Which Foods Should I Eat to Prevent Diabetes?

Natalie Stein
March 23, 2019

The best foods to prevent diabetes don’t have to taste bad!

You have a choice if you know that you have prediabetes or high risk for diabetes. The first option is to do nothing and almost certainly develop diabetes within years. The other option is to do something, and dramatically lower your risk for diabetes. The second choice makes the most sense because prediabetes treatment with healthy eating and other lifestyle choices is so effective at preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes

Including healthy foods regularly instead of less healthy ones can help with blood sugar and provide a wealth of other health benefits, such as more energy, a healthier heart, and lower blood pressure. The following foods may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

1. Whole Grains

Whole grains may be high in carbohydrates, but research puts them among the foods classified as having a “high” likelihood of protecting against diabetes. [1] Their benefits may be related to their fiber and antioxidants. You do not need to add a ton of carbohydrates to your diet to add whole grains. In most cases, you can substitute whole grains for refined carbohydrates that you are already having.

Here is a list of healthy foods to eat to prevent diabetes:

Instead of… Try…
White bread, rolls, buns, pita, bagels, tortillas, or English muffins.
Whole wheat or whole grain bread, rolls, buns, pita, bagels, tortillas, or English muffins
White pasta and rice
Whole-grain pasta and brown rice or another whole grain, such as quinoa or barley
Refined breakfast cereal or cream of wheat
Whole-grain cereal, such as shredded wheat, bran flakes, or oatmeal
White crackers
Whole grain crackers
Potato or tortilla chips
Regular baked goods
Baked goods substituting whole wheat flour for half of the white flour in recipes.

2. Broccoli

Eating more vegetables of any type can lower risk for type 2 diabetes, and broccoli is among the healthiest. It and other cruciferous vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, have fiber, vitamins A and C, and potassium. Some people find that they have a bitter taste, but you can try cooking them longer to reduce that taste.

Try these ideas for getting more cruciferous vegetables!
Use broccoli in tofu, chicken, or shrimp stir fry with other vegetables.
Roast Brussels sprouts or cauliflower with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary.
Make coleslaw with shredded cabbage, shaved brussels sprouts, or broccoli slaw mix and lemon juice, paprika, crushed garlic, black pepper, and olive oil.
Add cooked broccoli and cauliflower florets to pasta sauce and casseroles.
Make “broccomole” using pureed cooked broccoli plus mashed avocado in guacamole.
Use broccoli florets when making cheese omelets.
Add shredded cabbage to fish tacos or tuna salad.
Make whole-grain pasta salad with broccoli florets, olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette.

3. Spinach

The more vegetables, the better for preventing diabetes, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, arugula, and lettuce are excellent choices. They are not only sources of fiber, calcium, and vitamin A, but also are low enough in calories to help with weight loss. You can eat kale and spinach raw or cooked and still expect a wealth of benefits. Iceberg lettuce is lower in most nutrients, but romaine, radicchio, endive, and spring mix are all nutrient-rich.

Ways to Eat Spinach Ways to Eat Kale Ways to Eat Lettuce
Raw in salads instead of lettuce or cooked as a simple side dish
As chips baked with a drizzle of olive oil and (optional), lime, paprika, chili powder, parmesan cheese, and/or a dash of sea salt
As a side salad with tomato, cucumber, and a splash of dressing
In scrambled eggs or omelets with feta or other cheese or baked into egg white muffins
Shredded and massaged with sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds
Grill a romaine heart with olive oil and lemon juice
In dips, such as cooked and blended with garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, and cumin to make hummus
In soup with beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, low-sodium broth, and any other vegetables
As a main course salad with other raw vegetables, nuts or seeds, and cheese, tofu, beans, chicken, or tuna
In pasta sauce or tossed with whole-grain pasta or spiralized zucchini, cooked chicken breast, and olive oil
In a salad with quinoa or whole-grain couscous, avocado, bell pepper, Dijon mustard, and olive oil
As full leaves as sandwich fillings or shredded to top burritos and tacos
Added to soups and stews near the end of cooking so it just wilts.
As a salad with edamame (green soybeans), baked salmon, and Asian dressing
Instead of buns for burgers and instead of tortillas for wraps

4. Blueberries

Blueberries regularly appear on various “Superfoods Lists,” and that trend continues with this list. Research has found a lower risk of diabetes in people who eat more blueberries. Grapes, apples, pears, peaches, plums, and apricots were also linked to lower risk. [2] Nutrients in these fruit include fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, and countless antioxidants that together may protect against heart disease and Alzheimer’s along with diabetes. Choose fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit, since high fruit juice consumption may actually increase diabetes risk. Read more about which foods can spike your blood sugar and your glycemic index.

Fruit Morning, Noon, and Night
For Breakfast For Snack and Dessert For Lunch and Dinner
  • Amp up oatmeal with blueberries and chia seed, banana and walnuts, or apple and cinnamon
  • Mix peaches or blueberries into cottage cheese or yogurt
  • Stir blueberries or banana slices into whole-wheat pancake batter
  • Fresh fruit makes a simple snack.
  • Add nuts or seeds to fruit salad
  • Bake cored apples or pears with cinnamon
  • Freeze grapes for a snack
  • Puree frozen chunks of banana to have as a healthy ice cream swap
  • Add a handful of grapes or blueberries to a main course salad
  • Make fruit salsa with peaches and cooked pear and serve over fish
  • Top a whole-grain English muffin with peanut butter and apple or plum slices

5. Grapefruit

Grapefruits and oranges are both linked to lower risk for diabetes,[3] as are citrus fruits as a group.[4] These fruits include tangerines, mandarins, clementines, lemons, and limes. They are known for their vitamin C content, and they also have flavonoids and soluble fiber, which is the type that lower cholesterol. Citrus fruits are lower-glycemic than many types of fruit, so they do not cause such a spike in blood sugar levels. Ask your doctor before eating grapefruits if you are on any medications because a compound in grapefruits can interact with certain cholesterol, blood pressure, allergy, and other medications.

Grapefruits, Oranges, and Tangerines are Everywhere!
  • Eat citrus fruit for snacks or with your breakfast or lunch
  • Toss tangerine or clementine segments into a salad with spinach or arugula, blue cheese, beets, and red onion…or any salad of your choice
  • Make citrus salsa with oranges, lime zest, tomato, diced onion, vinegar, cilantro, and olive oil, and serve over chicken, tofu, or fish
  • Use lemon juice in salad dressings and dips such as hummus
  • Use lime juice in salsa, guacamole and marinades, and add to soup just before serving
  • Stew chicken with oranges, olives, low-sodium broth, fennel, and tomatoes
  • Add slices of orange, lime, lemon, or grapefruit to ice water

6. Plain Yogurt

Dairy products fall out of favor occasionally in the media, but the evidence generally supports the benefits of yogurt, including for preventing diabetes.[5] Yogurt is rich in calcium and high-quality protein, and though it contains sugar, the only kind of sugar in plain yogurt is natural. Yogurt with active cultures also contains probiotics, which support a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. If you have been avoiding dairy products because of lactose intolerance, you may be surprised to discover that some people can handle a bit of yogurt. Try Greek yogurt to start since it has less lactose. Choose plain rather than flavored yogurt to avoid added sugars or artificial sweeteners, and look for nonfat yogurt to keep calories down.

Eat Yogurt out of the Container… …Or Use It in Recipes
  • Plain as a snack anywhere
  • With fruit or nuts mixed in
  • Instead of sour cream as a topping for baked sweet potatoes
  • In a parfait layered with fruit and oats, unsweetened shredded wheat, or other whole-grain cereal
  • In marinades for chicken or fish
  • In chicken, egg, or tuna salad or coleslaw instead of mayonnaise
  • Instead of sour cream when making creamy salad dressings
  • As a base for dips, such as a vegetable dip with garlic, dill, and lemon juice

7. Water

Water is not technically a food, but it is a nutrient. More important is that researchers have found a high amount of evidence linking it to lower diabetes risk.[6] Water naturally increases energy and since it is calorie-free, drinking water instead of caloric beverages such as juice may help with weight control. You may get double benefits if you choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and sweetened coffee drinks, since these are independently linked to higher diabetes risk.

Tips for Drinking More Water Alternatives to Plain Water
  • Set a timer to remind you to drink every hour
  • Fill a 32-oz. water bottle and drink it before lunchtime. Repeat in the afternoon.
  • Set a pitcher of water on your desk or in the fridge where you will see it
  • Ice water
  • Water with lemon or lime wedges, basil or mint leaves, or cucumber or peach slices
  • Hot or cold unsweetened decaffeinated green or black tea
  • Decaffeinated black coffee

8. Garbanzo Beans

Garbanzo and other beans, lentils, soybeans, and split peas have nutrients that can improve cholesterol profiles and lower blood pressure. Rich in fiber, protein, and more, these legumes can have the added benefit of substituting for fatty and processed meats, which are foods that raise diabetes risk. The uses for legumes are nearly limitless.

Ways to Eat Legumes

  • Use vegetarian sausage or bacon instead of the real thing.
  • Choose veggie burgers instead of beef patties, and soy crumbles instead of ground beef in chili, meatballs, meatloaf, and
  • Snack on roasted garbanzos or soybeans
  • Toss beans into salads as your protein source
  • Snack on fat-free refried beans with melted cheese, or serve over salad for a meal
  • Make lentil, bean, and pea soup for a burst of fiber and antioxidants

9. Carrots

Consumption of dark yellow vegetables are linked to lower risk for diabetes.[7] These include carrots, winter squash such as butternut and acorn squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. While it may be surprising that these higher-carb vegetables make the list, their impressive fiber, potassium, and vitamin A content helps explain it. Furthermore, you can often use these vegetables instead of potatoes, which are separately linked to higher diabetes risk.

Make Yellow Veggies Count by Skipping… …And Eating…
Potato chips with dip
Carrot sticks with dip
French fries or hash browns
Baked sweet potato strips drizzled with olive oil
Mashed potatoes with butter
Pureed acorn or butternut squash with almond milk and nutmeg
Leek and potato soup with cream
Butternut squash soup with leeks and milk
Potato pancakes Carrot, zucchini, and sweet potato pancakes
Potato frittata Sweet potato and mushroom frittata

10. Avocados

These creamy fruits are high in fat, high in calories, and oh, so healthy. In one study, people who ate avocados regularly not only had a healthier overall diet, but also lower body weight and 50% lower risk for high blood sugar and other symptoms that make up so-called metabolic syndrome.[8] Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, along with antioxidants. Nuts and peanuts are similarly high in fat and provide some fiber, and also may improve weight and certain aspects of metabolic syndrome. Just stick to a small serving size of ¼ cup for avocados and 1 ounce for nuts and peanuts.

More Avocados, Nuts, and Peanuts for a Healthier Lifestyle

  • Use pureed avocado instead of mayo as a spread for sandwiches or in egg salad.
  • Dip carrots and apples into peanut butter.
  • Mix nuts into cereal or oatmeal.
  • Serve avocados over eggs or with chicken.
  • Dip avocado strips into crushed almonds and bake them for a snack.
  • Make a snack mix with nuts or peanuts, dark chocolate, whole grain cereal, and grapes.


  1. Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G, Lampousi AM, et al. Food groups and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2017;32(5):363-375.
  2.  Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;347:f5001. Published 2013 Sep 28. doi:10.1136/bmj.f5001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978819/
  3.  Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;347:f5001. Published 2013 Sep 28. doi:10.1136/bmj.f5001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978819/
  4.  Liu S, Serdula M, Janket S, Cook NR, Sesso HD, Willett WC, Manson JE, Buring JE. A prospective study of fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2004 Dec; 27(12): 2993-2996. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.27.12.2993
  5.  Gao D, Ning N, Wang C, et al. Dairy products consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;8(9):e73965. Published 2013 Sep 27. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073965. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3785489/
  6.  Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G, Lampousi AM, et al. Food groups and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2017;32(5):363-375.
  7.  Liu S, Serdula M, Janket S, Cook NR, Sesso HD, Willett WC, Manson JE, Buring JE. A prospective study of fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2004 Dec; 27(12): 2993-2996. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.27.12.2993
  8.  Fulgoni VL, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J. 2013;12:1. Published 2013 Jan 2. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-1
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health