- Nutrition is an essential part of blood sugar management for people with diabetes.
- A grocery list for diabetes contains healthy fat, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber whole grains.
- A registered dietitian can help you develop a nutrition plan to help you reach your blood sugar goals and feel good in your body.
Understanding nutrition for diabetes can feel complicated, especially if you are just starting your health journey.
It doesn't help that misinformation on social media or online makes it seem like having diabetes means you can't eat certain foods like potatoes or fruit or must follow a very low carbohydrate diet.
In reality, none of that is true. Living with diabetes may mean adjusting what you eat and becoming mindful of your meals a bit, but it doesn't have to be overly restrictive.
To simplify things, we've created this ultimate grocery list for people with diabetes.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, as your meals may vary slightly based on health conditions and individual preferences. However, you can use these options as a starting point to create healthy meals and snacks that work for your lifestyle.
Diabetes Grocery List Basics
Diabetes is a condition that affects blood sugar (glucose) levels. Carbohydrates—found in sugars, grains, fruits, dairy, and starchy vegetables—break down into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar.
As blood sugar rises, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which helps glucose enter your cells to use for immediate energy or store for later.
People with type 2 diabetes either don't make enough insulin or their cells don't respond appropriately, so blood sugar remains high. Over time, high blood sugar can cause complications and increase the risk for heart and kidney disease—but nutrition makes a significant and lasting impact on diabetes prevention and management.
A healthy diabetes grocery list includes foods that support healthy blood sugar levels. It emphasizes nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and limits foods high in added sugars.
Stocking your fridge and pantry with these items makes choosing healthy foods easier at meal and snack times. Surrounding yourself with foods that taste good but also make you feel good can motivate you to make healthier food choices. Plus, regularly eating blood-sugar-friendly foods leaves room for the occasional indulgence.
Foods to Include for Diabetes
Grab a pen and paper or log on to your favorite grocery delivery site and add these nutrient-dense foods to your shopping list:
High-Fiber Whole Grains
As you learned above, carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and raise your blood sugar—but this doesn't mean you need to avoid them. Your body and brain rely on glucose for energy. You do need to monitor portion size and total carbohydrate intake when you have diabetes, but it doesn't mean you should avoid them completely.
There are different types of carbohydrates, and some raise blood sugar higher or more quickly than others. Foods high in fiber are digested slowly, so blood sugar doesn't spike, and are linked to healthy body weight, better blood sugar management, and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
High-fiber grains to add to your grocery list include:
- Whole grain bread.
- Brown rice.
- High-fiber cereals.
If you live with diabetes, your recommended carbohydrate and overall nutrition intake depends on your body, lifestyle, and medications. A registered dietitian (RD) can help you develop an individualized nutrition plan for your needs.
Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you're ready to reach your health goals, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
Protein has minimal impact on blood sugar, making it a valuable nutritional tool for people with diabetes. Pairing carbohydrates with protein can help with blood sugar balance and keeps you feeling fuller longer.
Foods that contain protein and are a good choice for diabetes include:
- Lean beef.
- Unsweetened yogurt.
- Cottage cheese.
- Protein powder.
Plant-based proteins like legumes or grains are high in protein and fiber but also contain carbohydrates. Keep an eye on portion sizes or count them as your carbohydrate and pair them with another protein option.
Fat can feel like another overwhelming topic because there are so many choices. There are two primary types of dietary fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products (coconut oil is an exception) and are solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are typically liquid at temperature. These come from plant sources like olive oil and avocados. Studies on fat are complex, but intake of unsaturated fats is linked to many positive health outcomes, including lower levels of inflammation, better insulin sensitivity, and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
You can cook with the following healthy fats and oils or add them to meals as toppings or garnishes:
- Olive oil.
- Avocado oil.
- Nut butter.
- Chia seeds.
- Flax seeds.
Since fruit tastes sweet, there can be confusion about whether it's okay for people with diabetes to eat it. The truth is that fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which can support healthy blood sugar levels. Some research suggests that people with diabetes who eat fruit regularly have a lower risk of complications.
Juice or dried fruit has a higher sugar concentration, so choose whole fruits when possible. Serving sizes can also vary—a large piece of fruit can be more than one serving of carbohydrates—so keep portion sizes in mind. Eating fruit with a protein or fat source like nuts or yogurt can also support blood sugar.
Your diabetes-friendly fruit list includes all fruits, including:
All vegetables have nutrient value, but it's helpful to distinguish between starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables because they can impact your blood sugar differently. Starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates, so they can impact your blood sugar more than non-starchy which contain minimal carbohydrates.
Starchy vegetables include corn, potatoes, peas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. You can still enjoy these foods, but they are usually considered a carbohydrate because of their impact on blood sugar.
On the other hand, you can enjoy non-starchy vegetables freely as often as you'd like, including:
- Bell Pepper.
Eating at home means it's helpful to have some essential pantry staples on-hand for cooking, including:
- Soy sauce or tamari.
- Dijon mustard.
- Ketchup (check the label for added sugar).
- Herbs and spices.
- Chicken or veggie broth.
- Canned tuna or salmon.
- No salt added canned beans.
Foods to Avoid With Diabetes
While no food is completely "off-limits" with diabetes, limiting certain foods makes it easier to manage your blood sugar. Eating foods high in added sugar or processed carbohydrates (which tend to be low in fiber) can make it harder to meet blood sugar goals.
Limit the following foods:
- Cookies, cake, or baked goods.
- White bread, pasta, and rice.
- Ice cream.
Tips for Grocery Shopping With Diabetes
- Plan ahead. Make a grocery list and stick to it to help you save money, and skip impulsively buying foods that don't support your health.
- Don't over-restrict. Eating with diabetes doesn't mean you have to miss out on the foods you love. Consider portion size and pairing your food with nutrients that slow down blood sugar (like fiber and protein).
- Experiment with new flavors. Try new recipes and dishes to mix up your meals and find something different that you enjoy.
Eating with diabetes may feel complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Sticking to whole, unprocessed foods with minimal added sugars and following the above tips will help you make nutrition choices that support healthy blood sugar and overall health.
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