8 Tips for Your Diabetes Grocery Shopping List

woman shopping in a grocery store
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Grocery shopping can feel totally overwhelming when you are newly diagnosed. Even when armed with a great diabetes meal plan, it can still be exhausting to try to translate that into a grocery list, and then navigate aisles and aisles of a food store. If you can arrange it, try to carve out an extra hour or two the first time you go grocery shopping for your new diabetes meal plan. It may help to make the trip a little less stressful.

As someone with diabetes, it is important to keep your home stocked with wholesome, colorful, and fresh foods. When healthy choices are available at arms-reach, it will be easier to stick to your diabetes meal plan.

So, the best diabetes grocery shopping list for you may actually be a running list. Hang it on the fridge, or someplace you'll see it every day. When you realize you are running low on a healthy staple, add it to your list so that you can pick it up on your next shopping trip.

Before You Go Shopping

Next, always take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions before you go grocery shopping:

  • How many people and how many meals will I be serving? Buy the right amount of food for this many people and meals, so that you don't end up with excess food in the house that you may be tempted to eat.
  • Have my healthy staples been going bad before I've had a chance to finish them? If so, next time buy a few less.
  • Does it take me the same amount of days to eat one box of sugar-free cookies as it takes for me to eat two? If so, limit your purchase to one box at a time, look for smaller packaging, or don't buy them on every shopping trip. And remember that sugar-free cookies still have carbohydrate in them. Though a better choice than regular cookies, eating them will still raise your blood sugar.

Remember that no diabetes meal plan is created equal. Likewise, no diabetes grocery list will be the same either. That being said, here is at least a starter grocery list that will help you to start stocking your home with wholesome, colorful, and diabetes-friendly foods.

Diabetes Grocery Shopping List

  • Fruit - You'll need 2 to 4 servings of fresh or frozen fruit a day. While in the store, you can use an apple to approximate a serving of fruit. Try not to plan out ahead of time what fruit you will buy; sometimes, for one reason or another, fruit just doesn't look good. Many fruits can be substituted for each other in recipes anyway. Instead, plan for how many servings of fruit you'll need to buy. And when you're in the store, buy what is fresh, seasonal, and/or on sale.
  • Meat, Fish, and Protein-Rich Foods - You'll need 2 to 3 servings of lean protein-rich foods a day. Visualize a deck of cards to help approximate a 3 ounce serving of meat or fish. One egg or 1/2 cup of tofu is also a serving of meat. Skinless chicken and/or turkey, fish, lean cuts of beef, pork, eggs or egg substitute, and low-fat peanut butter should be on your list.
  • Non-starchy Vegetables - Half of your lunch and dinner plate should be vegetables, and vegetables are also handy to have on hand for diabetes-friendly snacks. So plan on buying enough fresh or frozen vegetables to meet those needs. Same as with fruit, try to plan out how much you'll need, but wait until you get to the store to see what looks like the best buy. That being said, dark green vegetables like spinach, dark lettuce, and broccoli -- as well as yellow-orange vegetables, like sweet peppers and carrots — typically have the highest vitamin and mineral content. Avocados are technically a fruit but are often used more ​like a vegetable in recipes. They are packed with healthy fats and are useful in rounding out a diabetes-friendly meal. Onions and garlic are both low glycemic foods rich in antioxidant nutrients. They are useful for adding flavor while keeping cooking low in fat and should be on your list.
  • Fat - Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils such as olive, canola, corn, sunflower, or soybean oils should be on your list. Also, look for lower fat butter-flavored spreads made with these oils (to use in place of butter on bread), and fat-free cooking spray to use in sautéing and baking.
  • Nuts, Beans - Almonds and walnuts are great for topping salads or even mixing in cereal or yogurt. Canned black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, or really any variety of legume should be on your list. Canned beans should be rinsed well before use, to remove excess sodium, but are quick to cook and very useful in diabetes meal plans.
  • Low-Fat Dairy - Plan for 2 to 3 servings a day of nonfat or low-fat milk or yogurt (1 cup = serving), or low-fat cottage cheese (1/4 cup serving).
  • Whole Grains, Starchy Vegetables, and Lentils - Ignore the labels that say, "this product contains X grams of whole grains per serving." Instead, flip products over and look at their nutrition labels. Choose the ones that are highest in fiber. Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, high-fiber cereals, and high-fiber bread should be on your list. Alternate grains like quinoa, barley, and bulgur can often be substituted for rice in recipes. Sweet potatoes, corn, sweet peas, butternut squash, and lentils can also replace grains in a diabetes meal plan.
  • "Diabetic" Products - You may want to consider putting an alternative sweetener on your grocery list to use in place of real sugar in coffee, tea, and recipes. Zero-calorie beverages like freshly brewed iced tea, diet sodas, and fruit-flavored waters could go on your list to give you some drink options that won't affect your blood sugar. And since everyone needs an occasional treat, look for a low-sugar cookie or cake — just remember that it is actually the total carbohydrate in a product (not sugar) that will affect your blood sugar.
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