AskNadia: Commodity Foods and the Diabetes Epidemic

Dear Nadia:

 Any newer research? The epidemic continues to worsen. Any thoughts regarding eating only commodity foods to treat type 2 diabetes?


Dear Peter:

For readers who are unfamiliar with “commodity foods,” they are foods made available to low-income seniors 60 and over by the US Department of Agriculture. The foods provided are divided among eight   categories (go here to see the list):

  • Vegetables
  • Juices
  • Grains
  • Oils
  • Fruits
  • Meat
  • Dry beans
  • Ready-to-Eat Cereals

The quick answer to your question is yes—but with caution. Low-income type 2s could survive, even thrive, eating from just the USDA’s commodity foods list. But they would have to be highly selective about which foods they select.

What type 2s have to keep in mind is the amount of carbohydrate each portion of the foods listed contain and how quickly the body metabolizes them (the Glycemic Index is a big help here).

Let’s look at each USDA food category:


A random sampling in this category is illuminating. One serving of meatless low-sodium spaghetti sauce has almost 54 grams of carbohydrates. If you’re looking to cut back on how many grams of carbohydrates you consume daily, this food will make you quickly reach your daily carb ration.

Another food in this category, canned low-sodium white potato slices, has 24 grams of carbs per serving. If you are on an extreme carb-restricted diet, this may seem like a lot of carbohydrates at one time, but for less restrictive diabetic diets, this is not a huge number.


The juices in this category are all unsweetened, which means fewer carbohydrates from sugar. But their carb count is still relatively high on a per-cup basis.

One cup of unsweetened apple juice contains 28 grams of carbohydrates—fairly high for a short amount. One cup of unsweetened orange juice contains somewhat fewer carbs, 24.4 grams.

In general, unsweetened fruit juices are OK with a type 2 diet providing you restrict yourself to one cup at a time—or even per day.


 Grains are one food group where the carbs pile on. One cup of spaghetti has 43 grams of carbohydrates. One cup of white rice has 45 grams of carbohydrates. If you like pasta or other grains, it’s best to reduce the frequency and amount you eat.


 The only oil available under the Commodity Supplemental Food Program is peanut oil, which zero carbohydrates.

Canned Fruits

 One cup of unsweetened apple sauce has 27 grams of carbohydrates. One cup of cling peaches in light syrup has 14.3 grams of carbs, so you can indulge yourself a bit. Keep in mind, though, that the majority of the carbs are sugar. You’ll have to experiment to see how quickly those carbs show up in your blood sugar levels.

 Canned Meat

 This is one category where a type 2 can frolic a little. One can of pink salmon has little more than 3 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Canned chicken has zero. Even beef stew has only 17 grams per serving. Beyond that, though, beef chili with beans soars to 45 grams of carbohydrate—a food that you want to eat only every once in a while.

 Dry Beans

 One-half cup of light red kidney beans has 21 grams of carbohydrate. One cup of pinto beans weighs in at 25+ grams of carbohydrates. Generally speaking, beans can make the basis of a satisfying meal if you add other flavorful things to them, such as peppers, lean meat, onions or other flavor providers.

 Ready-to-Eat Cereals

 Corn flakes: 24g

Rice Krispies: almost 24g

Shredded Wheat: almost 31g

The important thing about ready-to-eat cereals is that each additional cup piles on the carbs. If you have to sweeten your cereal, do it with a no-cal, no-carb sweetener like Sucralose, which chemically is an altered sugar that tastes sweet by cannot be absorbed by the body.


This is small category, so it’s easy to track down the carbohydrate count of each food in it. “American Cheese Blend Skim” has a negligible amount of carbs. Skim milk with 1 percent milk fat has about 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup.


Selectivity is key here. The USDA list is extensive enough that any type 2 senior can find foods that offer variety, taste, and nutrition, as well as low-carb counts. Still, keep in mind that the government list addresses processed, pre-packaged foods. Mixing commodity foods with fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, or meat is important both from the standpoint of taste and the intake of vitamins and minerals that are only found in fresh food.

There are food lists available on the internet that give fairly accurate estimates of the carbohydrates in any typical one serving:

I hope this helps!



Nadia’s feedback on your question is in no way intended to initiate or replace your healthcare professionals’ therapy or advice. Please check in with your medical team to discuss your diabetes management concerns.

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About Nadia:

Nadia was not only born into a family with diabetes but also married into one. She was propelled at a young age into “caretaker mode,” and with her knowledge of the scarcity of resources, support, and understanding for people with diabetes, she co-founded Diabetes Interview, now Diabetes Health magazine.

Nadia holds 14 nominations for her work as a diabetes advocate. Her passion for working in the diabetes community stemmed from her personal loss—a mother and a brother who both succumbed from the effects of type 2 diabetes. She has used her experience as a caretaker to forge a career in helping others.









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