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.

How Should I Organize My Diet To Help My Diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the most commonly occurring long-term medical conditions in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2014, over 422 million people worldwide have diabetes. Diabetes complications can include blindness, kidney problems, and heart disease.

Similar to many long-term diseases, complications may be prevented with proper management of the condition.

“Diet is one of the key elements in managing diabetes,” Amparo Gonzalez, RN, CDE, of the Johnson and Johnson Diabetes Institute. “People with diabetes need to manage the amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and overall calories they eat daily.”

“When it comes to diet, it’s also important to remember moderation and portion control are essential.”

The basics of diabetes

The two major types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

A girl holding a glucometer.
Making the right food choices is important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes often develops early in life, and the cause is not fully understood. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system damages the cells that make a hormone called insulin. The result is insufficient insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight. It can develop in both children and adults. People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or the insulin they do produce is not used efficiently.

Fortunately, both types of diabetes can be managed through medication and lifestyle choices, such as healthy eating. Making healthy food choices and limiting unsuitable foods is a large part of a diabetes treatment plan.

Important goals for managing diabetes through diet include controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

The role of diet in diabetes

After eating, food breaks down into glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar and a major source of energy for the body.

In response to an increase in glucose levels, the body releases insulin. Insulin is an essential hormone because it allows the cells in the body to absorb glucose. It also plays a role in helping the body store protein and fat.

In people who have diabetes, their body may stop making insulin, not make sufficient levels of insulin, or may not use insulin efficiently. Without proper insulin production and use, glucose may not be absorbed by the cells. Instead, glucose levels rise in the bloodstream.

There are a couple of problems when blood sugar levels in the bloodstream become high. The cells don’t get the energy they need, and fatigue can occur.

High blood sugar levels over time can also damage blood vessels in the body. When the blood vessels become damaged, various complications can occur, such as kidney and heart disease, and vision loss.

The good news is that by making the right choices, people can manage their diabetes more effectively, keep glucose levels steady, and lower the risk of possible complications.

How does food affect blood sugar levels?

Different foods affect blood sugar levels differently. The three macronutrients the body uses are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates affect glucose levels the most. When eaten alone, protein and fat do not have a significant impact on glucose levels.

It’s important to remember that many foods contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Since food can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, it’s essential to make good food choices and monitor carbohydrate intake.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for people with diabetes. Several individual factors play a role in dietary choices, including whether a person is overweight, has kidney disease, and whether they have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

It’s always best to get nutritional advice from a registered dietitian. The guide below provides some general dietary guidelines to help manage diabetes.

Suitable food choices for people with diabetes

It’s difficult to state recommendations for an exact number of grams of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, a person with diabetes should eat.

A glucometer with fruit, vegetables, and grains.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good choices for people with diabetes.

According to dietary guidelines released by the American Diabetic Association (ADA), there is no conclusive evidence supporting an ideal amount of carbohydrates or other nutrients for people with diabetes.

Instead, an emphasis is placed on choosing healthy foods, including:

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates differ from simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly. They also often contain fiber, and they do not affect blood sugar levels as significantly as simple carbohydrates.

Foods containing complex carbohydrates include:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Sweet potatoes

Lean protein

The ADA guidelines do not provide a specific protein intake recommendation for blood sugar control. Again, the focus is on healthy choices.

People with diabetes should keep in mind that some sources of protein can be high in fat, which can contribute to weight gain.

The ADA recommend lean sources of protein including:

  • Fish (herring, sardines, salmon, tuna)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, soy nuts)
  • Lentils

Healthy fats

Fat is an essential nutrient. Certain types of fat, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are considered healthy fats. More important than the quantity of fat is the type of fat eaten, however.

Suitable fat choices include:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed

Unsuitable food choices for people with diabetes

People with diabetes should also be aware of food choices that can cause spikes in blood sugar and contribute to being overweight. When choosing foods, it’s helpful to limit those listed below.

A selection of foods that are bad for people with diabetes.
People with diabetes should limit refined carbohydrates and foods containing hidden sugars.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates may include foods containing processed sugar or refined grains. Most refined carbohydrates have their fiber removed and have limited nutritional value. They also lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Refined carbohydrates to be limited include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Cereal with added sugar

Trans fat and saturated fat

Excessive amounts of saturated fats and any amount of trans fats are unhealthy for everyone. They can raise “bad” cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.

Foods that are high in trans fat and saturated fat include:

  • Fried food
  • Chips
  • Commercially baked cookies and cakes
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Food containing partially hydrogenated oil

Hidden sugar

People with diabetes should also be aware of foods with hidden sugar. Some foods may look healthy but have a high sugar content on closer inspection.

Always check food labels to determine the sugar and carbohydrate content.

Foods that often contain hidden sugar include:

  • Yogurt
  • Granola
  • Canned fruit packed in syrup
  • Canned pasta sauce
  • Frozen dinners
  • Bottled condiments

Daily and weekly menu planning tips

People with diabetes may benefit from daily and weekly meal planning. Meal planning can help someone choose foods that keep glucose levels steady and help them maintain a healthy weight. Meal planning should also include keeping track of what is eaten.

There are three main ways for people to track what they eat: carbohydrate counting, glycemic index, and the plate method.

Plate method: Divide the plate into three categories. Half the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables. One-fourth should consist of whole grains and complex starchy food. The remaining fourth of the plate should contain lean protein.

Carb counting: Carbohydrate counting involves planning how many grams of carbohydrates are eaten with each meal and snack.

Glycemic index: The glycemic index categorizes food by how much it increases blood sugar. Foods that have a high glycemic index raise blood sugar more than foods with a low glycemic index. Meal planning using the glycemic index involves choosing foods that are low or medium on the glycemic index.

Whether planning daily or weekly menus, it’s also important for people with diabetes to keep the following in mind:

  • Eating at regularly set times
  • Avoiding skipping meals as it can affect blood sugar levels
  • Spacing meals and snacks out to prevent large changes in blood sugar levels
  • Eating a wide range of foods
  • Thinking about the size of servings
  • Avoiding carbohydrate-only meals that can cause higher blood sugar spikes

Nine Diabetes Superfoods and How to Prepare Them

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.

1. Walnuts

Hands holding walnuts.
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

2. Avocado

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

A loaf of 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

5. Strawberries

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.

7. Ginger

A cup of ginger tea.
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

8. Spinach

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

9. Cinnamon

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

Breakfast

  • Toasted Ezekiel bread (complex carbohydrate)
  • Avocado (healthy fat)
  • Spinach (antioxidants)
  • Hard-boiled egg (lean protein and healthy fat)

Lunch

  • Leafy greens
  • Quinoa (complex carbohydrate and lean protein)
  • Roasted beets (antioxidants)
  • Lean protein (like tuna or chicken)

Snack

  • Chopped apple (complex carb)
  • Walnut and pumpkin seed mix (healthy fat and lean protein)

Dinner

  • Salmon (lean protein and healthy fat)
  • Fresh ginger (antioxidants)
  • Sweet potato (complex carb) topped with cinnamon
  • A choice of veggie

Best Snacks For People With Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes can lead to a wide range of symptoms including high blood pressure, circulation issues, kidney damage, blindness, and skin problems. But the right diet can help manage these symptoms.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes can keep blood sugar in check. They may also help reduce the severity of diabetes symptoms such as high blood pressure.

Eating right can feel daunting, particularly at first, but people with diabetes can continue enjoying a wide range of snacks.

Foods high in protein

High-protein foods include nuts, legumes, animal products such as eggs and cheese, and alternatives to meat such as tofu and mushrooms.

[bowls of humous]
Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, makes an excellent protein-rich snack.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes that are satisfying and rich in protein include:

  • roasted chickpeas
  • apples or celery with almond butter
  • almonds, walnuts, or pistachios
  • trail mix, particularly if it doesn’t contain sweetened ingredients
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • turkey or smoked salmon roll-ups
  • plain yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt
  • low-sodium cottage cheese mixed with fresh fruit
  • diced avocado and cherry tomatoes
  • snap peas or other raw veggies with hummus

Several of these options can work well as both sweet and savory snacks. Honey-roasted chickpeas provide a good balance of sweet and savory. Nuts can be paired with slices of cheese or dried fruit. Adding nuts or fruit can also make yogurt sweeter or more savory.

For the turkey roll-ups, people can use thinly sliced turkey or lettuce to replace the pita. Adding hummus and vegetables makes for a hearty snack.

High-fiber snacks

Vegetables, legumes, and nuts are excellent sources of fiber. Whole grains, oats, and some fruits are as well.

People with diabetes can try some of these high-fiber snacks:

[yogurt with granola and figs]
Plain yogurt with oats and fruit, such as figs, is a high-fiber snack that can help a person feel full longer.
  • smoothies blended with high-fiber, non-starchy vegetables
  • sprouted, whole-grain bread
  • whole-grain or bean pasta
  • oatmeal, mixed with fresh berries or sliced banana for additional sweetness and fiber
  • avocado slices
  • figs dipped into Greek yogurt
  • kale or spinach chips, which can satisfy a chip craving without the added sodium and fat
  • carrots dipped in hummus offer protein and fiber in a low-sodium snack
  • sweet potato foods, including baked sweet potato fries, cooked whole sweet potatoes, or sweet potato toast

To sub sweet potatoes for toast, people should toast thinly sliced sweet potato for three or four cycles and top with regular choices of toppings.

People who dislike spinach, kale, or wheat grass can hide their tastes by adding sweet or citrusy fruits such as oranges and mangoes to smoothies while still getting high-fiber nutrition.

Whole-grain bread and bean pasta are an excellent way to manage carbohydrate cravings. To increase their nutritional value, people can try adding almond butter to whole-grain bread or eating high-fiber bean pasta mixed with vegetables.

Snacks for diabetes: The basics

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes promote feelings of fullness, reducing any urges to snack on unhealthy packaged foods and sweets. There are healthful foods in every food group, so there’s no need to feel like diabetes means foregoing enjoyable food.

No single snack is perfect, and no food can provide perfect nutrition. That is why it is important to eat a wide variety of foods and to try a range of snacks.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes will offer one or more of the following benefits:

High fiber

High-carbohydrate diets can elevate blood sugar levels. Fiber, which is a carbohydrate, is an exception to this rule, however.

[oats on a wooden spoon]
Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which helps control blood sugar levels.

Fiber comes in two main varieties, both of which are good for people with diabetes.

Soluble fiber is found in high levels in oat bran, legumes, and some fruits. This type of fiber controls blood sugar levels and can lower cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber is found in high levels in wheat bran and many fruits and vegetables. It can relieve constipation and may reduce the risk of cancer.

Because fiber is digested slowly, it can increase feelings of fullness. This makes it an ideal snack component that can prevent overeating.

People with diabetes should consume 25 grams (g) or more of dietary fiber each day.

Low sugar

Sugary foods can elevate blood sugar and cause weight gain. Sweets such as cookies, cupcakes, and candy are obvious sources of high sugar.

People with diabetes also need to be mindful of carbohydrates, such as those found in bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, and many other foods. Carbohydrates aren’t bad on their own, but keeping carb intake low can control blood sugar.

Drinks such as soda, sweetened fruit juices, and alcohol also contain high levels of sugar. Adding these beverages to an otherwise healthful snack can cause blood sugar levels to spike.

High protein

Protein supports feelings of fullness between meals. It is the body’s building block, supporting healthy muscles, organs, and skin.

While everyone needs protein in their diet, protein is particularly important for people who are physically active or who lift weights. The average person needs at least 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight per day. This works out at 56 g a day for the average man and 46 g a day for the average woman.

However, research generally suggests that people should consume even more than these minimal amounts. A 2005 study found that women who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of total calories a day ate 441 fewer calories per day. They also lost weight during the 12 weeks. There was no follow-up to confirm if those women maintained the weight loss, however.

Increasing protein intake may support healthy weight loss and reduce unhealthy snacking.

Low sodium

[man pondering his options at the supermarket by stroking his chin]
A large percentage of sodium intake comes from salt added to processed foods, so reading the nutritional label is important.

A low-sodium diet can lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

While reducing the use of table salt can help, as much as 75 percent of sodium intake comes from salt processed foods rather than adding salt to meals.

Portion control

No matter how healthful a snack is, eating too much of it can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This may disrupt blood sugar levels.

Consulting a snack’s nutrition facts makes it easier for people to eat a single serving. Nutrition facts also provide information about calorie, protein, sugar, and carbohydrate content.

Other tips for healthful snacking

Healthful snacking with diabetes is not just about choosing the right foods. Knowing which foods to avoid, how to manage cravings, and how fluid intake affects appetite is also vital.

The following strategies support healthful snacking with diabetes. People should aim to:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Thirst can feel like hunger, and drinking water can support feelings of fullness.
  • Limit consumption of sodas, sweetened juices, and other sweetened drinks. Coffee and tea are fine in moderation, but adding sugar, cream, and other flavoring agents can elevate blood sugar.
  • Limit processed and prepackaged foods. This is the simplest way to reduce sodium and sugar intake. Stick to the refrigerated sections of the grocery store and avoid most of the freezer sections.
  • Space meals evenly throughout the day to avoid blood sugar dips and spikes. It is preferable to eat five to seven small snacks or meals instead of three large meals.
  • Avoid fried foods, particularly fried meats.

Legumes May Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health concern in the United States and across the globe. New research shows that a high consumption of legumes significantly reduces the risk of developing the disease.
[various types of legumes]
A new study suggests that a high consumption of legumes can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 35 percent.

The legume family consists of plants such as alfalfa, clover, peas, peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and various types of beans.

As a food group, they are believed to be particularly nutritious and healthful. One of the reasons for this is that they contain a high level of B vitamins, which help the body to make energy and regulate its metabolism.

Additionally, legumes are high in fiber and contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They also comprise a variety of so-called phytochemicals – bioactive compounds that further improve the body’s metabolism and have been suggested to protect against heart disease and diabetes.

Finally, legumes are also considered to be a “low glycemic index food,” which means that blood sugar levels increase very slowly after they are consumed.

To make people aware of the many health benefits of legumes, the year 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Pulses are a subgroup of legumes.

Because of their various health benefits, it has been suggested that legumes protect against the onset of type 2 diabetes – a serious illness that affects around 29 million people in the U.S. and more than 400 million adults worldwide. However, little research has been carried out to test this hypothesis.

Therefore, researchers from the Unit of Human Nutrition at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, together with other investigators from the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, set out to investigate the association between legume consumption and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study also analyzes the effects of substituting legumes with other foods rich in proteins and carbohydrates, and the findings were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

High intake of lentils lowers risk of type 2 diabetes by 33 percent

The team investigated 3,349 participants in the PREDIMED study who did not have type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study. The researchers collected information on their diets at the start of the study and every year throughout the median follow-up period of 4.3 years.

Individuals with a lower cumulative consumption of legumes had approximately 1.5 weekly servings of 60 grams of raw legumes, or 12.73 grams per day. A higher legume consumption was defined as 28.75 daily grams of legumes, or the equivalent of 3.35 servings per week.

Using Cox regression models, the researchers analyzed the association between the incidence of type 2 diabetes and the average consumption of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, and fresh peas.

Overall, during the follow-up period, the team identified 266 new cases of type 2 diabetes.

The study revealed that those with a higher intake of legumes were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who consumed a smaller amount of legumes. Of all the legumes studied, lentils had the strongest association with a low risk of type 2 diabetes.

In fact, individuals with a high consumption of lentils (defined as almost one weekly serving) were 33 percent less likely to develop diabetes compared with their low-consumption counterparts – that is, the participants who had less than half a serving per week.

Additionally, the researchers found that replacing half a serving per day of legumes with an equivalent portion of protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods including bread, eggs, rice, or potatoes also correlated with a reduced risk of diabetes.

The authors conclude that:

“A frequent consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits on type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults at high cardiovascular risk.”