For many people, having diabetes means continuously reflecting on what was just eaten while also planning the next meal. Understanding how the foods you enjoy the most impact your blood sugar is an important aspect of practicing good diabetes control.
It’s easy to focus on what not to eat for blood sugar, but what are the best foods to control diabetes? Look no further.
Below are 10 best foods to eat to control diabetes to get you started.
Oats contain a type of bulking soluble fiber called beta-glucans, which have been studied for their ability to slow down carbohydrate digestion. In turn, this slows the spike in your blood sugar and helps minimize the insulin response. Oats have also been found to help support normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can be at risk for rising in the setting of diabetes.
Tip: Oats work well to make a hearty oatmeal breakfast, blend into homemade burger patties, used to make breads and muffins, or even added to smoothies for extra bulk and fiber.
Cinnamon is often associated with the holidays, but you can enjoy it year-round in a variety of dishes. Some research has found that cinnamon mimics the effects of insulin and actually helps transport glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, lowering blood sugar levels. Ingesting cinnamon may have immediate effects on insulin levels that last up to 12 hours. Regular use of cinnamon may even help lower hemoglobin A1c, an indicator of long-term glucose control.
Tip: Sprinkle cinnamon into your breakfast cereal, smoothies, batters for pancakes and waffles, homemade baked goods, or even coffee and tea.
If you’re wondering how to control diabetes through food, legumes are at the top of the list. For instance, beans are full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals and have a low glycemic index. Some animal studies have found that eating beans has a positive effect on gut health and insulin resistance. Additionally, a 2012 study published in JAMA, among 121 people with diabetes, found that eating a legume-rich diet helped improve blood sugar control and reduce heart disease risk.
Tip: Stock your pantry with canned or dried beans. Use these to make soups, scrambles and stir fries, salads, and side dishes.
Similar to beans, lentils are full of protein and fiber that can help maintain steady blood sugar. Plus, a 2018 study of 3349 participants in the PREDIMED study, who did not have diabetes at baseline, found that frequent consumption of legumes, especially lentils, had a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Tip: Lentils work well in plant-based sloppy joes, stews, or even served cold, marinated as a lentil salad.
Like other whole grains, quinoa is packed with fiber and protein that are slower for your body to digest than ultra-processed and refined white grains. This prevents blood sugar from spiking when you eat it. Quinoa also contains other compounds, such as phytoecdysteroids, thought to have anti-diabetic properties, reducing fasting blood sugar levels in animal studies.
Tip: Quinoa can be enjoyed warm or cold. Try tossing it into leafy green salads, mixing it into soups and chilis, blending it into veggie burger patties, or even making a quinoa breakfast bowl.
6. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great food items to control diabetes. They may support improvements in inflammation, blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, hemoglobin A1c, and heart disease risk factors like LDL “bad” cholesterol. Flax seeds contain compounds called lignans that may help improve blood sugar management. Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that are good for diabetes and heart health.
Tip: Nuts and seeds are great snacks on their own. You can also add them to smoothies, salads, cookies and muffins, or blend them into homemade butters.
Avocados are high in healthy fats and fiber, low in carbohydrates, and have minimal impact on blood sugar. Some research has found that eating avocados is also associated with lower body weight. One 2019 animal study found that avocados contain a fatty acid oxidation inhibitor compound called avocatin B that helps reduce insulin resistance.
Tip: Avocados can be mashed onto toast, chopped and used in soups, chilis, and salads, or sliced and roasted.
8. Leafy greens
Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are low in carbs and high in vitamin C. Some studies suggest that people with diabetes have lower levels of vitamin C and higher requirements for the nutrient. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which can help prevent cellular damage and reduce inflammation. Leafy greens also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that may help protect against retinal damage and vision changes from diabetes.
Tip: Greens can be eaten raw in the form of a salad, cooked as a side dish, blended into smoothies, or layered into a sandwich or wrap.
9. Apple cider vinegar
Some studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can help improve blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels among people with type 2 diabetes. Eaten with carbohydrate-rich meals, apple cider vinegar may reduce blood sugar response by up to 20%.
Tip: Apple cider vinegar needs to be diluted before consumption. Many people like to mix 1-2 teaspoons with water. It also works well made into a salad dressing.
10. Fatty fish
Fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fats, which are good for your heart and may improve blood sugar control. One 2017 study among overweight 68 adults found that eating fatty fish significantly improved post-meal blood sugar levels compared to lean fish consumption.
Tip: Fish can be baked or roasted and enjoyed as an entree. It can also be used to make tacos or added to salads and sandwiches.
Knowing how to maintain healthy blood sugar is vital for diabetes management. Designing a diet rich in natural foods to control diabetes, like the ones above, can be helpful.
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