If you have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, then modifying your diet is likely the first order of business. While there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan for every person with diabetes, some exclusive diet tips can help you manage the condition effectively.

Fall vegetarian food ingredient variety. Assortment of Autumn vegetables for healthy cooking over wooden rustic cupboard.

Before taking any bold measures with your nutrition, it is prudent to consult a doctor. Of course, a dietitian can help you shape a nourishing eating plan tailored to your specific needs.

Nonetheless, there are several dietary tips which can prove beneficial for everyone living with type 2 diabetes.

Aside from common-practice advice: “reduce portion size to manage out-of-whack blood sugars and weight,” I, as a certified diabetes educator and dietitian, will stress the types of food you regularly consume (your dietary pattern) are just as crucial as how much you eat.

So what is the best diet pattern for type 2 diabetes?

Daily dietary dos for type 2 diabetes management

Ahead, you’ll find doable and strategic tips that are science-backed and dietitian-approved.

Tip 1: Savour a rainbow of vegetables and fruits:

It’s no secret that nutrient-rich produce is nutritious for everyone, especially for diabetes. When meal planning, I’d encourage focusing more on non-starchy vibrant vegetables such as:

  • leafy greens, like kale, spinach and lettuce
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • beets
  • beans
  • peppers

And get this — a higher intake of fruit, especially berries, green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables (thanks to their fibre content!) is linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

Like so many others, if you’re wondering whether fruits are good carbs for a diabetic to eatthe answer is yes! Believe it or not, the opinion that fruits are forbidden for those with diabetes is a misconception.

Like vegetables, whole fruits offer important nutrients you need, like dietary fibre, disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

If you’re concerned about the carb content of fruits, choose those with a low glycemic index. For example:

  • berries
  • citrus fruits
  • apples
  • peaches
  • plums
Vegetables variety in a wire basket on a wooden background.

A small piece of fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrates, as does a three-quarter to a 1-cup serving of fresh berries or melon.

According to a recent study, eating apples, blueberries, grapefruit, grapes and raisins was linked with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

And subsequent studies continue to confirm the substantial influence of fruits and vegetables in warding off chronic diseases.

For example, the renowned Harvard-based Nurses Health study provides compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease – a leading complication for those with diabetes.

So, when planning your diet for managing type 2 diabetes, remember to add plenty of nutrient-rich produce like fruits and vegetables in a variety of colours. The more brightly coloured, the better! Remember, the abundance of dietary fibre and beneficial plant compounds preserves healthy blood sugar levels and guards against the health complications commonly associated with diabetes.

This diabetes-friendly recipe collection is brimming with a wide array of scrumptious and nutritious main dishes, snacks, sweets and desserts. I hope you’ll try them, confident that you can eat healthily without sacrificing flavour or your favourite cultural dishes.

Tip 2: Add more plant-based sources of protein:

Adopting a predominantly whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet is widely regarded as an effective strategy for managing diabetes. Recently, its efficacy was tested in a clinical trial (involving a limited number of participants) who had reductions in multiple risk factors, including cholesterol levels, triglycerides and body weight.

A 2021 study lends further credence to the notion that incorporating plant-based proteins into one’s diet is a beneficial step in avoiding type 2 diabetes.

Plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, are not only low in saturated fat but also provide an excellent source of dietary fibre – both of which are important diet features for helping to control diabetes and promote health and vitality.

A mixture of legumes in wooden spoon.

Furthermore, loading your diet with protein-rich plant foods can help reduce insulin resistance.

Some top picks include:

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa

Tip 3: Give heart-loving fats and oils a try

Although fat has long been vilified as the diet bogeyman, certain fats are key to health — and are required to fuel our energy needs, promote healthy cell function, support hormone production and protect organs.

Wondering what are the best cooking oils for diabetes and heart health? My guide gives you the lowdown on the healthiest oils for flavourful cooking.

Healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts like walnuts and almonds, avocado and flaxseed, are all beneficial sources of monounsaturated fat that can help reduce cholesterol and protect your heart.

Why the focus on heart health?

Because those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Therefore, including more omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and other cold-water fish like trout and sardines can help lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation and promote heart health. Plant sources of omega-3s also exist— seaweed, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.

Still, some fats should be consumed sparingly or avoided altogether. For example, trans fats (or partially hydrogenated oils) are found in ultra-processed snacks and fried fast food. 

Studies have shown that diets high in trans fats increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Tip 4: Appreciate hearty whole grains

For those with diabetes, whole grains are frequently overlooked as a carbohydrate source out of worry that their intake will have an unfavourable effect on blood sugar levels.

Opting for whole grains is a wise decision since they are low in glycemic index, rich in dietary fibre and commonly featured in the diets of some of the world’s healthiest people – those who reside within Blue Zones.

Wholegrain foods include:

  • oats
  • rye
  • brown rice
  • wholegrain bread
  • quinoa
  • barley
  • millet

Unlike their more processed variants, like white bread, these whole-grain staples are slowly digested and can help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Raw healthy pearl barley on the wooden table, rustic style and selective focus image.

Tip 5: Pour greater intention and attention at mealtimes

Eating mindfully can profoundly benefit our overall physical and mental health.

For starters, slowing down during mealtimes can help us identify the actual signals of hunger and satiety instead of relying on diet fads or external cues (such as diet pills, diet shakes, etc.) that may be doing more harm than good.

Additionally, mindful eating can help us become aware of how and why we eat certain foods — be it a craving for something sweet or a desire to satisfy emotional needs that have nothing to do with hunger. Therefore, this heightened awareness of our food choices can empower us to make informed diet decisions tailored to our needs and goals.

Food for thought

When it comes to diet, optimal health can be found in a balanced diet that works for you — not against you. If you’re stuck with diet restrictions, remember that with knowledge, intention and creativity, diet can be a vehicle of joy, not deprivation.

By taking the time to appreciate where our food comes from, savouring every bite and evaluating our physical feelings of hunger, mindful eating can help us make targeted choices that nourish our bodies.

How are you incorporating diet into your diabetes management plan? What have been some of your successes and challenges?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And remember, diet is only one piece of the puzzle — regular physical exercise, adequate sleep and stress relief are all essential components to achieving optimal health.

Desi~liciously Yours, Shahzadi