Stock Your Kitchen for Diabetes Health

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 21, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Eating healthy, balanced meals is the key to managing your diabetes. Good nutrition not only helps you control your blood sugar levels, but it also lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol and keeps cravings at bay.

When you have the right foods on hand, it’s much easier to stick to a healthy meal plan. Not sure what to stock? Add these must-haves to your shopping list.


Kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans are all great for blood glucose control,” says Jessica Bennett, a dietitian at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “They’re high in fiber and take a long time to digest.”

Beans offer a lot of options. They make a tasty side dish, or you can add them to salads, soups, casseroles, and chili. They’re also a great stand-in for meat because they’re high in protein but low in fat.

Dried beans are a better choice than canned. They contain less sodium. Soak them overnight and they’ll be ready to cook in the morning. If you go for the ones in a can, rinse them first. That’ll keep the salt down.

Salt-Free Seasonings
Spices are a great way to jazz up your meals without adding calories or carbs. Just be sure to avoid ones with salt.

“Red pepper flakes, oregano, curry, cinnamon, turmeric, and garlic powder [not salt] are all great options,” Bennett says.

Whole Grains

They’re packed with fiber, but finding them isn’t as easy as it may seem. Some foods only contain a small amount, even though it says “contains whole grain” on the package. Read the ingredients label and look for the following sources to be listed first:

  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole-grain corn or cornmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Whole farro
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Quinoa

Bennett suggests the following ways to get more whole grain into your meal plan:

  • Bake with whole wheat flour instead of white.
  • Start the day with a half-cup of high-fiber bran cereal. “Choose one with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and less than 6 grams of sugar."
  • Use whole wheat pasta.
  • Make a sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • Try recipes that use less-common whole grains like barley or bulgur.

Healthy Fats

Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy fatty acids. “Get the unsalted ones, and watch your portion size since they’re high in calories,” Bennett says.

  • Pair 1 ounce of nuts with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh fruit for a healthy snack. Or top cereal with chopped nuts for a protein and fiber boost.
  • Almond butter or peanut butter spread on whole wheat toast is a quick and satisfying lunch option.

Opt for olive oil or canola oil instead of butter, margarine, or shortening when cooking.

Lean Meat

Canned tuna and chicken are great protein add-ons for soups, salads, and sandwiches -- no cooking necessary.

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, veggies like broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and peppers are a terrific source of high-quality carbs. Because these low-calorie, nutritious veggies have a low impact on blood sugar, they can be a key part of your meals.

Even if you’re trying to lose weight, this is one food group you almost can’t overeat.

Frozen Vegetables

If your produce goes bad before you have a chance to finish it, buy frozen instead. They’re almost as healthy, taste great, and since they come sliced and peeled, they take less time to prepare. It’ll be easier to count carbs since the grams are listed on the food label.


Whole, unsweetened berries are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. Buy them fresh or frozen and use them to boost the flavor of salads, smoothies, or cereal.

Citrus Fruit

The pulp in oranges and grapefruit are a great source of fiber. But it’s better to eat the whole fruit than just drink the juice. Canned fruit can be great for satisfying a sweet tooth.

“Just make sure it’s canned in juice instead of sugary syrup,” says Maggie Powers, PhD, president-elect of Health Care and Education for the American Diabetes Association.

Don’t Skip Meals

Don’t think you can miss a meal then make up for lost calories or carbs with larger portions later in the day.

“This can leave you bouncing back and forth between normal blood sugars and high blood sugars," says Alyson Myers, MD. Spreading out foods across three meals each day -- and snacks if you want them -- can go a long way toward steady blood sugar levels.

Be Consistent

Try to eat roughly the same amount of calories every day. Don’t overdo it at one meal then skimp on the next. Regulating the amount of calories you eat on a day-to-day basis has an impact on your blood sugar levels.

Try Leftovers for Lunch

Cooking at home is the best way to keep your meals healthy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat out every so often. Since restaurant portions tend to be huge, Bennett suggests you ask for a to-go box when the food comes and pack half your plate away before you take the first bite.

“It guarantees that you won’t overeat -- and you’ll have a great lunch that’s ready to go the following day.”

WebMD Feature



Jessica Bennett, MS, RD, LDN, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

American Diabetes Association: “Diabetes Superfoods.”

Alyson Myers, MD, North Shore-LIJ Medical Group.

American Diabetes Association: “Grains and Starchy Vegetables.”

Maggie Powers, PhD, RD, CDE, president-elect, Health Care and Education, American Diabetes Association.

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