10 Best Diabetes-Friendly Foods

10 Best Diabetes-Friendly Foods

If you are a person with diabetes or know someone with diabetes, food plays a major role in helping to control blood sugar. There often is confusion as to which foods are considered healthful to include in a diabetes-friendly eating plan. Below is a list of 10 foods which an explanation of why they are healthful to include in a diabetes-friendly diet.

Spinach

Non-starchy vegetables including spinach provide fiber and a small amount of carbohydrates, which has a lesser impact on blood sugar. One cup of raw spinach provides 6.9 calories, 1.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.7 grams of fiber. The American Diabetes Association created their Diabetes Plate Method to showcase how a person with diabetes should fill their plate during each meal. In the Diabetes Plate Method, a person with diabetes should fill half their plate with non-starchy vegetables like spinach during a meal.

Tuna

Tuna is a fatty fish that provides omega-3 fats specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (decosahexaenoic acid). Both EPA and DHA have been shown to help support heart, eye, and brain health. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease, so adding fatty fish like tuna with omega-3 fats can help. Further, fatty fish like tuna which also contains protein help slow down how quickly food is absorbed into the blood. In turn, this helps control blood sugar. Other fatty fish to incorporate in a diabetes-friendly diet includes salmon, herring, and anchovies.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a whole grain which has plenty of fiber and protein. One-half cup of cooked quinoa provides 111 calories, about 20 grams of carbs, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. Eating foods with fiber is important for people with diabetes as it can help with blood sugar control. Foods with protein also help slow down the absorption of sugar and in turn, help control blood sugar levels.

Beans

Beans are a legume that provides plant-based protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. They also have a lower glycemic index, which means they can help manage blood sugar better than foods that have only carbs in them. Beans are also brimming with fiber, which helps slow down how quickly carbs are absorbed into the blood. Enjoy black, kidney, pinto, Great Northern, or any other bean of choice.

Berries

Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are on The American Diabetes Association’s list of diabetes superfoods. This is because berries are rich in minerals, antioxidants and fiber that are good for overall health and may also help prevent disease. For example, a study published in the journal Food & Function examined the effects of strawberries on blood sugar levels.

Researchers assigned 14 overweight adults to consume a strawberry drink (equal to 1 cup of fresh strawberries) at one of three times: 2 hours before a typical Western breakfast (defined as a meal high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar, and low in nutrients), with the meal, or two hours after the meal. Individuals who drank the strawberry drink two hours before breakfast had a significantly lower blood sugar level over a 10-hour period compared to those who had it with the meal.

Researchers think that the strawberries may improve the insulin signal, moving sugar out of the blood and more quickly into the cells. Researchers in the study concluded that eating strawberries within two hours of a meal may help reduce blood sugar.

Citrus Fruit

Citrus fruit including grapefruits, lemons, limes, and oranges are also on The American Diabetes Association’s list of diabetes superfoods. They provide a healthy dose of fiber, which helps with blood sugar control. In addition, they contribute important nutrients including the antioxidant vitamin C, folate, and potassium which is a mineral under consumed by many Americans.

Nuts

Nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, and cashews provide healthy fats which help slow down sugar absorption into the blood and also help manage hunger. They also provide filling fiber and magnesium. Nuts, however, are dense in calories so practicing portion control is really important especially for a person with diabetes. One ounce (1/4 cup) of walnuts provides 190 calories, 18 grams of fat (mostly polyunsaturated), 4 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.  Sprinkling a salad, bowl of hot oatmeal, or Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts is a nice way to incorporate nuts in a diabetes-friendly diet.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a high quality protein and provides a good source of calcium. Because Greek yogurt is made by straining the liquid whey, it provides approximately 40% less sodium and sugar, and twice the protein compared to traditional yogurt. It’s a nice way to take in your dairy especially for people with diabetes. Opt for nonfat plain Greek yogurt as flavored yogurts tend to have added sugars. Use it to substitute for foods higher in calories and saturated fat like sour cream or mayonnaise.

Kimchi

Fermented food like kimchi, made from cabbage contains probiotics, minerals, and antioxidants. A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal found that eating fermented food like kimchi is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. In addition, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods examined 41 individuals with diabetes who followed a traditional Korean diet rich in fermented food like kimchi for 12 weeks. Compared to a control diet, those who ate the traditional Korean diet rich in fermented foods had better blood sugar control.

Avocado

Although avocado is technically a fruit, it contains heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Fats also help slow down absorption of sugar, which helps regulate blood sugar. Besides keeping blood sugar under control, people with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease.

In a randomized, control cross-over study published in Nutrients researchers examined the effects of replace carbohydrate energy meals with a half or whole avocado on markers of metabolic and vascular health in 31 individuals. Study results indicated that compared to the energy-matched, low fat, high carbohydrate control meal, overweight adults who ate an avocado as part of their breakfast showed improved glycemic and lipoprotein profiles and other indicators of heart health.

Researchers concluded that eating a meal with one-half or a whole avocado compared to an energy-matched, low fat, high carbohydrate meal may improve acute markers of heart health in middle-aged overweight and obese adults.

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is an nationally recognized nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best selling author of seven cookbook including her latest The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook: 100 Fast and Easy Recipes for Everyone. Toby has been quoted in thousands of articles and appears on national television and radio regularly. Through ongoing consulting and faculty positions, she has established herself as one of the top experts in culinary nutrition, food safety, and media communications.

Toby Amidor
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is an nationally recognized nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best selling author of seven cookbook including her latest The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook: 100 Fast and Easy Recipes for Everyone. Toby has been quoted in thousands of articles and appears on national television and radio regularly. Through ongoing consulting and faculty positions, she has established herself as one of the top experts in culinary nutrition, food safety, and media communications.