Need help fighting diabetes? The good news is that diet plays a major role in positively affecting health outcomes with this disease. Think beyond the blood sugars when assessing dietary management of diabetes – fat, fiber, and nutrients play a role in diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney health. Here is the ultimate Foodtrients® list of the top 50 foods for diabetes with a holistic view of the many factors related to this common disease.
Nuts go beyond being a fantastic snack; they provide a balanced source of protein, fiber and unsaturated fat for people with diabetes. This disease puts people at increased risk for cardiovascular troubles so eating heart health foods like almonds is a smart way to snack. In fact, a Mediterranean-style eating pattern supplemented with nuts like almonds has been observed to improve cardiovascular risk factors like lipids, blood pressure, and triglycerides in people with diabetes.
Any color apple – green or red – is good for people with diabetes. Rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and quercetin, an apple a day can help provide nutrients and fiber that truly do keep the doctor away. To balance blood sugars, make sure to cut a large apple in half, saving some for later and eat combined with a fat and protein source like nuts.
The veggie that is so fun to eat; serve artichoke as a side-dish tonight to mix it up and make dinner more interactive. This green veggie offers plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants on its own but use caution when serving. There is evidence that a high saturated fat diet can worsen insulin resistance, leading to diabetes, so dousing it in butter or cream isn’t your best bet. Use olive oil, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar instead.
Eating veggies is beneficial for both preventing and managing diabetes. An increase of one serving/day in green vegetables consumption is associated in studies with a modestly lower hazard of diabetes. Asparagus meets these criteria and contains nutrients including vitamin K, folate and unique antioxidant asparaguisic acid for anti-inflammatory support. Sprinkle this veggie with olive oil and pop it in the oven for a wonderfully roasted side-dish.
Don’t believe the myth that bananas are too high in sugar to eat, even with diabetes. Bananas are packed with critical nutrients like B6 and potassium in addition to fiber and free fructose, the sugar found in fruit, which has been shown in studies not to produce detrimental effects on triglycerides as long as intake is not excessive. The original on-the-go fast food, grab a banana for breakfast for a pre-or post-workout snack. If it is a very large banana, eat only half at a given time to balance blood sugars appropriately.
Colorful peppers offer a rich source of vitamin C and hardly any carbohydrates, making it perfect for snacking or including in recipes. Red, yellow, green or orange, bell peppers are also packed with nutrients and antioxidants that support important systems for any person struggling with blood sugar.
All beans have been shown in studies to help balance blood sugars though some people with diabetes still fear their carbohydrate levels may raise blood sugar. There is evidence that beans may aid people with blood sugar struggles through increased insulin hormone secretion or by increasing enzymes that have to do with metabolizing blood sugar (glucose). Include beans in salads, soups and even as a main dish for a boost of protein plus fiber.
While drinking fruit juice is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, eating the whole fruit has been shown to lower risk. Blueberries contain special properties and antioxidants supportive of people with diabetes. A healthy fruit to add at breakfast or as a snack or dessert, blueberries are naturally sweet and rich in supportive nutrients like vitamin C. These sweet treats can act as a replacement for other sugary desserts.
Delicious bok choy is often found in Asian cuisines but deserves a place in the everyday American diet because it is packed with vitamins A, C, and K as well as a variety of antioxidant flavonoids. These properties aid in the reduction of oxidative stress, perfect for calming the body if suffering from chronically high blood sugars. Bok Choy contains very little carbohydrate but plenty of water and fiber for making you feel full at mealtime while maintaining stable blood sugar.
This cruciferous powerhouse has been shown in studies to lower blood sugars. Vegetables in this family may support blood sugar regulation through increased insulin hormone secretion or by aiding in enzymes that have to do with metabolizing blood sugar. Broccoli contains a high level of fiber but does not raise blood sugar so it fits very well into a diet for controlling diabetes. Roast it, steam it, or snack on it raw – broccoli is beneficial any way you like it.
Another veggie that has developed an underserved negative reputation for people with diabetes, carrots are very beneficial. They do not raise blood sugars much at all and offer many benefits to every person but especially those with diabetes because of their nutrients and fiber content. Carrots are rich sources of antioxidants like beta carotene and vitamins A, C and B vitamins. They help keep the immune system running smoothly which can sometimes be compromised in those with diabetes.
Have you heard the advice “don’t eat white foods when you have diabetes?” Not true for a beneficial vegetable like cauliflower which has been shown in studies to lower blood sugars. Vegetables in this family may increase insulin hormone secretion which is beneficial to a compromised pancreas. Cauliflower used as rice or in a “cheese” sauce will raise blood sugars far less and create less cardiovascular risk than using regular rice or a heavy, creamy sauce.
Chia seeds offer a convenient balance of protein, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and fiber for people with diabetes. These tiny seeds add about 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon which is supportive of the cardiovascular system and may help manage weight. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to exert beneficial effects on lipoproteins, prevention of heart disease, and associations with positive health outcomes in people with diabetes so make a batch of chia seed pudding today.
Hot or mild, all chilis are beneficial for people with diabetes. Because those with blood sugar dysregulation are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, eating veggies rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and using spice instead of salt for flavor in sauces, soups and other dishes is helpful for the heart as well as balancing blood sugar. For people with type 2 diabetes, the DASH eating plan which includes a sodium restriction of 2,300 mg/day, has shown improvements in labs like A1C, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular risk factors.
Like garlic and onion, chives are also part of the Allium genus and contain organosulfur compounds responsible for the odor and pleasant taste of these vegetables. Veggies that contain sulfuric compounds are beneficial for supporting detoxification in the body. Elevate chives to more than just a garnish in your diet by maximizing their potential in salads, soups and entrees which can help you add flavor while limiting salt in the diet, too.
Nutrition myths abound about the benefit of cinnamon for diabetes but an analysis of existing studies on the subject has shown mixed results. Consuming cinnamon is associated with a decrease in levels of fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, LDL/bad cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and an increase in HDL/good cholesterol levels which is all positive for people with diabetes. However, no significant effect on hemoglobin A1c was found so while it is delicious and healthy to include in your diet, research is mixed on how it will affect diabetes outcomes in the long run.
Cranberries are remarkably high in certain antioxidants including vitamin C. Naturally tart, the biggest challenge with consuming these berries is added sugar which can work against attempts to balance blood sugar in those with diabetes. There are studies that support cardiovascular benefits of consuming cranberries, and as heart health should be top of mind for anyone with diabetes, including these tart berries is positive and healthy. Just make sure to limit the sugar that often accompanies them.
No carbohydrates here! Eggs contain protein and fat in the yolks and make for a healthy start to the day or snack when you need a pick-me-up. The new dietary guidelines for Americans lifted all restrictions on dietary cholesterol so eggs are back on the menu. The yolks of eggs contain significant amounts of protein, zinc, choline, and vitamins A and D. Hard boil some to stock for the week when you need a burst of energy but want to keep blood sugar stable.
Flaxseeds are a great source of fiber as well as omega-3 fatty acids; two important nutrients for people with diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to have associations with positive health outcomes in those with diabetes. Eating flaxseeds is a great way to start your day but keep in mind that whole seeds cannot be broken open by the body during digestion. Grinding them is the best way to get access to their health effects.
Garlic is more than just a delicious addition to any savory dish. It is one of the spices also known to exert beneficial effects for those with diabetes. In a review of the literature, garlic does play a role in reducing blood sugar. Add it to sauces, salad dressing, spread it on veggies or bread or roast it up on its own to serve with dinner tonight.
Studies have shown that the herb ginger may help to lower blood sugar in animal studies. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory because of its gingerol and other phenolic antioxidant compounds. Keep in mind that often ginger comes coated in sugar as chews or candy so make sure to use it fresh in your recipes to minimize added carbohydrate and reduce spikes in blood sugar.
Tart citrus fruits are a great way to start the day for a boost of nutrients and are so much better for blood sugar balance than sweet breakfasts like baked goods or other treats. Not only is grapefruit hydrating, it contains immune boosting vitamin C which acts as an antioxidant and can support the immune system which can be compromised in people with diabetes.
Green peas are a green veggie that counts towards your carbohydrate intake if you have diabetes because they can raise blood sugars unlike many other veggies which contain negligible amounts. One cup of green peas contains about 20 grams of carbohydrate but 7 of those grams are fiber. They also offer 8 grams of protein and lots of supportive vitamins and minerals. Avoiding green peas because they contain carbohydrates is a mistake because they are such a healthful food. Be sure to include them if you have diabetes – or if you don’t!
Delicious hazelnuts are a perfect on-the-go snack in a trail mix or sprinkled on cereal or oats at breakfast. Research supports the inclusion of hazelnuts in the diet, especially if you have diabetes. Studies indicate that a Mediterranean-style eating pattern that includes nuts like hazelnuts can improve cardiovascular risk factors in people with diabetes and lower risk for cardiovascular events and stroke. Control blood sugar and reduce cardiovascular risk while including these delicious nuts in your diet.
Sour citrus stimulates bile production, supporting digestion and is packed with antioxidant vitamin C. Utilize lemon in water as a refreshing beverage without any added sugar or carbohydrates or use it to brighten salad dressings and sauces for flavor without worry of raising blood sugars. For people with type 2 diabetes attempting to restrict sodium to 2,300 mg/day, lemon can help add flavor without the extra salt.
Lentils are absolutely packed with dietary fiber which helps people with diabetes in many ways. Adding delicious lentils in the diet increases satiety which can support weight control. A plant-based diet plus weight management is strongly supported in research as helpful for people with diabetes so include lentils as a fiber and protein source that is also full of vitamins and minerals.
All types of lettuce have value – from Romain to Iceberg. Though everyone should seek variety in the types of fruits and veggies they consume, focus on the type you enjoy the most and if that means you enjoy crunchy, pale Iceberg lettuce, that’s ok! All lettuce contains high water content in addition to fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Use lettuce as a vehicle for other nutritious foods – add a salad dressing full of healthy fats like olive oil or throw in other favorite veggies like tomatoes, onions and shredded carrots or beets.
This well-known superfood has been shown in studies to lower blood sugars. Green leafy vegetables may support people with diabetes through increased insulin hormone secretion or aid in enzymes that have to do with metabolizing blood sugar (glucose). Kale contains a high level of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but does not raise blood sugar so it fits very well into a diet for controlling diabetes. Make sure to remove the course stems and massage it a bit with your hands to soften it up before you eat it.
Sugar sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea and energy drinks offer challenges for people with diabetes. In addition to weight gain, drinking these types of beverages is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, creating spikes in blood sugar and insulin. Try unsweetened beverages like soda water, unsweetened tea and kombucha instead. Though a small amount of sugar is needed for fermentation of this tea, most of it is gone by the time of consumption. Kombucha is not only a lower sugar beverage, but also a source of probiotics for good gut health.
Mustard is the perfect condiment because it offers flavor without carbohydrate or fat. Spices including mustard have been shown in studies to exert several beneficial physiological effects for people with diabetes. When considering what condiment to use for flavoring your dishes or making a sauce, keep mustard top of mind, especially if you’re trying to balance your blood sugar.
This popular breakfast cereal can fuel your brain for hours; the perfect way to start the day. The type of fiber in oats can help your cardiovascular system by lowering LDL/bad cholesterol, helping keep plaque buildup at a minimum and supporting optimal blood flow to the brain. Slow burning complex carbohydrates like oats can provide steady blood sugar to optimize energy. Oats do raise blood sugar so make sure to consider your portion size; a half-cup of cooked oats equals about 30 grams, or 2 carbohydrate servings for people who count their carbs.
Olive oil is notoriously heart healthy; a very important factor in people with diabetes. The Mediterranean-style eating pattern – think whole grains, seafood, fresh produce, olive oil and even a little wine – has been observed to improve cardiovascular risk factors including blood lipids, blood pressure, triglycerides specifically in those with diabetes. Better yet, studies show that individuals following Mediterranean-style diet while also restricting calories achieve improvements in blood sugar control.
Onions are another allium vegetable like garlic and are packed with the antioxidant quercetin which studies show support detoxification and do not raise blood sugar. The sulfur-containing compounds in these veggies act as antioxidants and offer support to memory in studies, keeping you sharp. Onions are another way to increase flavor while keeping salt and sugar low so chop onion in to sauces and stews, use it as a base to any savory dish and add it to sandwiches and salads.
Oranges are packed with the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin and potassium, which may help control blood pressure, a common concern for people with diabetes. Bonus: oranges and other citrus are rich in antioxidant vitamin C. One large study showed that just one extra serving of fruit and vegetables a day, including oranges, reduced the risk of stroke by 4%.
Incredibly rich in fiber, pears also contain heart healthy vitamins C and K. Many of the pear’s benefits, including most of the fiber and antioxidant flavonoids, are contained in the skin of the fruit so be sure to eat your pears unpeeled. Cut a pear in half and combine with a fat and protein source like some nuts or a hardboiled egg to balance blood sugars while having a very healthful snack.
Filling and nutritious, a serving of popcorn is a full three cups. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber perfect for snacking on when focusing on controlling blood sugars. Make sure to experiment with seasoning aside from butter and salt – try olive oil and black pepper or nutritional yeast instead.
A delicious, nutty, gluten-free whole grain, quinoa is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants including several members of the vitamin E tocopherol family. Though quinoa contains carbohydrate, it still ranks at about 50 on the glycemic index scale which identifies the blood sugar response of consuming a food on a scale of 0-100. One study that looked at improvements in type 2 diabetes markers like A1c, including low-glycemic foods like quinoa elicited moderate improvements. Eat quinoa as a salad, side-dish or even as a replacement for oatmeal at breakfast.
Fatty fish full of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are important for people with diabetes. Studies have shown that the recommendation for everyone to eat fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times per week is also appropriate for people with diabetes as they have beneficial effects on lipoproteins, prevention of heart disease, and associations with positive health outcomes in observational studies.
Studies have shown that an antioxidant in seaweed called fucoxanthin may help decrease body weight, body fat accumulation, and the size of adipocytes (fat cells). Because of its link to weight reduction, fucoxanthin and other compounds in sea vegetables also have been studied in relation to antidiabetic effects and blood sugar control. Don’t hesitate to include seaweed in your diet in sushi or as a crispy snack.
Green leafies like spinach have been shown in studies to lower blood sugars. Vegetables in this family may mediate through increased insulin hormone secretion or aid in enzymes that have to do with metabolizing blood sugar (glucose). Spinach is so versatile and less bitter than some other similar greens so you can chop it into eggs, add it to casseroles and stews or even blend it into a smoothie for a boost of nutrients (not blood sugar).
No matter their color, squash varieties are supportive of health. Yellow colored winter squash contains fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including beta and alpha-carotene, carotenoids that can act as antioxidants that support the immune system and eye health; two considerations for people with diabetes.
Everyone’s favorite red berry contains more vitamin C per serving than some citrus. They are also packed with folate. 1 cup provides about 10% of our daily recommended intake which studies have shown plays an important role in their blood sugar impact. Folate deficiency has been associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes while improvements in type 2 diabetes have been linked to increased intake of folate.
Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals that aid in health for people with diabetes. Don’t fear them because they contain carbohydrates (or because they contain the word ‘sweet’); they also offer important antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E as well as B vitamins and minerals like manganese, copper, and phosphorus. Make sure to assess portion and cut a large sweet potato in half, consuming less to avoid larger impacts on blood sugar.
Research on plant-based vegetarian and vegan diets for people with diabetes is well documented to be beneficial. When a plant-based diet restricts caloric intake resulting in weight loss, studies found an improvement in glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors. Tofu is not only a versatile protein source for people with diabetes – it is also packed with healthy fat, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Tomatoes are a staple in the Mediterranean diet which has been observed in studies to improve cardiovascular risk factors for people with diabetes. Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants vitamin C and lycopene to help quench free radicals and calm inflammation. They are also rich in potassium for blood pressure control for further cardiovascular benefit which is important to protect the kidneys of people with type 2 diabetes.
Turmeric root contains the anti-inflammatory compound curcumin and is known to lower blood sugar so much so that you should consult your MD before supplementing with it if you take medications for diabetes. You don’t have to worry about that interaction from food sources so add turmeric to recipes and curries for an antioxidant boost.
Studies have indicated that vinegar ingestion at mealtime reduces blood sugar increases after meals in individuals with type 2 diabetes. The way it works could have to do with the active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, which may slow the movement of food through the digestive system, making people feel fuller for longer.
Walnuts are the perfect accompaniment to a diet that research says helps improve cardiovascular risk factors for people with diabetes; the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that eating this healthy diet plan and also including nuts like walnuts is supportive of both blood sugars and heart health. Walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in addition to minerals manganese and copper. Since not everyone wants to get their omega-3 fatty acids from salmon or anchovies, walnuts can be a great plant-based alternative.
Balance blood sugar with a healthy fermented food like yogurt for the added benefit of gut health. Not all brands and varieties are equal, and some can have as much added sugar as a can of cola so read your labels carefully and look for a high protein, low sugar variety. Plain yogurt can be doctored up with other beneficial foods like cinnamon and fruit for an on-the-go snack.
Rich in vitamins and minerals but not in carbohydrates, zucchini can be an important addition to a diabetic diet. Get your fill of B-vitamins, copper, vitamin C and fiber to slow digestion as you incorporate these in healthy ways. Try zucchini “chips” or “zoodles” as replacements for foods like potato chips or noodles that otherwise would raise your blood sugars.
What are your favorite foods for balancing blood sugars and supporting the cardiovascular system for people with diabetes? Let us know in the comments!