Smoothies for People with Diabetes

Smoothies may seem like a healthful option, but they can be a very bad choice for people who have diabetes.

Many people with diabetes are well-informed about what they can and cannot eat. They know also that choosing premade meals, snacks, and drinks can be challenging. People with diabetes have to be very careful when ordering smoothies in restaurants, as these often contain far too much sugar and not enough protein and fat.

With some modifications, however, smoothies can be enjoyed either at home or at a restaurant.

Things to consider when making a smoothie

People with diabetes must pay careful attention to their carbohydrate intake. Avoiding low-quality carbohydrates, such as sugar or white flour, and using dietary fiber as their guide in choosing carbohydrates, are the best dietary options for them.

A person with diabetes should consider some of the following:

Extra fat can be a good thing

[avocado cucumber and chia seed smoothie]
There are many sources of healthful fats that can be used in smoothies, such as avocado and chia seeds.

The debate can be very confusing between good and bad fat, what is good and bad cholesterol, and the ever-changing guidelines on what offers the best balance between them.

However, in short, some fats are very beneficial to people with diabetes, as they help slow down the speed at which sugar enters the blood.

Some sources of fat that can be added to a morning smoothie include:

  • almond or peanut butter
  • chia seeds
  • avocado
  • raw pecans
  • raw walnuts
  • coconut oil

Include extra protein

Similarly to fat, protein offers many health benefits that are particularly important to people with diabetes. For example, high-protein content slows the absorption of food, which reduces the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream.

Protein does not always need to come from an animal or animal byproduct. Many foods contain high amounts of protein, and adding them to a smoothie in the morning will offer great benefits.

Some proteins to include in a smoothie include:

  • plain Greek yogurt
  • hemp seeds, and other seeds
  • almonds
  • pea protein
  • whey protein
  • milk

Make the smoothie high in fiber

Soluble fiber found in some carbohydrates is ideal for people with diabetes to consume. Unlike sugar and simple carbohydrates, which cause dangerous spikes and crashes in blood sugar, fiber is much more like protein and fat in that it is harder to breakdown.

[spinach smoothies on a wooden table]
Adding leafy greens like spinach can ensure that a smoothie is nutritious and high in fiber.

This slow digestion means that fiber, along with sugar from carbohydrates, enters the bloodstream over a period of time rather than in quick bursts.

Foods high in fiber that might work well in a smoothie include:

  • most fruits, including raspberries, oranges, nectarines, peaches, and blueberries
  • vegetables, including leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • nuts
  • chia seeds

Avoid adding extra sugar

Most people with diabetes know that adding extra sugar to their diet should be avoided. Many foods already have sugar in them, and many others have hidden sugars. For example, canned fruits are preserved in sugar-filled syrups, and honey and maple syrup are also, basically, sugar.

Some alternatives to milk, such as almond or soy milk, may also contain added sugar. When making a smoothie, it is important not to add extra sugar or sweetened ingredients. However, there are ways to make it more flavorful.

Limit carbohydrate servings to three or less

When making a smoothie, a person with diabetes must make sure they know the amount of carbohydrate they are putting it. In general, people with diabetes should look to include 45 grams (g) or less of carbohydrates. Using measuring cups, spoons and the diabetes exchange list, is a good way to measure how many carbohydrates to put in the smoothie.

Low-GI level fruits and vegetables

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food item will raise blood sugar. Generally, a lower-scoring food means that sugar in it will absorb more slowly than a food with a higher GI.

All fruits and vegetables have different GI scores, as they all contain different amounts of sugar and fiber. Generally, foods with a rating of around 50 or less are considered good.

Glycemic load (GL) is also calculated to compensate for how many grams of carbohydrates are in a typical serving. This gives a more accurate picture of how the food will actually affect people’s blood sugar levels. A GL of less than 10 is low, while a GL greater than 20 is high.

Good smoothie fruits

In terms of making a fruit smoothie, people with diabetes should use fruits that have low GI and GL levels.

[cherry smoothie bowl]
Cherries have a low GI score, making them a delicious and healthful addition to a smoothie.

Here are a few examples of fruits with low GI scores:

  • cherries have a GI Score of 22, and a GL of 3
  • grapefruits have a GI Score of 25 and a GL of 3
  • pears have a GI Score of 38 and a GL of 4.2
  • apples have a GI Score of 38 and a GL of 5.7
  • plums have a GI Score of 39 and a GL of 5.7
  • strawberries have a GI Score of 40 and a GL of 3.8
  • oranges have a GI Score of 42 and a GL of 5.9
  • raspberries have a GI Score of 32 and a GL of 2.6

Good smoothie vegetables

Vegetables also have different GI scores.

Here are a few examples of low scoring vegetables that would be good in a smoothie:

  • green peas have a GI Score of 54 and a GL of 4
  • carrots have a GI Score of 71 but a GL of 6
  • pumpkin has a GI Score of 75 but a GL of 3
  • spinach has a GI Score of 15 and a GL of 0
  • broccoli has a GI Score of 10 and a GL of 0
  • cabbage has a GI Score of 10 and a GL of 0
  • kale has a GI Score of 2-4 and a GL of 0

Other good ingredients to use

A good smoothie often contains more than just fruits, vegetables, and a fat source. Other ingredients can add both flavor and nutrition. Some additional ingredients to think about include:

[raw almond milk in a glass bottle]
Unsweetened almond or soy milk is a good alternative to regular milk for people looking to avoid dairy.
  • unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • ice for extra chill
  • reduced-fat or whole milk
  • a small amount of oatmeal
  • extracts, such as vanilla or almond
  • cinnamon
  • cocoa powder
  • black coffee
  • natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • nutmeg
  • ginger
  • turmeric

Considerations for people with diabetes and another health condition

People with diabetes may have other existing conditions to contend with, such as high blood pressure, obesity, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance. These other conditions may limit what kinds of ingredients can be used in a smoothie.

Lactose intolerance

People who are lactose intolerant should avoid adding dairy milk or any byproducts of dairy milk, such as yogurt, to a smoothie. Almond milk or soy milk are good alternatives, and they can be used instead of milk in nearly any smoothie recipe.

Celiac disease

People who have celiac disease are unable to eat anything that contains gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Most smoothies do not contain wheat naturally, but for people who like to add whey protein to their smoothie, it may become an issue.

Whey itself is gluten-free, but some manufacturers add fillers with gluten in them. Either check the label before buying or try other, plant-derived proteins.

Obesity

People who are overweight or obese will need to control their calorie level and emphasize plant foods and fiber. In general, a smoothie that is suitable for a person with diabetes will probably be suitable for a person who is overweight.

High blood pressure

People who have high blood pressure should avoid coffee-based smoothies and stick to vegetable and fruit smoothies instead. There are many foods that people with high blood pressure can eat, including beets, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. All of these can be good additions to a smoothie.

People with high blood pressure should also avoid foods that contain excess salt.

Other health benefits of smoothies

Smoothies can offer a complete liquid meal. Often drunk at the beginning of the day, they can contain enough protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat to keep a person satisfied.

In addition, smoothies can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs. The more nutrients a person gets, the better their overall health. Proper nourishment can improve a person’s cholesterol levels, reduce fat, build muscle, promote healthier nervous and circulatory systems, and improve energy levels.

Breakfast Ideas for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Sugary cereals, bagels covered in cream cheese, and high-fat bacon breakfasts are the subjects of many food fantasies. However, they are all poor choices for people with diabetes.

Diabetes management requires attention to sugar and carbohydrates. To optimize heart health, people with diabetes should also steer clear of high-fat foods that have little nutritional value.

This does not mean that people with diabetes have to have dull breakfasts. A number of classic breakfasts are excellent choices. A few minor tweaks to traditional breakfasts can make many of them healthful even for people with type 2 diabetes.

Classic breakfasts for type 2 diabetes

Breakfasts high in fiber, but low in added sugar, carbohydrates, and salt are excellent choices for people with diabetes. Nutrient-dense foods support feelings of fullness, which can help stop people snacking on unhealthful options.

Some healthful breakfast options include the following:

Smoothies

[blueberry chia seed smoothie]
Smoothies with berries and chia seeds are a delicious and nutritious way to start the morning.

Fruit juices contain rapidly absorbed sugar and, sometimes, artificial sweeteners that can either trigger blood sugar spikes or affect insulin sensitivity and gut bacteria. Smoothies offer the same sweet taste as juice but contain lots of nutrients that help fight hunger.

There are many ways to include different nutrients in a smoothie. Load up on the fiber by using spinach, kale, or avocado in a smoothie. Layer on sweetness by adding frozen berries, bananas, apples, or peaches.

Make sure to include some fat or protein to make the smoothie as filling as possible. This will also slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates.

Adding a scoop of a protein powder or one-half of a cup of Greek yogurt can make a smoothie even more satisfying.

Try this diabetes-friendly smoothie:

  • Blend two cups of frozen raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries with an avocado, and one-half of a cup of kale.
  • Add water to thin the consistency.
  • Use chia seeds to add good fat and extra fiber to the smoothie. They won’t change the taste when balanced with fruit or yogurt.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is rich in fiber, which means it can slow blood sugar absorption, ease digestion, and fight hunger. It also contains almost 5.5 grams (g) of protein per cup of cooked oatmeal, making it a nutrient-dense breakfast option.

Sprinkle with cinnamon for flavor, but avoid loading oatmeal with honey or brown sugar. Instead, sweeten the oatmeal with raspberries, blueberries, or cherries. Fresh fruit is best.

Walnuts can add omega-3 heart healthful fats, protein and texture for an even more nourishing breakfast.

Eggs

A large-sized boiled egg contains about 6 to 7 g of protein. Eggs may also help fight diabetes. According to a 2015 study, middle-aged and older men who ate the most eggs were 38 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least eggs.

Another study found that people with diabetes who ate eggs daily could reduce their body fat and BMI, without increasing hemoglobin A1c levels.

A hard-boiled egg seasoned with black or cayenne pepper is an ideal on-the-go breakfast snack. To increase fiber intake, people with diabetes can try a spinach or kale omelet.

Poached eggs are also a good option, and can be layered on sweet potato “toast.” People with diabetes who crave toast can use sprouted grain bread.

Instead of seasoning omelets and other egg breakfasts with salt, people should try peppers, such as cayenne or diced jalapeños instead.

Cereal

Many popular bowls of cereal are incredibly high in sugar, including those that are marketed as “healthful.” Muesli with unsweetened almond milk, however, offers a fiber-rich, low sugar alternative. Use the 5-5 rule when navigating the cereal aisle: aim for at least 5 g of fiber and less than 5 g of sugar per serving.

Yogurt

[greek yogurt and berries]
People who like sweet foods can try adding berries to their greek yogurt.

Unsweetened yogurt is a perfectly healthful breakfast for people with diabetes. Greek yogurt, which contains about-about 10 g of protein per 100 g, is even better. For those people who prefer sweet foods, sprinkle on some raspberries or blueberries and some pumpkin seeds. This is a protein-rich breakfast that also offers some fiber and some good fats.

Fruit

Fruit can be a good option for breakfast, but large quantities of fruit can cause blood sugar spikes. On its own, most fruit isn’t very filling either.

Avocados are a major exception, offering about-about 10 g of fiber per cup. Rich in heart-healthful fats, these hearty fruits offer a filling breakfast. People with diabetes can try filling an avocado with low-salt cottage cheese or an egg.

Diabetes-friendly takes on classic breakfasts

Sizzling bacon and sausage might smell great, but they are high in cholesterol and salt. This makes them bad choices for people with diabetes.

White bread toast, English muffins, and bagels are low in nutrients, but high in carbohydrates. Gooey cinnamon rolls can lead people to diabetes to a sugar-induced crash.

If someone with diabetes is craving an indulgent breakfast, they can try one of these options instead.

Bacon and sausage alternatives

Meat substitutes such as tofu and other plant-based proteins taste surprisingly similar to bacon and sausage, especially when mixed into another dish. Before trying a meat alternative, however, people with diabetes should check the salt content.

For a modern take on the classic bacon, lettuce, and tomato breakfast sandwich, people can try layering vegetarian bacon and ripe tomatoes on sprouted or whole grain bread.

Bread

Not all bread is bad for people with diabetes. The problem is that white bread is low in nutrients, and can elevate blood sugar. Sprouted grain and sourdough bread are the best bread choices for fiber, probiotic content, and digestibility. However, some people with diabetes may find that any type of bread spikes their blood sugar levels

[almond butter]
Almond butter will increase the nutritional value of having the toast for breakfast.

To increase the nutritional value of bread, people can consider one of the following breakfasts:

  • Avocado sweet potato toast: Slice a sweet potato long-wise into one-quarter inch thick slices. Fully toast the slices and spread the avocado, adding a poached egg on top if desired. Increase the flavor by adding jalapeño slices or cayenne pepper.
  • Bagel substitute: Try toasted sprouted grain bread with peanut or almond butter. Raspberries or walnuts taste great on top.

Pastry alternatives

People with diabetes who love pastries can find a number of sugar-free alternative recipes online. With these, it is important to check the ingredients carefully and keep portions small.

When diabetes is otherwise well-controlled, it’s fine to enjoy small pastries as an occasional breakfast treat. People should balance a sweet breakfast with foods that are high in fiber and, or protein, such as avocado or almonds. This will help control blood sugar.

Simple breakfast rules

A healthful breakfast for people with diabetes does not have to be limited to a small number of recipes. A few guidelines can help people to eat well no matter what their taste preferences are:

  • Maximize protein intake. Protein can help people feel full. It also enables the development of healthy tissue and muscles. Nuts, legumes, and animal products, such as dairy and meat are excellent sources of protein.
  • Fiber can combat blood sugar spikes, support feelings of fullness, and encourage digestive health. Most vegetables, many fruits, nuts, seeds, wheat bran, and oat bran are rich in fiber.
  • Sugar isn’t just found in food, be careful of beverages too. Water is a more healthful choice than juice and other sweetened drinks. Sodas and sweetened coffees and teas can cause blood sugar to surge, so limit sweeteners.
  • Eating two smaller morning meals 2-3 hours apart can reduce blood sugar level changes while supporting a healthy weight. Many people with diabetes thrive on a diet that includes five to seven small meals a day.
  • High-sodium diets can undermine heart health and elevate blood pressure. People with diabetes should be especially cautious about salt intake. Most salt comes from packaged foods, so it is better to stick to fresh and home-cooked foods instead. Potassium-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, and bananas will help to offset sodium’s effects on health.
  • Watch portion size. A healthful breakfast can cause unhealthy weight gain when consumed in large quantities. People with diabetes should read the package or label to determine appropriate serving size.