Diabetes is a disease that causes elevated blood sugar levels due to a lack of insulin, the body’s inability to use insulin, or both.
Poorly managed diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels and nerve cells, which may lead to foot problems and a condition called neuropathy. High blood sugar levels can also cause damage to the eyes and kidneys, and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Foods that can help manage blood sugar
People with diabetes should first make sure that they have a regular eating routine. Having a source of fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat with each meal helps to control blood sugar levels throughout the day.
People should limit quick-digesting carbohydrates like white bread and pasta. Instead, they should opt for slower-digesting carbohydrates with extra nutrients like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and berries. These cause a smaller spike in blood sugar.
Nine diabetes superfoods
Here are nine examples of foods that can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet for people with diabetes.
Walnuts contain fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
The combination of fiber, protein and healthy fats in walnuts makes them a great alternative to simple carbohydrate snacks like chips or crackers.
The fatty acids in walnuts can increase good cholesterol while decreasing harmful cholesterol. This may reduce the risk of heart disease or heart attack. People with diabetes are at a greater risk for these conditions.
People whose diets include large amounts of nuts put on less weight than those that do not, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Weight loss can help to reduce blood sugars.
- Add crushed walnuts to yogurt, oats, or salad
- Make a trail mix treat with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate chips
The avocado is the only fruit that is a good source of healthy fat. Avocados also provide about 20 different vitamins and minerals and are especially high in potassium, vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene.
Eating foods that contain healthy fats may help increase fullness. Eating fat slows the digestion of carbohydrates, which helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Avocado is high in fiber too, with half a fruit containing 6-7 grams. According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intake is associated with a significantly lower risk for diabetes.
Eating high-fiber foods can also reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve weight loss, and make insulin more efficient.
- Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter
- Use avocado instead of mayonnaise in chicken or egg salad
3. Ezekiel bread
Ezekiel bread has a higher protein and nutrient content than other bread.
Ezekiel bread and other sprouted grain bread are less processed than standard white and whole wheat bread. The grains in Ezekiel bread are soaked and sprouted, allowing for higher protein and nutrient content. Bread made from sprouted grains tends to contain more B vitamins, fiber, folate, and vitamin C than other bread.
Ezekiel bread is often found in the freezer section. Sprouted grain bread have a denser consistency and are best when toasted.
- Toast Ezekiel bread and top with avocado, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and black pepper
- People can also find sprouted grain bagels, English muffins, pizza crust, and tortillas
4. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium. The body needs magnesium for over 300 processes, including breaking down food for energy.
A lack of magnesium is linked to insulin resistance, a main cause of diabetes. For every 100-milligram-a-day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes falls by around 15 percent.
Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds contain 74 milligrams of magnesium. This is around a quarter of the recommended daily amount.
- Brush pumpkin seeds with olive oil, season with cumin, and bake until brown and toasted
- Make pumpkin seed butter by blending whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth
One study found that fisetin, a substance contained in strawberries, prevented both kidney and brain complications in mice with diabetes.
Other human studies have suggested that a higher intake of berries lowers the risk of diabetes.
One cup of fresh strawberries contains 160 percent of an adult’s daily needs for vitamin C at only 50 calories. Several studies have shown a link between lack of vitamin C and diabetes.
- Make a superfood salad by mixing strawberries, spinach, and walnuts
- Add frozen strawberries to a smoothie with milk and peanut butter
6. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium.
High-fiber diets are linked with stable blood sugar levels and a lower risk of developing diabetes. Despite this, most adults are still not meeting their daily fiber needs.
Just 1 ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50.
- Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt, cereal, and oats.
- Chia can be a substitute for eggs in baking. Mix 1 tablespoon of chia with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes. The seeds will absorb the water and form a gel that can be used instead of an egg.
Ginger may reduce fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Anti-inflammatory diets and foods can help to treat and relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term diseases like diabetes. Plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants are at the top of the anti-inflammatory foods list.
Ginger has been shown to be high in antioxidants and healthy compounds that enhance its anti-inflammatory powers.
Studies on ginger and diabetes are limited. However, research has shown that ginger reduces fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Steep peeled fresh ginger in boiling water to make ginger tea
- Add fresh or dried ginger to a stir-fry or homemade salad dressing
Low potassium intake is linked with a higher risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.
Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary potassium, with 839 milligrams per cup when cooked. One cup of banana has about 539 milligrams of potassium.
- Throw a handful of spinach into a smoothie
- Add spinach to sandwiches instead of iceberg lettuce
Cinnamon has been shown in some studies to lower blood sugars in people with diabetes, though not all studies agree. Participants in one study who took a high dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 percent to 8.0 percent. Participants who took a low dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 to 8.2 percent. Participants who did not take cinnamon saw no change.
- Try cinnamon on sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, and butternut squash
- Stir cinnamon into tea or warm milk
Example superfood meal plan
- Toasted Ezekiel bread (complex carbohydrate)
- Avocado (healthy fat)
- Spinach (antioxidants)
- Hard-boiled egg (lean protein and healthy fat)
- Leafy greens
- Quinoa (complex carbohydrate and lean protein)
- Roasted beets (antioxidants)
- Lean protein (like tuna or chicken)
- Chopped apple (complex carb)
- Walnut and pumpkin seed mix (healthy fat and lean protein)
- Salmon (lean protein and healthy fat)
- Fresh ginger (antioxidants)
- Sweet potato (complex carb) topped with cinnamon
- A choice of veggie