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What is the best food to prevent diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most prevalent non-communicable, or non-transferable, diseases in North America and around the world.

About 8.3% of the world’s entire population is estimated to live with some form of diabetes.1

There are multiple types of diabetes and each type is caused by a different combination of factors. The most commonly referred to types are Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune process. It involves damage to the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, leading ultimately to elevated blood sugar levels.

This is a largely genetic condition and no dietary or lifestyle modifications will prevent or cure this condition.1-2

Type 2 diabetes, however, involves insulin resistance. The pancreas can produce insulin but the body is not as sensitive to it as it should be. This also ultimately leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

The factors predisposing a person to Type 2 diabetes may be irreversible, such as genetics or ethnicity. But they may also be reversible, such as level of physical activity or diet.1

The Diabetic Diet

Traditionally, dietary guidelines for those with Type 2 diabetes have been thought of as a “diet”.

This can make it difficult to adhere to the dietary plan long term, as a lifelong “diet” lacks appeal for most people. More recent studies emphasize permanent lifestyle changes.

And, interestingly, they suggest that the general population should adhere to the suggested changes – not just those with diabetes.3

The evidence shows that the foundation of a healthy diet lies in high volumes of vegetables, and the inclusion of fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dairy.

For those with Type 2 diabetes, there is some caution around fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Further research is needed to determine the optimal amount for those with diabetes.3

Foods to avoid include processed red meat, added sugar, and refined grains.

While the evidence around processed red meat is new and developing, the evidence that added sugar and refined grains are detrimental to those with Type 2 diabetes is established. You may have heard the term “glycemic index” before.

This is a scale used to determine the effect of foods or drinks containing carbohydrates on a person’s blood sugar level.2-3

Refined grains and added sugars tend to rank high on the glycemic index, meaning that they cause the blood sugar level to spike. Whole grains and foods containing fiber tend to rank lower on the glycemic index, which is why they are preferred for those with diabetes.3

Those with Type 2 diabetes may also struggle with their weight.

Weight control and maintenance are an important part of preventing and managing diabetes. This can be achieved using portion control and physical activity.3

Overall, lifestyle changes for those with diabetes are not unlike lifestyle changes recommended for most people. Making conscious choices around food and staying active are important parts of living a healthy life.

Speak with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have about staying in good health.


  1. Forouhi NG, Misra A, Mohan V, Taylor R, Yancy W. Dietary and nutritional approaches for prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. BMJ. 2018. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2234 
  2. Khazrai YM, Defeudis G, Pozzilli P. Effect of diet on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A Review. Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews. 2014;30(S1):24-33. doi:10.1002/dmrr.2515 
  3. Ley SH, Hamdy O, Mohan V, Hu FB. Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: Dietary components and nutritional strategies. The Lancet. 2014;383(9933):1999-2007. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(14)60613-9

Photo by Ella Olsson: https://www.pexels.com/photo/flat-lay-photography-of-vegetable-salad-on-plate-1640777/


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