When you have diabetes, your diet is one of the best ways to control your blood sugar and avoid the disease progressing. This article on developing a diabetic grocery list will explain the best way to find foods that support your health and wellness and improve how you cope with the disease.
What to Look for in Diabetic Foods
There are certain “rules” to guide you in choosing foods at the grocery store.
Rule #1 – Read Labels for Nutritional Content
- Zoom in on the nutrition facts. Head right for the Total Carbohydrate level. This one category alone gives you so much information on any food.
Here’s an example on a bag of Roasted Cashews (Lightly Salted):
|Total Carbohydrates 10g||You want this number to be 15 g or less (ALWAYS).|
|Dietary Fiber less than 1g||Fiber helps keep blood sugar levels low. You want this number to be 0 to 10 g. Not all foods|
have fiber in them so 0 is okay for foods that are primarily fat. Foods that contain fiber are gems and treasures in your diet but you still have to evaluate everything else on the label.
|Total Sugars 2g||Total sugars includes the added sugar. You want this number to be <10 g (otherwise you have to eat|
only ½ serving).
|Includes 0g Added Sugars||This is a very critical number. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons added sugar daily and 9 teaspoons for men. One teaspoon sugar equals 4 g added sugar! So this means that you are going to find foods in your cabinet that make you exceed your daily allotted amount. Simply put, they must be purged from your cabinet.|
By the way, these roasted cashews are looking excellent for a diabetic’s grocery list so far.
One example to consider is a serving of Cocoa Krispies cereal. Its total sugars is 24g and added sugars are 15g. This means that close to four teaspoons of sugar are added to one serving size of this cereal. If you’re female, you are only allowed 2 more teaspoons for the whole rest of the day.
Fruit Loops cereal has 12g total sugar and 12g added sugar (3 teaspoons). That means all the sugar in the cereal is straight from table sugar and none of it is from the natural sugar in fruit.
Carbohydrates and sugar content are the most important thing for diabetics to get right because diabetes is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. First the body can’t handle carbs, and then later it can’t handle fats.
- Next look at the fat section on the label. The numbers below are for cashews again.
|Total Fat 14g 18%||This number should preferably be <15 g for one food. In your diet, the total should be 20-25%. It’s okay to have some foods in your diet that are lower than 20%; you still need some fat each day.|
|Saturated Fat 2.5g 13%||This number should be less than 10%.|
|Trans Fat 0g||This number should always be 0. Trans fat is harmful to your health because it raises your LDL- cholesterol levels and lowers your HDL- (good) cholesterol. Eat high trans fat foods and you can expect to soon be put on cholesterol-lowering drugs.|
|Polyunsaturated Fat 2.5g||This number should be 2.5 g or less. For fatty foods, you can expect it to be around 2.0-2.5g.|
|Monounsaturated Fat 6g||Your total per day is 22 grams if you eat a 2000 calorie Diet. For 1500 calories, it’s 16.5 grams.|
For this fat category, you’ll do well at scrutinizing foods if you make sure trans fat is 0 g and total fat is <20 g for a food.
- Next look at the protein level. Not all foods will have protein in them. But if the can of soup says “with real chicken” or “with added protein”, then the company better rise up to their claim and put enough in the food! Enough means 14-21g for a protein food; all other foods can have 0-12 grams. For example, you’ll find a little protein in most nuts and a lot more protein in beans.
|Protein 5g||For cashews, this amount of protein is good, but don’t call it a protein food. Nuts are a fat food – except for chestnuts (a carb food).|
By the way, your total protein for the day — for most people —- is 60 grams (women) to 90 grams (men who are taller).
- The next thing to look at on the label is the calories level and serving size. For this category, you have to make a decision and ask yourself this question: Can I safely eat 1 serving size of this food – or two – and stop eating when done? If the answer is NO, the food is not for you. People who don’t ask themselves this question end up eating a whole bag of chips, nuts, snacks, etc.
|Serving size||¼ cup cashews|
|Amount per serving Calories||170|
|Servings per container||15|
From this information you can see that eating ½ bag of these cashews is going to be 1275 calories. That’s close to a full day’s worth of calories (1500, 1800 calorie diet) and it’s primarily fat calories, 85% fat diet for a 1500-calorie diet and 71% for an 1800 calorie diet. This would cause too many free radicals that age you and your arteries rapidly.
Now you have all the macros – protein, fat, and carbohydrates considered for the food. If you don’t get these right, nothing else matters. In other words, what difference does it make that something is low sodium if it’s super high in carbs? It makes no difference. So get the macros right.
Rule #2 – Understand that Some Foods FAIL Each and Every Time
This means that they will harm your health and do absolutely nothing to nourish your body and support your pancreas, heart, digestive tract, vision, and immunity.
Here are examples of foods that FAIL:
- Foods high in sodium
Foods with sodium that exceeds 300 mg per serving
Too much sodium in the diet causes swelling and increases blood pressure. Diabetics are often prone to develop high blood pressure.
- Foods that contain sorbitol or Sucralose or aspartame
These sugars have been known to harm the body, sometimes causing kidney problems. Diabetics are more prone to develop kidney problems so decide to help not hurt your own kidneys.
- Foods that contain canola oil
Canola oil, also called rapeseed oil, is banned in other countries because it damages the heart. Diabetics are more prone to develop heart problems so stay clear of it.
- Foods that contain vegetable oil (soy, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower)
These oils are called seed oils and they turn rancid quickly and are high in omega 6 fats, not the helpful omega 3 fats. Both omega 6 and omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated fats.
These oils also cause inflammation in the body.
There are other little details to consider about evaluating foods but if you follow all these ‘rules’, you will be doing well with your diet. For best results though, take some classes on how to eat a low glycemic index diet and you will go even farther.
10 Foods That Diabetics Should Avoid
These ten foods that diabetics should avoid are mostly foods with a high glycemic index. This means that as soon as the food is eaten, its sugars break down quickly and make your blood sugar levels skyrocket. And you know what that means, right?
It means that all that sugar is going to be deposited into all the places you don’t want it to go in your body, like the lens of your eyes to cause cataracts, the nerves in your legs and arms to cause peripheral neuropathy, and your heart and blood vessels to cause arteriosclerosis.
Stay away from these 10 foods:
|Food||Alternative||Why it’s bad|
|Sweetened drinks||Water with lemon or lime||Sugars used harm the liver such as high fructose corn syrup, or cause kidney or other organ damage. High glycemic index. Too high in carbs.|
|Candies||Fresh fruit or handful of nuts or protein food||Sugars and fats used in them harm your internal organs. High glycemic index. Too high in carbs.|
|Cakes||Gluten-free cake made without any ‘bad’ foods||Harmful ingredients harm you. Too high in carbs. High glycemic index.|
|White rice, jasmine rice||Brown basmati rice but only ½ serving||High glycemic index. Too high in carbs. No fiber.|
|French fries and baked potatoes||Boiled red potato, cold||High glycemic index. Too high in carbs. May be too high in fat.|
|Packaged snacks like chips||Relish tray with healthy dip||High glycemic index. Too high in fat and salt.|
|Breaded foods||Unbreaded foods||High glycemic index. Too high in fat and artificial/bad ingredients.|
|Alcoholic drinks||Herb teas and vegetable juices||Lacks any nutrition at all. Is a source of fat to the body. Opens you up to cancer.|
|Wheat||Non-wheat flours||This GMO food is harmful to your body. High glycemic index. Too high in carbs.|
|Processed meats||Unprocessed meats, fish, and poultry||Processed meats contain advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) which speed up health deterioration in all chronic diseases.|
Good Foods for Diabetics
Good foods for diabetics are less processed foods. Healthy meats, poultry and fish are ones you cook yourself and don’t come breaded in a package. They may be frozen but a long list of ingredients has not been added to them.
Fruits and vegetables are another category of good foods for diabetics. These should be in their raw form or slightly cooked unless they are usually cooked (beans, legumes). The more they are processed, the more you are getting away from them being a good food for diabetics. For example, dehydrated fruits usually have sugar added and they have been heated for several hours. Their sugars (carbohydrates) are concentrated.
- Zanini RD CDE, Lori (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Nuts and seeds also follow the same guidelines as fruits and vegetables. They may be roasted but should not be candied. Raw peanuts are not a good food because they may contain anti-thyroid ingredients.
Dairy products are controversial for many people. In my practice, I allow A2 milk, milk made from cows that do not have a mutation in the casein protein in the milk. A2 milk is from Jersey cows and other non-Holstein cows that don’t have the mutation.
The controversy about pasteurization is out there as well. To solve the question for yourself on whether you should drink milk that is pasteurized or not, ask yourself two questions:
- Do I have a problem digesting lactose? If the answer is yes, then milk is not for you.
- Does consumption of milk cause my blood sugar levels to spike? You will only know the answer to this after you test your blood sugar level one hour after drinking a glass of milk. If the answer is yes, milk is not a healthy food for you.
Fats are another controversial topic. Should you eat saturated fats such as butter? Some experts believe that butter is not harmful in any way; it’s the seed oils that are the most harmful. Discuss this with your nutritionist who understands your individual situation.
Diabetic Grocery List
|Celery||Green beans||Jicama||Spinach||Sweet Peppers|
|Cabbage||Acorn squash||Chard||Eggplant||Dandelion greens|
|Purslane||Spaghetti squash||Green pepper||Cucumber||Head lettuce|
|Carrot||Patti pan squash||Red pepper||Asparagus||Red leaf lettuce|
|Pumpkin||Zucchini squash||Yellow pepper||Garlic||Romaine lettuce|
|Potato||Sweet potato||Orange pepper||Tomato||Beetroot|
|Horseradish||Cholla buds||Taro root||Cactus pads||Bamboo shoot|
|Rutabaga||Lambs quarters||Mint||Chili peppers||Mushrooms|
Beans and Legumes
|Black beans||Lima beans|
|Black-eyed peas||Navy beans|
|Green peas||Kidney beans|
|Edamame beans||Cannellini beans|
|Fava beans||Red beans|
|Mung beans||Cranberry beans|
|Tepary beans||Pinto beans|
|Adzuki beans||Anasazi beans|
Meats, Seafood, Eggs
Beef, pork, buffalo/bison, lamb – stay away from the fattiest cuts like ribs, processed meats, bacon, and sausage
Poultry (chicken, turkey, Cornish hens)
Fish & Seafood – cod, flounder, haddock, shrimp, crab, lobster, scallops, trout, halibut, tuna, salmon
|Einkorn wheat||Emmer wheat|
|A2 Milk||Lactose-free milk|
|Goat milk||Plain yogurt|
|Sour cream||Heavy cream|
|Kefir milk||Cottage cheese|
|Grass-fed dairy||Cheese with <5 g fat/ounce|
Oils, Dressings, Etc.
Some items on this list come in reduced fat versions, which is a good choice.
|Olive oil||Cashew nuts||Almonds|
|Walnuts||Pine nuts||Chia seeds|
|Sunflower seeds||Sesame seeds||Brazil nuts|
|Hazelnuts||Pumpkin seeds||Flax seeds|
|Pomegranate seeds||Kola nuts||Poppy seeds|
|Caraway seeds||Fennel seeds||mayonnaise|
|Oil & Vinegar dressing||Whipped topping|
|Carob hot chocolate||Coconut water|
|Fruit yogurt smoothie||Veggies with hummus|
|Hard-boiled eggs||Beef sticks|
|Roasted chickpeas||Cottage cheese|
|Trail mix||Protein bar|
|Peanut butter celery sticks|
|Dark chocolate dipped strawberries|
|Frozen yogurt bark|
|Peanut butter yogurt dip|
|Yogurt berry cup|
|Nut butter on cracker|
|Grilled pineapple skewers|
|Soft serve made from fruit|
|Keto ice creams|
|Baked apple chips|
|Paleo ice creams|
Diabetic Grocery List on a Budget
Diabetic eating is actually more economical than a standard American diet. That’s because eating processed foods is actually more expensive than buying the foods in their original or close to original state and making a meal from them yourself.
Stick to the basics when you are going shopping – meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, tomato sauce, beans, nuts, chocolate powder (to make your own sugar-free chocolate sauces), yogurt, hummus, eggs, and some grain products. As you get better at creating wonderful meal concoctions, you’ll see that you can easily outdo 5-star restaurants in flavor (and cost) by cooking from scratch.
What Foods Are Unlimited
Foods to eat freely include:
|Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage)||Carob powder|
|Horseradish||Relish tray vegetables|
|Stevia sweetener||Unsweetened cocoa powder|
|Hot pepper sauce||Bone broth|
|Sugar free gelatin||Flavored water|