Foods to Avoid with Type 2 Diabetes: A Comprehensive Deep Dive

Discover how nutrition impacts type 2 diabetes. Learn which foods to eat and avoid to manage the condition and promote health.

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Published:
April 23, 2024
July 25, 2023
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In your search for information on how to eat healthy for type 2 diabetes, you have probably come across the idea that there are many "good" and "bad" foods. However, it’s important to understand that there are no inherently good or bad foods. Some foods provide more nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but all foods provide energy and some nutritional value.

Each individual has different nutrition needs. For people living with type 2 diabetes, food choices play a significant role in managing the condition. When you understand how different foods affect your body and blood sugar, you can make informed choices that manage your diabetes and support your overall health and well-being. 

In this article, we’ll provide a list of foods and diets that are beneficial for type 2 diabetes, as well as those that you may want to limit or avoid. 

How Your Diet Impacts Type 2 Diabetes 

Nutrition and diet are important when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes. When you eat food, your body breaks it down into glucose, the body’s primary energy source. 

In people who live with type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels, which leads to high glucose concentrations or blood sugar spikes. Food choices can significantly impact blood sugar control and overall well-being.

A balanced diet focusing on nutrient-dense, whole foods helps regulate blood glucose levels, enhance insulin sensitivity, manage body weight, and reduce the risk of complications associated with type 2 diabetes.1

A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from different food groups, including whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, promoting better overall health.

A low-sodium diet, such as the DASH diet, may be recommended for individuals living with type 2 diabetes who also have hypertension (high blood pressure). A diet low in sodium that limits processed foods while incorporating fresh, whole foods can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.2

People who live with celiac disease and diabetes may need to follow a specific diet to manage both conditions. A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease to prevent intestinal damage and nutrient deficiencies associated. This diet focuses on naturally gluten-free foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, and gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, and corn.3

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A Type 2 Diabetes Food List: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Being mindful of your food choices helps you manage your diabetes. It can even help you prevent prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes. 

Choose nutrient-dense foods most often and steer clear of foods that can cause significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels, as stable blood glucose is key to managing diabetes. 

The following sections will tell you exactly which foods to limit or avoid and which you should eat more. 

8 Foods to Limit or Avoid if You Have Been Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Refined grains (white bread, white pasta, white rice)

White bread, white pasta, and white rice are made from refined grains, which means they undergo extensive processing that removes the bran and germ, stripping away most of its fiber and nutrients. Refined grains are quickly digested and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels.

  1. Corn

This starchy vegetable is relatively high in carbohydrates and can cause a notable increase in blood glucose levels. Moderation and portion control are key when including corn in the diet with type 2 diabetes.

  1. Potatoes

Potatoes, particularly white potatoes, have a high glycemic index and can lead to rapid blood sugar spikes. This is especially true when potatoes are cooked, mashed, or fried, as these processes increase their glycemic impact. 

  1. Fried foods and fast foods 

Fried foods are typically high in saturated fats, trans fats, and calories. When consumed in excess, these foods can contribute to weight gain and negatively affect blood sugar control. Eating too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, both of which are associated with type 2 diabetes. 

  1. Sugar-sweetened cereals

Sugar-sweetened cereals are often highly processed and loaded with added sugars. These cereals can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels due to their high glycemic index. Pay attention to food labels, choose whole-grain cereals with minimal added sugars, or opt for high-fiber alternatives like oatmeal. 

  1. Sugar-sweetened beverages (fruit juice, soda, lemonade, etc.)

Sugar-sweetened beverages are a significant source of added sugars and calories. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages too often can lead to weight gain, increased insulin resistance, and elevated blood sugar levels.4

  1. Processed meats

Processed meats, such as deli meats, sausages, and hot dogs, often contain high amounts of sodium and unhealthy fats. These meats may also have added sugars, artificial preservatives, and other additives. Regularly consuming processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes. Opting for lean protein sources like poultry, fish, or plant-based alternatives is healthier for individuals living with type 2 diabetes.5

  1. Red meat

While lean cuts of red meat can be part of a balanced diet, excessive consumption may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or worsening blood sugar control. Red meat is often high in saturated fats, which can contribute to insulin resistance and inflammation.

10 Foods You Can Eat for Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Non-starchy vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peppers, and kale are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, making them excellent choices for individuals living with type 2 diabetes. They have little impact on blood sugar levels while providing essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health.

  1. Fruit

While fruits contain natural sugars, they are also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choosing whole fruits and enjoying them alongside foods that provide protein and dietary fat can provide important nutrients while adding natural sweetness to the diet. To manage blood sugar, you may want to choose lower glycemic index fruits like berries, cherries, and apples and consume them as part of a well-balanced meal.

  1. Beans and legumes

Beans and legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, and black beans, are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They have a low glycemic index and can help stabilize blood glucose levels. Adding beans and legumes to meals increases fullness and satiety and improves blood sugar control.6

  1. Whole grains

Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread are high in fiber, which slows digestion and helps prevent blood sugar spikes. They provide essential nutrients and can be part of a balanced diet for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

  1. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein and contain essential vitamins and minerals. They are low in carbohydrates and can help promote satiety and stabilize blood sugar levels.7

  1. Lean meat

Lean meats, such as skinless poultry and fish, provide high-quality protein without excessive saturated fats. Protein-rich foods can help with satiety, promote lean muscle mass, and aid in blood sugar control for individuals with type 2 diabetes.7

  1. Nuts and seeds

Walnuts, macadamias, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are particularly beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes. They are rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved heart health and blood sugar control. These nuts and seeds also provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them valuable to a diabetes-friendly diet.8

  1. Avocado

Avocado is a nutrient-dense fruit that contains healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help improve insulin sensitivity. It is also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Adding avocados to your diet can provide valuable nutrients and result in better blood sugar control.8

  1. Coconut water

Unsweetened coconut water is a natural, hydrating beverage that can be suitable for individuals with type 2 diabetes. It is low in calories and carbohydrates and can be an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. Recent studies done in animals suggest that drinking mature coconut water may lower blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C levels.9

  1. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains beneficial probiotics. It can support gut health and potentially aid in blood sugar control. One study performed in mice revealed that compared to black tea, kombucha was more effective at lowering blood glucose levels. It also slowed the absorption of LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol levels. More research is needed to see if these effects are similar in humans.10

What Diets Work Best for Type 2 Diabetes? 

While there is no specific diabetes diet, some diets have been shown to be helpful in managing the disease. The diet you should follow is the one that is most sustainable and suits your lifestyle best. Working with a registered dietitian can help you decide what eating pattern is best for you. 

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (fish and poultry), and healthy fats (olive oil and nuts). It can be suitable for people living with type 2 diabetes because it promotes a balanced intake of nutrients, including fiber-rich foods, which can help regulate blood sugar levels. 

The diet is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties and potential cardiovascular benefits, which are important considerations for individuals with diabetes who are at a higher risk of heart disease.11

Keto Diet

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate eating plan that aims to shift the body into ketosis, primarily using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The diet was initially developed as a treatment for epilepsy. 

While it is a controversial approach for individuals living with diabetes, some studies suggest that the keto diet may help improve blood sugar control and promote weight loss.12

Following the keto diet for diabetes should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as it requires careful monitoring of blood sugar levels and potential adjustments to diabetes medication.

Vegetarian or Vegan

Vegetarian or vegan diets reduce or eliminate the intake of animal products and can be a good option for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

 These diets focus on plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, which provide important nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. 

Vegetarian and vegan diets have been associated with improved blood sugar control, weight management, and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.13

DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet emphasizes consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products while limiting sodium intake. 

The DASH diet benefits individuals living with type 2 diabetes who also have hypertension (high blood pressure), which commonly occur together.

Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and reducing sodium intake can help manage blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improving heart health and overall well-being.14

Plate Method

The diabetes plate method is a simple and practical approach to meal planning recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for individuals living with type 2 diabetes. 

The plate method recommends filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of the plate with lean protein, and ¼ with carbs (whole grains or starchy vegetables).15

This method encourages portion control, balanced nutrition, and consistent carbohydrate intake, helping individuals maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

You’ll notice that many of these diets have something in common. They all emphasize whole, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. So even if you don’t follow one of the above diets, you'll be on the right track if you eat mostly nutrient-dense whole foods. 

Finding an eating style that suits your preferences and lifestyle is best for optimal health. Be sure to see a doctor for regular check-ups, monitor your blood sugar levels during the day, and make positive lifestyle changes to help manage your diabetes. 

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice

Signos CGM is a great tool for managing diabetes. It allows you to keep track of your blood sugar throughout the day and see how different foods affect your blood sugar. It can also show you how sleep and exercise impact your blood sugar. 

Signos CGM empowers you to improve your health by keeping track of your diet, exercise, sleep habits, and blood sugar. Knowledge is power, and a CGM can give you specific information about how your habits affect your health. 

Signos has a team of health experts who compile evidence-based nutrition information to help you improve your health and wellness. Check out the resources here.

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References

  1. Petroni, M. L., Brodosi, L., Marchignoli, F., Sasdelli, A. S., Caraceni, P., Marchesini, G., & Ravaioli, F. (2021). Nutrition in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: Present Knowledge and Remaining Challenges. Nutrients, 13(8), 2748. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082748
  2. Hashemi, R., Rahimlou, M., Baghdadian, S., & Manafi, M. (2019). Investigating the effect of DASH diet on blood pressure of patients with type 2 diabetes and prehypertension: Randomized clinical trial. Diabetes & metabolic syndrome, 13(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2018.06.014
  3. Weiman, D. I., Mahmud, F. H., Clarke, A. B. M., Assor, E., McDonald, C., Saibil, F., Lochnan, H. A., Punthakee, Z., Marcon, M. A., & CD-DIET Study Group (2021). Impact of a Gluten-Free Diet on Quality of Life and Health Perception in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes and Asymptomatic Celiac Disease. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 106(5), e1984–e1992. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa977
  4. Imamura, F., O'Connor, L., Ye, Z., Mursu, J., Hayashino, Y., Bhupathiraju, S. N., & Forouhi, N. G. (2015). Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 351, h3576. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3576
  5. Battaglia Richi, E., Baumer, B., Conrad, B., Darioli, R., Schmid, A., & Keller, U. (2015). Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition, 85(1-2), 70–78. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-9831/a000224
  6. Thorisdottir, B., Arnesen, E. K., Bärebring, L., Dierkes, J., Lamberg-Allardt, C., Ramel, A., Nwaru, B. I., Söderlund, F., & Åkesson, A. (2023). Legume consumption in adults and risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and

About the author

Victoria Whittington earned her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama and has over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

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