Following a healthy eating plan is essential for diabetes management. "Diabetes is a complex disease in which people experience elevated blood glucose levels either due to a lack of insulin being produced by the pancreas or due to insulin resistance," says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of the food blog Stirlist. "Foods that contain added sugars and high amounts of carbohydrates can cause glucose levels to rise."
Following a diabetes-friendly diet that provides a healthy and balanced source of carbohydrates can help keep those with diabetes nourished and satisfied is important.
"Eating a diabetes-friendly diet can help you lower blood sugars and reduce your risk for chronic complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes," says Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Olive Tree Nutrition LLC. So what are the best foods to eat if you have diabetes? Here are 13 of the best foods that help with diabetes, according to dietitians—your blood sugar will thank you for this one.
Food for Diabetes
"Not only do sweet potatoes contain vitamins and antioxidants, but sweet potatoes also contain fiber," says Pankonin. "Fiber can help prevent spikes in blood sugar and also increase fullness which is important if you have diabetes."
"Beans of all types—black, kidney, cannellini and garbanzo—consist of both plant-based protein and fiber which promotes a gradual rise in blood sugar, vs. a spike, as well as better appetite control," says Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition and culinary communications consultant based in Pennsylvania. "They’re also rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and magnesium. Incorporating more beans into meals is easy too! Add your favorite variety to casseroles, salads, sheet pan meals, power bowls and even breakfast! Remember to choose no salt added beans and drain and rinse them before using to lower the sodium by up to 41%!"
Green leafy vegetables
"Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are low in carbs and rich in fiber so they don’t affect blood sugars," says Al Bochi. "They also provide lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and help keep you full."
"Brussels sprouts are low in carbohydrates but are a good source of fiber," says Pankonin. "Brussels sprouts also contain other nutrients and antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid which might help improve insulin resistance."
"When it comes to blood sugar control, fruits that are high in fiber are the best picks," says Stark. "All kinds of berries—raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries—are packed with fiber, plus health-protective vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. What’s more, they’re all in season now! Enjoy berries on their own, as part of a fruit kabob with cheddar cheese cubes or on whole-grain toast with nut butter."
Extra virgin olive oil
"Extra virgin olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and has been shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels," says Al Bochi. "It is rich in antioxidants, specifically vitamin E, which helps reduce inflammation and lower your risk for heart disease."
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Fruit-infused water or sparkling water
"Staying hydrated is very important for those with diabetes," says Pankonin. "Beverages like infused water or sparkling water can offer hydration and a source of antioxidants without added sugars."
"Having diabetes increases one’s risk for dying of a heart attack or stroke. Heart-smart omega-3 fats from fish like trout, sardines and tuna, play a role in lowering both cholesterol and inflammation, leading to overall reduced risk for life-threatening heart disease," says Stark. "Strive for least 2 (4-ounce servings) of in your diet per week to meet the recommendation. Not sure where to start? Simply swap fresh, frozen or canned omega-3 rich fish into your favorite dishes like tacos, pasta, stir fry, and even pizza!"
Adds Al-Bochi, "Fish is also high in protein, which can help lower your blood sugars and keep you full."
"Nuts like walnuts, pistachios and almonds contain healthy fats and protein and have been shown to help lower blood sugars," says Al Bochi. "They are a great blood sugar-friendly snack."
Adds Stark, "Not only are nuts an abundant source of blood sugar controlling plant-based protein and fiber, they also supply heart-smart unsaturated fats. Choose lightly salted or unsalted varieties and keep the portion to around 1/4- to 1/3 cup when snacking. Nuts also make a tasty topper for salads, grain bowls, oatmeal and Greek yogurt."
Related: How You Can Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
"Salmon is a fatty fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids," says Pankonin. "Those with diabetes are at risk for other complications like heart disease so consuming a diet rich in heart-healthy fats is important for those with diabetes."
"Blueberries are a high fiber fruit and are rich in antioxidants," says Al Bochi. "One cup of fresh blueberries has 4 grams of fiber. They have been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity which helps lower blood sugars."
"Not only do peanuts contain protein and fiber that can help contribute to fullness, but there is evidence that peanuts may help improve blood glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes," says Pankonin.
"Chickpeas are rich in protein and fiber, which help slow down the rise of blood sugars when consumed with a balanced meal," says Al Bochi. "Half a cup of chickpeas has 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. They can be easily added to salads, sandwiches, stews or enjoyed as snack as roasted chickpeas."
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