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Eating well when living with diabetes means knowing what to choose at the grocery store. Knowing which foods are okay to eat is half the battle and training your taste buds to crave balanced, low-sugar meals is the other.

In this article, we’re discussing:

  • What type 2 diabetes is
  • The benefits of a low glycemic diet
  • What to eat to improve your health
  • What foods to put on your grocery list

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

The word “diabetes” comes from the Greek word that means to “siphon” or “pass through”.One of the primary symptoms of diabetes is to “pass” excessive amounts of urine. This happens when too much sugar builds up in your blood. Your kidneys will work harder to filter the extra sugar. If there is too much sugar than you will urinate more.

Diabetes is also correlated with blood glucose levels being too high. Glucose is a form of sugar. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not use the insulin it has. Your cells have become insulin resistant, resulting in your pancreas making extra insulin. After a while, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin and blood glucose levels stay high. This is very dangerous for your health.

The Link Between Aging and Diabetes

The National Institute of Aging states that as you age, you may become more likely to have diabetes. Diabetes is not a disease that you “catch” or are exposed to. Type 2 diabetes happens as a result of having too much glucose in your blood for too long.

The effect that this has on your body often does not show up until you are older. Your pancreas may be able to handle the high glucose levels while you are younger. After a lifetime of hard work, the pancreas may not be able to make enough insulin. You might then notice the symptoms of diabetes.

Many people brush off the symptoms thinking they are a normal part of aging. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Increased hunger
  • Constant thirst
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Having to pee frequently
  • Changes in vision
  • Healing slowly from cuts

Diabetes is not part of aging and changes to your diet can have an enormous impact on your health.

How Does a Low Glycemic Diet Help Type 2 Diabetes?

The glycemic index (GI) is a number given to carbohydrates. A high GI food will raise your blood glucose more than a low GI food. A general rule is that high GI foods are:

  • Sweet
  • White
  • Processed

Foods that contain carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels. Choosing foods that are low on the glycemic index will keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range and:

  1. Reduce the need for medication. Eating foods lower on the glycemic index helps keep your blood sugars in a normal range. Most medications for type 2 diabetes force your pancreas to produce more insulin. By eating less sugar, you reduce the amount of insulin your body needs.
  2. Change your taste buds. Changing your diet can help you crave fewer sweets. Research has shown that when you eat sweets, you crave more sweets. Eating more whole foods has been shown to change your taste buds. At first, when you cut added sugar out of your diet you really miss the sweet taste. Foods can taste bland and boring. But as you continue eating whole foods, a change happens. You will be surprised to taste sweetness in foods that never seemed sweet before.
  3. Reduce inflammation. Sugar has been shown to cause inflammation in the brain. Cutting out sugar improves your brain health. You can also reduce your risk of dementia by limiting sugar and avoid heart disease.

Download the Diabetes Grocery List

What are Good Food Choices for Type 2 Diabetes?

If you look at cutting out processed foods you might be wondering, “What is left to eat that tastes good?” Your body needs quality sources of energy, which is directly related to the foods that you eat. Eating well with diabetes starts with knowing what to choose at the grocery store.

Here are the big tips to keep in mind when choosing foods for type 2 diabetes:

  1. Enjoy fruits and vegetables
  2. Load up on non-starchy vegetables
  3. Add in a good source of protein
  4. Focus on eating healthy fat
  5. Limit (or cut out if you can) all added sugar

Focus on what you can eat. It is better to make a list of the foods that are good for you than to make a list of what you can’t eat.

We’ve put together a grocery shopping list for type 2 diabetes that includes over 180 foods you CAN eat. You don’t have to deprive yourself to eat healthy!

How to Eat More Vegetables

Vegetables will give you plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. You can get all that goodness with few calories and carbohydrates. Load your cart and your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Here are some quick ways to add more vegetables to your meal:

  1. Replace some, or all of a carbohydrate, with a vegetable. For example, look at a typical pasta meal. Instead of starting with a plate of spaghetti, try half a plate of spaghetti and half zucchini noodles. Serve with a flavorful tomato sauce and meatballs. Try vegetables like:
    • Zucchini
    • Peppers
    • Spaghetti squash
    • Carrots
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Cauliflower
  2. If you like rice, try decreasing the amount of rice on your plate and replace the rice with more veggies in a stir-fry or cauliflower rice.
  3. Instead of a sandwich or burger on a bun, try a lettuce wrapped hamburger patty.
  4. Start your meal with a green salad.

Get creative! Always look for ways to add more vegetables to your meal.

How to Eat More Fruits

Fruits and fresh veggies make excellent snacks throughout the day. Whole fruit is full of vitamins, minerals and fiber and can be a yummy part of your day. Fruit is naturally sweet, so a fresh juicy peach will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Fruits and some vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and need to be balanced with low carb foods. But they can be enjoyed instead of a processed form of carbohydrates. Have an apple and peanut butter instead of a granola bar. Try cucumbers and hummus instead of chips and dip.

Always try to eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice. The fiber in the fruit slows the effect the carbohydrates have on your blood sugar levels.

Is Fruit too Sweet?

You might think that some types of fruit are “too sweet” for you to eat. It is true that fruit is sweet and can cause a rise in your blood glucose levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association, you need to pay more attention to the carbohydrates than the sweetness. The TOTAL amount of carbohydrates in a food will have a bigger impact on your blood glucose levels than the sugar.

Some fruits are sweeter than others. When you are choosing which fruit to eat, think about how much you will have. Suggested servings include:

  • ½ an apple
  • 1 cup of raspberries
  • 1 cup of honeydew melon
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • 1/3 cup fruit juice

All of these fruit servings have 15 grams of carbohydrates but a cup of berries will probably satisfy you for longer than two tablespoons of raisins.

How to Eat Lean Protein

Incorporating protein into your diet is important. Protein comes in two forms. There are plant-based proteins which include:

  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Soy

Plant-based proteins can provide fat and fiber. Beans will have carbohydrates so they will need to be balanced with low glycemic foods. Vegetables can also be high in protein. Try:

  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Brussel Sprouts

Animal-based proteins like meat, eggs and cheese are also good sources of protein. In the grocery store, look for meat that is unbreaded and not in a sauce or processed. Whole meat that is fresh or frozen is a good choice. Beef roasts, pork chops, chicken pieces, fish and turkey are all great proteins with no sugar or carbohydrates.

How to Eat Healthy Fats

The American Diabetes Association recommends choosing monounsaturated fats. These include:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Peanut butter
  • Sesame oils

Also, choose foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fat are also recommended:

  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Cutting Back Sugar in Your Drinks

Many popular drinks are sugary minefields. These include:

  • Soda
  • Flavored specialty coffee
  • Hot chocolate
  • Sweetened teas
  • Wine
  • Energy drinks
  • Sweetened fruit drinks
  • Alcoholic drinks

Sweet drinks can be disastrous for your blood sugar levels. Drinks provide no fiber and will not give you a sense of fullness. A cup of a white chocolate mocha could have 59 grams of sugar but gives you no nutritional value! While a dinner of a piece of chicken, sweet potato and a green salad would have less sugar but leave you full.

As much as you can, follow this adage: Don’t drink sugar. If you are feeling thirsty try and creative, hydrating drink like:

  • A glass of iced water with a few frozen strawberries in it
  • Hot water with lemon
  • Unsweetened green or black tea
  • Black coffee

Taming the Sugar Monster While Eating Out

Eating well with diabetes allows you to still enjoy food and go out to eat at your favorite restaurants. All the good food choices can be applied no matter where you eat.

A strategy that could work for you is to think about balance. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about what food choices work for you. You can ask if it would work for you to pair that to-die-for chocolate cheesecake with a green salad and chicken breast with the dressing on the side.

Many health professionals support a balanced approach to eating. You can eat what you want but less often and in smaller amounts. The two biggest challenges to watch when you are eating out are:

  1. How much you eat. Restaurant portion sizes can be double what you typically eat. Consider sharing an entrée with a friend or asking the server to box half of the meal for you.
  2. How your food is prepared. Choose for your meal to be baked, broiled, grilled or poached instead of fried. Include a dish that is served with extra vegetables. Remember that a broth-based soup is lighter than a creamy soup. Always ask for dressings and sauces on the side.

Using these tips while eating out can help you manage your diabetes and still enjoy your favorite places.

Download the Diabetes Grocery List

How to Limit or Cut Out Added Sugar in Your Diet

A grocery list for type 2 diabetes should include few products with added sugar. Most foods in a can, box or jar will have added sugar. Shop the outer ring of the supermarket and avoid the processed food aisles. Around the edges of the store, you’ll find the produce, seafood, meats and dairy sections. The easiest way to avoid extra sugar at the grocery store is to focus on buying:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Dairy

Then stock up on condiments like:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut milk
  • Vinegar
  • Fresh herbs

Buy mostly unprocessed food and your diet will have less sugar. Not only will this help with type 2 diabetes, but you’ll protect your brain from cognitive decline as well. Try to learn how to make your own easy salad dressings, sauces, soups and drinks at home. Try meal prepping so you know what you’re going to eat during the week.

You can use the grocery list to fill your fridge and cupboard with great healthy choices. Grocery shopping for type 2 diabetes might be easier than you thought!

Download the Diabetes Grocery List


American Diabetes Association: Fruit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Eat Well

National Institute of Aging: Diabetes in Older People

About the Author(s)

Crystal Jo is a Registered Nurse who is passionate about helping older adults live happy, healthy lives at home. As a freelance writer, she enjoys educating and inspiring seniors, and those who love them, to choose a healthy life.

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