Updated September 20, 2023
Diabetes is increasing worldwide as more people become obese due to the high-fat, high-calorie Western diet. In America alone, 37.3 million people have diabetes. There are 28.7 million who have been diagnosed with diabetes and about 8.5 million people who have undiagnosed diabetes.
Looking at populations with food patterns where diabetes is rare, the best clue for how to properly care for your diabetes is a plant-based diet. These diets are very diabetic-friendly, which you’ll see below as we discuss if diabetics can eat popcorn and 12 other diabetic-friendly foods.
If you have diabetes, you need to stop believing that starches (beans, corn, potatoes, rice, wheat, etc.) are bad for you. Carbohydrates (sugars) actually make insulin work more efficiently. Carbohydrates are also used as a form of measurement for the glucose index (GI) and glucose load (GL).
GI is a way to describe how carbohydrates will affect blood sugar levels. It has a scale of 1-100, and the higher the number, the more blood sugar levels will rise when you consume the food.
GL uses GI and the amount of carbohydrates per serving to guess how quickly the food will affect blood sugar levels and how much they will rise.
Below are 13 foods people with diabetes commonly ask if they can eat or not, and Dr. McDougall has the answers.
Yes, diabetics can eat popcorn because air-popped popcorn has a GI score of 65, which makes it medium-GI food. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics can enjoy this snack in moderation. Studies have shown that eating more whole-grain food, like popcorn, lowers oxidative stress, reduces blood pressure, and increases insulin.
Around five cups of air-popped, unbuttered, and lightly salted popcorn is a good average serving. Just make sure to avoid movie-style popcorn.
Popcorn is also a healthy snack because it has:
Diabetics can eat peanut butter as long as it’s the natural version without added sugars and oils. When shopping, make sure to avoid low-fat versions because the fat is often replaced with sugar. Be sure to read the labels carefully.
Natural peanut butter has a GI score of 14, making it a very low GI food. This means your blood sugar should change very little as long as you follow the typical serving suggestion of two tablespoons.
Studies have even suggested that food full of magnesium, like peanut butter, can help prevent the development of Type 2 Diabetes.
Not only does peanut butter taste good, but it’s full of:
Check out this McDougall recipe for Peanut-Hoisin Sauce that uses peanut butter as a key ingredient.
Yes, diabetics can eat corn—any kind of corn, as long as it’s done in moderation. However, make sure to focus on whole kernels instead of processed corn products.
Sweet corn has a GI score of 52, which means it won’t affect your blood sugar level too rapidly as long as you have the proper serving size of one ear or about ¾ cup. One study found that including more corn in your diet can improve your glycemic response and even prevent someone who has prediabetes from developing diabetes.
Here are some McDougall’s recipes that use corn:
Diabetics can eat grits. It’s worth noting that portion sizes are crucial for diabetics. Also, when we talk about grits, we’re not talking about instant grits, which have extra sugars or fats. We’re talking about stone ground or regular grits.
A proper serving size of grits is one-fourth of a cup. They have a GI score of 69, though they have a GL score of 14—which means they will cause blood sugar levels to rise.
Some people wonder if grits are better than rice for diabetics, and technically, yes, grits are better. This is because grits are made from corn, which has more nutrients than rice, though both are still healthy.
Despite the myth that people with diabetes can’t eat sweet fruits—and yes, it’s a myth—diabetics can eat pineapple and other sweet fruits. In fact, pineapple is naturally fat-free and full of fiber—which helps lower blood sugar levels.
Fresh pineapple does have a higher GI score of 59. Also, be aware that juicing pineapples can make your glucose levels spike. This is because juicing breaks down fiber, which means the sugar gets into your bloodstream faster.
But you can eat pineapple safely when mixing it with protein or healthy fats. You should add pineapples to your diet because they’re full of:
Here are some McDougall recipes that feature pineapples:
Diabetics can eat cantaloupes in moderation as a small treat or as part of a larger meal because a cup of fresh cantaloupe has a GI score of 65-70. Despite the high GI score, cantaloupes are mostly water, aren’t high in sugar, and can be paired with protein to minimize blood sugar spikes.
Cantaloupes are full of:
Absolutely, diabetics can eat tomatoes. They’re considered a diabetic superfood because they have a small amount of carbohydrates. They even have a low GI score of 30.
Adding tomatoes to your diet can improve the look of your skin, boost your immune system, and improve your digestive and cardiovascular health. Plus, more specifically for people with diabetes, tomatoes can reduce hyperglycemia.
Here are some McDougall recipes that feature tomatoes:
Carrots are very diabetic-friendly because they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Diabetics can eat carrots without worry because they are mostly made of water and fiber (two things that are incredibly important for any diabetic diet). Carrots could even help prevent Type 2 Diabetes.
Carrots will keep your body running smoothly, thanks to:
Here are some McDougall recipes with carrots:
Yes, diabetics can eat raisins and should actively add them to their diet due to their high fiber count. A study showed that raisins improved insulin resistance in those with Type 2 Diabetes, among other helpful effects for people with diabetes.
All raisins are good for diabetics, though red raisins in particular have a higher fiber count and could be considered the best raisins to eat as a diabetic. A typical serving size for raisins is one ounce or 40-50 grams. Raisins have a GI score of 65 and are full of:
Here are some raisin recipes from McDougall:
Yes, it’s safe for diabetics to eat cherries. One study found that eating cherries decreased the chance of developing diabetes and “normalized glucose tolerance, insulin resistance,” and more. Fresh cherries have a GI score of 25 with a GL score of 4, meaning they won’t spike your levels.
A serving size for cherries is one cup and can be eaten during the day or at night because it won’t raise your blood sugar levels. Make sure to stay away from canned cherries because they usually have extra sugar added.
Cherries are full of:
Diabetics can eat watermelon, though they should do so very carefully because it has a high GI score of 76. With a serving size of 120 grams, it makes the perfect summer snack on its own, or use it in a meal with healthy fats and fiber to balance its high GI score.
Watermelon has nutrients like:
Here are some tasty recipes featuring watermelon:
Can diabetics eat corn tortillas? Absolutely! You just have to be careful with the kind of tortilla you have with your meal. Corn tortillas have a GI score of 52—which is still considered a low score.
However, one study showed blue corn tortillas have a lower GI score than their white counterparts and 20% more protein.
You also need to prepare tortillas in the right way. Avoid frying them, and instead heat them up in the oven, grill, or microwave. When prepared in this way, they will not spike your blood sugar.
The McDougall Program has various recipes featuring corn tortillas:
Diabetics can eat cornbread because it’s full of complex carbohydrates that take time to digest, which helps keep blood sugar levels normal. Make sure to eat whole-grain cornbread, which has been shown to lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and to help insulin resistance.
Plus, cornbread is full of:
Here are some recipes that have cornbread in them:
To turn your health around with no side effects or additional costs, it’s time to cut way back on meat, dairy, and vegetable oils. Instead, eat some of your favorite meals based on staples you already love, just in a more natural and healthier way.
On the McDougall Program, we have been able to stop or reduce diabetic drug use by 90% in just 12 days. Start your journey to new and better health!