all of their favorite foods despite a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes just by modifying portions and eating smaller meals and snacks. 

Get moving: Find an activity – any activity – that you enjoy (biking, table tennis, gardening, hiking) and get moving. Consistent daily activity is one of the best natural ways to improve your body’s ability to react to insulin. 

Decrease stress: Stress can increase blood sugar immediately and make you less sensitive to insulin over time. By actively working to remove, limit, or manage sources of stress in your life you can reduce your blood sugar in both the short and long term. 


RELATED: Haile Thomas Wants to Share the Joy – and Power – of Plant-Based Eating

Get more of what you love from VT. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitterand sign up for our email newsletters

From 2022

Trending on Vegetarian Times