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The basic diabetic pantry: buy these foods now!

What should a basic diabetic pantry look like? We asked dietician Cheryl Meyer to give us a shopping list!

The basic diabetic pantry

From our community: “I’ve just been diagnosed and have no idea what to eat. Please help me! I just need some basic ideas of what to keep in my cupboard so I can make easy healthy meals…” John Tabenga.

Stocking your pantry is a fantastic place to start – healthy eating isn’t only about your kitchen, it begins when you wheel your trolley down the aisles of your local supermarket. Arming yourself with a well-planned shopping list will not only get you in and out of the shops quickly, it will also keep your healthy eating plan on track.

To help get you started I have put together a basic list to help you stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with healthy options. Here’s my suggested list for a diabetic pantry.

Breakfast cereals

  • Oat bran
  • Rolled oats
  • Low GI muesli

Cooked starches

  • Baby potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Mealies
  • Corn: frozen, canned or fresh

Breads & crackers

  • Rye, wholewheat or low GI bread
  • Wholegrain crackers: Provitas, Ryvitas, Finn Crisp
  • Multigrain melba toast
  • Wholewheat wraps
  • Wholewheat pita bread


  • Canned beans, lentils and chickpeas (drain and rinse well)
  • Dried beans, lentils and chickpeas

Dairy products

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yoghurt
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Hard cheeses: mozzarella or reduced fat cheddar

Tip: When choosing hard cheese, aim for less that 25g fat per 100g.

Meat, poultry, fish & eggs

  • Lean beef and pork, trimmed of fat
  • Chicken, trimmed of skin
  • Ostrich
  • Lean cold meats
  • Eggs
  • Fish rich in omega 3s: Fresh, frozen or tinned salmon, trout, tuna, pilchards, sardines, mackerel
  • Hake or kingklip fillets

Fats and oils

  • Olive / canola / avocado oil
  • Seeds
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado
  • Low oil dressings and mayonnaise (less than 5g fat per 100g)


  • Frozen vegetables: green beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli.
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Tinned tomato
  • Tinned asparagus


  • A variety of fresh fruit
  • Pre-cut frozen fruit
  • Canned fruit (in juice) for treats


  • Hummus
  • Tzatziki
  • Olive oil


  • Unsalted nuts
  • Lean or game biltong
  • Popcorn kernels to prepare homemade popcorn with a dash of oil and salt

Store cupboard basics

  • Non-stick cooking spray: Spray n Cook
  • Beef, chicken and vegetable stock powder
  • Lots of herbs and spices

Tip: Read food labels and compare different brands within each food category.

With these pantry essentials, you should be able to whip up all kinds of delicious diabetic-friendly meals… Check out our recipes here if you’re looking for inspiration!

An alternative diabetic pantry

If you’re looking for an easy way to eat low carb, this might not be the shopping list for you. Check out our low carb diabetic pantry here for a low carb shopping list, and this simple explanation of how to eat low carb.

What to read next?

What are the different food groups? A simple explanation: When you’re building a healthy plate of food, it helps to know about the food groups.

Free Healthy Food Guide: This Healthy Food Guide shows you exactly which foods to choose (and which to avoid), as well as sharing which portions to eat.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

Photo Heather McKean on Unsplash

What to read next
Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

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  1. Wendy Marsh Wendy Marsh

    Please email this list to me

  2. Noorunisa Baderdien Noorunisa Baderdien

    would like to receive more information from sweet life please e mail me the basic diabetic pantry

  3. Karen Harmse Karen Harmse

    Surely your menu should say use only nature life products that are sugar free?
    One can get diabetic desserts and juices as well? I am diabetic type 2

    • These are our dietician’s recommendations for all the essentials. You can get diabetic desserts and juices, but I think our dietician is stressing that everyone can eat these – diabetic desserts and juices are for special occasions or treats.

  4. I asked the registered dietician who wrote this article for us, Cheryl Meyer, to comment on her choices so that everybody has all the information they need (this was in response to comments that low carb should be the only diet suggested for people with diabetes). She said:

    This pantry list was compiled with a dietary pattern in mind rich in wholegrains/high fibre grains and starches, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol consumption; and lower in refined grains, red/processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

    That said, a variety of eating patterns (combinations of different foods or food groups) are acceptable for the management of diabetes. Personal preferences (e.g. tradition, culture, religion, health beliefs, health goals and food budget) and metabolic goals should be considered when recommending or selecting one eating pattern over another. It is always best to seek personalised advice from your healthcare team.

    My opinion is that there is no standard meal plan or eating pattern that works universally for all people with diabetes. I am aligned with the ADA 2013 Position Statement that nutrition interventions should emphasize a variety of minimally processed nutrient dense foods in appropriate portion sizes as part of a healthful eating pattern and provide practical tools for day-to-day food planning and behavior change that can be maintained over the long term.

  5. Sharon Sharon

    Please email the list to me.

  6. Niki Niki

    please email this list to me. thank you

What do you think?

Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.