Reverse Diabetes: 10 Smart Grocery Swaps

Updated: Sep. 15, 2022

Bring your Reverse Diabetes Grocery Checklist to the market so you'll have these diabetes-friendly dishes on hand.

a table filled with healthy food options
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It can feel daunting to be faced with the need to make a major lifestyle change. You enjoy food, and you should. At The Healthy @Reader’s Digest, we like to think nature designed nutrition to taste delicious so it can be a source of pleasure in your day that’s fun to look forward to.

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, this diagnosis doesn’t have to take over your whole identity and all the things that bring you joy. There are ways to adapt some of your favorite foods so you can still have them!

For readers of The Healthy @Reader’s Digest and the Reader’s Digest Reverse Diabetes book, registered dietitian Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN—who wrote the foreword to the latest edition of the Reverse Diabetes book—lists interesting meal swaps you can make so that classic dishes can be healthier, while still plenty pleasurable. Newgent sourced the nutrition facts for each of these foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

With some wisdom and dedication, it can be possible to turn your condition around and feel great for good. Get your own copy of the Reverse Diabetes book at

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Cauliflower puree with butter and green onions in a white bowl on a gray concrete background. Healthy food
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Pair starchy with non-starchy veggies

Instead of: two pounds potatoes

Buy: one pound potatoes plus one pound cauliflower florets

This mashed potato hack keeps your total carbs in check without forgoing flavor. Whip equal parts boiled potatoes together with roasted or boiled cauliflower. The results of this dynamic duo may help you better manage your blood glucose, since they’re carb-friendlier than a huge bowl of mashed potatoes alone: 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked potatoes without skin provides 22 grams of total carbohydrates, versus 13 grams total carbohydrate in the 100 gram (3.5-ounce) combination of cooked potatoes and cauliflower.

Make your pizza game healthier: Shop the 5 Best Cauliflower Pizza Crusts, Recommended by Registered Dietitians

hand reaching for banana on a Fruit snack platter
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Pick fruit you can chew

Instead of: one quart apple juice

Buy: one bag of apples

Enjoy whole fruit rather than just the juice whenever possible to get all the fiber of the naturally sweet fruit with its edible peel…plus chewing satisfaction. According to USDA data, one medium apple contains 4.4 grams of fiber while a (6.75-fluid ounce) glass or juice box of 100-percent apple juice has 0.4 grams of fiber. The soluble fiber in apples can help slow down absorption of sugars. Polyphenols in apples may have powerful antioxidant properties.

Are Bananas Safe for People with Diabetes?

Thai chicken burger with cucumber and sweet chilli sauce
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Grill a better burger

Instead of: one pound 85% lean ground beef patties

Buy: one pound ground chicken breast

Ounce for ounce, chicken breast has significantly less saturated fat than the marbly beef of classic burgers. Specifically, a three-ounce cooked 85% lean ground beef patty has five grams of saturated fat compared to 0.6 grams of saturated fat for a cooked patty made from three ounces of chicken breast meat.

Keeping saturated fat intake low is especially important when you have diabetes to help keep your heart healthy. Pro-tip: make chicken burgers juicier and tastier by combining ground chicken breast with a little plain yogurt, rolled oats, and herbs and spices before cooking.

Here’s Why You Should Never Wash Chicken Before Cooking It

yogurt in bowl on wooden table with blueberries
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Look for live cultures in the dairy case

Instead of: one container regular cottage cheese

Buy: one container plain low-fat Greek yogurt or cultured cottage cheese

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. For people with type 2 diabetes, research published in Advances in Nutrition suggested that probiotics may also have glucose-lowering potential. So, drop products with live active cultures (probiotics) into your cart while strolling by the dairy case. Choose plain low-fat Greek yogurt or cultured cottage cheese, like Good Culture Cottage Cheese (which now comes in an organic, lactose-free variety).

Be sure to read the nutrition labels, since probiotics aren’t in all dairy foods. And, for the lower-sodium pick, stick with yogurt.

The Best Probiotic Yogurt Brands for Better Gut Health

Fresh homemade English muffins with butter and jam
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Choose healthier-sized grain portions

Instead of: 1/2 dozen bakery-style plain bagels

Buy: one package of whole grain English muffins

Swapping whole grain in place of refined grain products helps kick up fiber and other plant nutrients. Studies suggests this linked to lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Also, opting for healthier-sized varieties, such as whole grain English muffins rather than big bakery-style plain bagels helps cut calories (and carbs)—not enjoyment—while promoting a healthier weight. In fact, you’ll slash over 250 calories by enjoying a whole-wheat English muffin instead of that oversized five-ounce morning bagel.

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Healthy Roasted Salted Shelled Peanuts in a Bowl
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Get your munchies with benefits

Instead of: one bag of potato chips

Buy: one jar or bulk-bin container of roasted peanuts

It’s a no-brainer: a small handful of nuts is a better bet than potato chips. Peanuts, for instance, offer a triple whammy of dietary fiber, plant protein, and healthy fat, which can boost satiety. Greater satisfaction means a greater chance you’ll keep mealtime portions right-sized.

When peanuts or other nuts are eaten along with carb-rich foods, they can help slow down the blood sugar response. Plus, a Mediterranean study found that higher nut consumption may be associated with better metabolic status.

This Is Why You Can’t Ever Just Eat One Potato Chip, According to Science

Fresh Homemade Salad Dressing with Rosemary, Lemon and Garlic

Dress a salad smartly

Instead of: one bottle of fat-free salad dressing

Buy: one small bottle olive oil plus one small bottle balsamic or red wine vinegar

Some bottled salad dressings can trick you. For instance, “fat-free” salad dressing may be loaded with added sugars. (For reference: four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.)

So, read salad dressing labels carefully for sneaky ingredients, especially excess salt (over 250 milligrams of sodium per two-tablespoon serving) or added sugars (more than five grams added sugars per two-tablespoon serving). Better yet, keep it simple and make your own vinaigrette using 2-3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

Seasonal vegetable soup with potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, white beans, corn, tomatoes and parsley
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Select less salty soup

Instead of: one can/carton of vegetable- or bean-based soup

Buy: one can/carton of low-sodium vegetable- or bean-based soup

When compared to people without diabetes, sodium levels were higher in patients with type 2 diabetes, based on a meta-analysis published in European Journal of Nutrition. Curbing sodium intake is beneficial for people with diabetes since too much may increase your risk for high blood pressure.

So, slurp up soup that’s low in sodium. And kick up flavor with a splash of cider vinegar, grated citrus zest, herbs, spices, or a dash of hot sauce.

Your Risk of Developing Diabetes Goes WAY Up If You’re Eating Too Much Sodium—Here’s Why

grilled salmon on a plate topped with lemon with a side of green beans
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Go for “naked” fish

Instead of: Breaded fish sticks

Buy: Frozen salmon filets

Cut salmon into large cubes, season, and grill on skewers. Or make fish sticks by simply cutting into skinny filets, season, and roast. Why? Research published in Diabetes Care finds that eating oily fish may be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Non-oily fish, like the whitefish in fish sticks, didn’t show this link.

Salmon is an oily fish and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, a heart-friendly fat. Plus: when you make you own salmon skewers or sticks, you won’t have extra carbs from breading.

Hummus with fresh vegetables, above view on white marble
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Do dip with a punch of protein

Instead of: one container of ranch or sour cream & onion dip

Buy: one container of pulse-based dip, like hummus

Wise snacking can be helpful for managing blood glucose. It can also be delicious. Dunk veggies or whole-grain pita wedges into pulse-based dip, like hummus, black bean dip, or lentil dip. Check this out: one-quarter cup (that’s 60 grams) of onion dip has 208 calories, five grams of saturated fat, 1.2 grams of protein, and 0.1 grams of fiber, while one-quarter cup hummus has 142 calories, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 4.7 grams of protein, and 3.3 grams of fiber. Hummus clearly wins!

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