Diabetes can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Currently, over 30 million Americans suffer from either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Another 84 million have what’s called prediabetes, meaning that, without treatment or preventative measures, they will develop type 2 diabetes within the next five years. So, while it’s a good idea for all of us to ensure we aren’t going overboard with simple carbs or sugar, those living with diabetes must take it very seriously.
According to the American Heart Association, the risk of death from life-threatening strokes or heart disease for diabetics is two to four times greater than someone without the condition. If the condition isn’t managed properly, not only can these odds increase, but the odds of complications from other diabetes-related health issues, like nerve damage or kidney disease, can increase as well.
That’s why it’s so important for diabetics to not only avoid overeating but to be aware of which foods are best for their conditions. But, by staying mindful and following advice from a physician, many diabetics can live largely unaffected by the side-effects of the disorder. So, if you or someone you know is a diabetic looking for food options, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 30 of the absolute best foods for diabetics to make a part of their diet.
Any list like this would be incomplete without this trendy superfood, as it’s called. Quinoa will both fill you up and help better control your blood sugar due to its combination of protein and fiber.
Eggs are great for controlling hunger levels, as they can keep you full for hours. Regular consumption of eggs can also help your heart health in a myriad of ways, like increasing your HDL (or “good” cholesterol) and decreasing inflammation. They’re great for diabetics due to their ability to improve insulin sensitivity. Be sure to eat the yolk, however. Most of the healthy nutrients come from the yolk rather than the white of the egg.
Not many people would expect chocolate to show up on a list like this, but it’s earned its spot. Dark chocolate that’s 70 or more percent cacao can provide a sweet treat without increasing your blood sugar, so be sure to check the label and nutritional value before you snack. Cacao is also full of antioxidants, which help combat inflammation.
Cauliflower and Broccoli
Both cauliflower and broccoli are rich in sulforaphane. Studies have shown that this compound can slow the production of glucose in cells and also improve tolerance to glucose. Both factors make these perfect for diabetes. Both are versatile foods that can fit into many meals, as they can be served raw, steamed, or roasted. Ground or grated cauliflower can also serve as a low-carb substitute for refined white rice.
Blueberries are a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth in a healthy way, especially for diabetics. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant—it’s actually what gives them their blue color. They also contain flavonoids, which benefit heart health among other things. Additionally, their high fiber content makes them a perfect snack for diabetics.
Flaxseed can provide a great deal of health benefits. Some of the insoluble fiber found in flaxseed is made of lignans, a nutrient that can improve blood glucose control and reduce the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed is also full of viscous fiber that increase feelings of fullness while increasing insulin sensitivity and overall gut health. It’s important to note that flaxseeds can’t be absorbed whole, so they must be ground before their health benefits can be enjoyed.
Apples are an excellent source of nutrition, but especially for diabetics. In one study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, the diets of 200,000 people were analyzed, and those who reported eating five or more apples each week had a 23 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to those who didn’t eat any apples. They’re also rich in fiber, which slows down the absorption of carbs and improves blood sugar control.
The popularity of these beloved superfoods has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat. This type of fat, when substituted for saturated fats, can decrease a person’s risk of heart disease and even a person’s likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. Of course, guacamole is a great use of this fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit), but it’s also perfect as a spread for sandwiches or as part of a salad.
Bell peppers are an excellent addition to any diabetic’s diet for several reasons. They’re low in calories, which helps with maintaining a healthy weight—a very important factor for diabetes. Bell peppers also contain phytochemicals which can act as powerful antioxidants. On top of this, these peppers contain anthocyanins which can effectively slow the digestion of carbohydrates and lipids, helping control blood glucose levels.
Hummus can be an excellent snack for diabetics and a fantastic substitute for fattier spreads like mayo or cheese. The main ingredient in hummus is chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. Though these are high in carbs, they have enough fiber and protein to both fill you up and keep your blood glucose at a steady level.
One clove of raw garlic contains 1 gram of carbs and only 4 calories. Across multiple studies, garlic has been shown to reduce LDL (or “bad” cholesterol), blood sugar, and inflammation in those suffering from type 2 diabetes. It’s also possibly useful in lowering blood pressure. One study showed that those who ate aged garlic over the course of 12 weeks averaged a 10-point drop in blood pressure.
Lentils are high in a type of carb that the body leaves effectively undigested, called resistant starch. Not only does this mean lentils have a minimal effect on your blood sugar, it also means the lentils can feed the healthy bacteria that lie in the bottom of your digestive tract, improving the overall health of your digestive system.
Being high in fiber but also low in digestible carbs is what makes chia seeds such a great foot for diabetics. Nearly all the carbs in chia seeds are fiber, which doesn’t increase blood glucose levels. The fiber of these seeds can even lower blood sugar levels by slowing the movement of food through the digestive tracts, thus slowing its absorption.
Asparagus is a delicious vegetable that’s low in carbs and calories, while high in fiber, and preliminary research has also suggested that asparagus can help increase the production of insulin and help regulate blood sugar levels in those with diabetes. Additionally, asparagus is also high in glutathione, an antioxidant which combats the effects of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Now this isn’t as tasty a treat as some of the items on this list, but its health benefits make it perfect for diabetes. Studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can lower fasting blood sugar levels and boost insulin sensitivity. When consumed along with a carbohydrate-rich meal, it can reduce blood glucose response by as much as 20 percent. A simple way to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet is by mixing one tablespoon in a glass of water each day, drinking it, and working your way up to two tablespoons at the most.
This spice is an amazing addition to any diabetic’s diet. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is known to reduce the risk of heart disease while lowering blood sugar levels and inflammation. Additionally, curcumin can benefit kidney health, which is important since diabetes is one of the leading causes of kidney disease. Curcumin isn’t something that’s absorbed easily—however eating turmeric with black pepper will increase the overall absorption by twentyfold.
Another trendy superfood that’s actually worth all the hubbub: kale. Like spinach, kale is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that those who regularly eat leafy green vegetables can be up to 15% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their peers. A half-cup serving of kale has only 18 calories and 4 grams of carbs, while delivering nearly every important nutrient the body needs.
Salmon won’t raise your blood sugar levels, but it will provide a healthy source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids that can lessen the risk of stroke or heart disease—two things of which diabetics already have an increased risk. This low-carb meat is also extremely versatile and can be served grilled, baked, or poached, leaving anyone craving salmon with a lot of options. Other fatty fish that are healthy for diabetics are sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and herring.
Oatmeal has been heralded as a healthy option for a long time. It was actually the first food to have a specific health claim that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Oatmeal is a great alternative to other starchy breakfast options, like sweeter cereals, due to its high-fiber content. This richness in fiber allows you to feel full for longer after eating a bowl of oatmeal. Oatmeal also has the highest percentage of soluble fiber than any other grain, which is important in lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Strawberries provide more nutrients than almost any other fruit. They’re high in anthocyanins, the antioxidants that give them their color. That means that these tasty fruits can reduce insulin and cholesterol levels after a meal. A one-cup serving of strawberries is all you need for your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, providing even more anti-inflammatory benefits.
Carrots are classified as non-starchy vegetables because they aren’t rich in carbohydrates. The American Diabetes Association calls a serving of five baby carrots “free food” that doesn’t need to be counted for in a meal plan. Carrots contain beta-carotene as well, which has been shown in at least one study to help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in a sample size of those with a genetic predisposition to developing it.
Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Additionally, they provide powerful antioxidants and can decrease the risk of heart disease according to a 2013 report. Both raw and cooked tomatoes can provide health benefits, though cooked tomatoes are shown to provide more.
Not many people would suspect cinnamon of having a slew of medical benefits, but it actually does. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a teaspoon of cinnamon added to a largely starchy meal, like oats, can help combat insulin spikes and stabilize blood glucose levels. The antioxidants in cinnamon, called polyphenols, have been proven to improve your body’s ability to store fat and manage hunger by way of improving insulin sensitivity.
Ruby red grapefruits are much richer in antioxidants then their white counterparts, thus making them the better choice, especially for diabetics. Because of its high levels of vitamin C and soluble fiber, the American Diabetes Association has put ruby red grapefruit on their list of superfoods. Studies have shown the these fruits can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
The combination of protein and carbohydrates can leave a person feeling comfortably full, and controlling hunger levels is important for a person with diabetes. That’s why Greek yogurt is a perfect meal choice for a diabetic, because it delivers plenty of both. Still, it contains fewer carbs than traditional yogurt, which helps to better control blood glucose levels.
The konjac root is grown in Japan and processed into noodles or rice call shirataki. Shiritaki is high in glucomannan, a viscous fiber that can lower blood sugar by slowing the passage of food through the digestive tract and increase feelings of fullness. Additionally, it has been shown to lower blood glucose levels and reduce risk factors for heart disease in those with metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a great addition to any diet, but a diabetic’s especially. Over 32 studies on the effects of different types of fat on heart health were analyzed, and olive oil was the only one that was shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Olive oil also contains polyphenols, which protect the lining in your blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
Most vegetables are healthy in one way or another, but squash is one of the healthiest. Studies in animals ingesting squash extract showed reduced levels of both obesity and insulin levels. The little amount of research done on humans with this extract suggests that it could provide a tremendous reduction in blood sugar levels. Like other vegetables, squash contains high levels of antioxidants.
The antioxidants in cranberries may lower the risk of heart disease by way of reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, maintaining “good” HDL cholesterol, and lowering a person’s blood pressure. Cranberries are also rich in anthocyanins, which can reduce insulin levels and cholesterol after a meal. Given the benefits of cranberries, it’s a wonder people usually reserve them for the holidays.
Onions, specifically red ones, are a great addition to any burger, sandwich, or salad, because they’re higher in antioxidants than yellow or white onions. They’re great for heart health as well, as they’re a reliable source of fiber, folate, and potassium. Onions are high in flavonoids, which has made them a point of interest in studying cancer and cardiovascular diseases, as well as chronic illnesses such as asthma.