If you have type 2 diabetes, or you have been told you are pre-diabetic or you are simply worried about developing diabetes, this article is for you!
Your diet can have a major role in preventing and managing diabetes. To keep things simple, your main goal should be managing your blood sugar levels and keeping them stable. Once under control, your appetite will become more regulated and weight loss will follow. It’s also important to eat foods that help prevent diabetes complications such as heart disease. The traditional advice of following a low fat, low sugar diet and basing your diet on starchy carbs is out of date and ineffective. Once you move away from too many carbohydrates you will stop feeling hungry all the time.
Here are the best foods to eat to help control your blood sugar, control your appetite and reduce the risk of elevated blood sugar complications.
Eating oily fish has been shown to help regulate blood sugar. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed significantly lower blood sugar levels after a meal that included oily fish.
Oily fish include salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. They are great sources of the omega 3 fats DHA and EPA, which also have major benefits for heart health and reducing inflammation.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Research indicates that people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk of acute coronary syndromes, like heart attacks, and are less likely to die from heart disease.
In addition, fish is also a great source of high quality protein, which helps you feel full and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Green leafy vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are extremely nutritious and they are also low in digestible carbs (carbs absorbed by the body), so they have an insignificant affect blood sugar levels.
Leafy greens such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage and kale are good sources of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C. A study from the University of Otago suggests that people with diabetes have lower vitamin C levels than people without diabetes, and that they may have greater vitamin C requirements. Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory qualities and so eating more vitamin C-rich foods can help reduce inflammation and cellular damage in blood vessels protecting heart and eye health.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and sprouts contain a substance known as sulforaphane. A Swedish study found sulforaphane reduced blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Our love affair with avocados continues and for good reason when it comes to health. The world’s largest diet study NHANES found that avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, reduced risk of diabetes and significantly lower body weight and body mass index. This makes avocados an ideal snack for people with diabetes.
Avocados may have properties specific to preventing diabetes. A Canadian study found that avocatin B (AvoB), a fat molecule found only in avocados, reduces insulin resistance.
Eggs make the perfect breakfast for people with diabetes! A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating a high fat, low carb breakfast of eggs could help people with diabetes manage blood sugar levels throughout the day. Eggs are extremely nutritious, containing many essential vitamins and minerals and as such eating eggs can help to decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Their high protein content also helps you feel fuller for longer.
Chia seeds are high in fibre and low in digestible carbs. They contain viscous fibre which can actually lower your blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which food moves through your gut and is absorbed.
Another Canadian study involving 77 type 2 diabetics found that eating chia seeds supported weight loss and helped maintain good blood sugar control.
Beans are not only nutritious because they are packed full of beneficial vitamins, minerals and fibre, but they are also affordable. In particular, they are a good source of B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Their high fibre content means they also have a very low GI (glycaemic index), which is important for managing diabetes.
High protein yogurt
Greek yogurt and yogurts with a high protein content can help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. A long-term study from Harvard involving health data from more than 100,000 participants found that a daily serving of yogurt was linked to an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A study from the University of York showed yogurt may help with weight loss and improve body composition in people with type 2 diabetes. The high levels of calcium, protein, and a special type of fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) found in yogurt may help keep you full for longer.
Eating nuts should be a daily occurrence. Nuts are high fibre and are low in digestible carbs. In fact only about two thirds of the nuts you eat are actually absorbed (the remaining third is excreted) which means of you are worried about the calorie content, don’t be – you can slash by 33%!
Research on a variety of different nuts has shown that regular consumption improves blood sugar levels, reduces inflammation lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Nuts may also help people with diabetes improve their heart health. Another Harvard study involving more than 16,000 participants with type 2 diabetes found that eating nuts lowered their risk of heart disease and death.
Flaxseeds are high in omega 3 fats and fibre, this includes lignans, which are a type of fibre that can help to decrease heart disease risk and improve blood sugar management. A review of 25 clinical trials found a significant association between flaxseeds and a reduction in blood glucose.
Vinegar and in particular apple cider vinegar have many health benefits, including reducing blood sugar levels. A study from the National University of Singapore found that daily consumption of vinegar lowered blood sugar levels in over 300 people with type 2 diabetes. Start with 1-4 tsp of vinegar in a glass of water before every meal.
Foods to avoid
Just as important as figuring out which foods you should include in a diet for diabetes is understanding which foods you should limit.
This is because many foods and drinks are high in carbs and added sugar, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Other foods could negatively impact heart health or contribute to weight gain.
Here are a few foods that you should limit or avoid if you have diabetes.
- Sugary foods and drinks can cause blood sugar levels to spike
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice are high in carbs but low in fibre, which can increase blood sugar levels more quickly than their whole grain counterparts.
- When it comes to rice, choose brown or good quality Basmati rice and avoid sticky rice or rice with broken grains.
- Breakfast cereals because most varieties are very high in added sugar. Some brands pack as much sugar into a single serving as some desserts.
- Smoothies and juices – although 100% fruit juice can be enjoyed occasionally in small amounts, it’s best to stick to whole fruit whenever possible if you have diabetes. This is because it contains all the carbs and sugar found in fresh fruit, but it’s lacking the fibre needed to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Managing you portion sizes
The plate method is a simple and effective way to support healthy blood sugar levels without tracking or measuring your food. It requires you to adjust your portions of certain food groups on your plate to create a nutritionally balanced meal.
To get started, simply fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and salad veg.
One-quarter of your plate should consist of proteins, like chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, tofu, and lean cuts of beef or pork.
The remaining quarter of the plate should contain a healthy source of carbohydrates, including wholegrains such as brown rice or quinoa, beans or legumes such as chickpeas or kidney beans, starchy vegetables such as new potatoes, or root veg, low sugar fruit such as berries, or high protein dairy products such as yogurt.
GI can be an effective tool for maintaining blood sugar levels. It’s used to measure how much certain foods increase blood sugar levels and categorizes them as a high, low, or medium GI food based on their glycaemic index.
If you use this method, stick to foods with a low or medium glycaemic index whenever possible, and limit your intake of foods that have a high glycaemic index.
Eating healthy with diabetes doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Try this sample menu with some easy meal ideas to help get you started:
Breakfast: omelette with mushrooms and spinach
Morning snack: handful of almonds
Lunch: grilled chicken salad with peppers, tomatoes, avocado and balsamic vinaigrette
Afternoon snack: Greek yogurt with berries and walnuts
Dinner: baked salmon with quinoa and broccoli or new potatoes and salad
Evening snack: cucumber stick and hummus