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Diabetes is primarily characterized by the inability of the body to moderate blood sugar levels after meals. Type 2 diabetes, one of the types of diabetes, occurs when cells lose their sensitivity to insulin or insufficient insulin is released from the pancreas.
One of the primary methods of managing this type of diabetes is by consuming foods that have a slow release of glucose into the blood, giving enough time for insulin to act upon the blood glucose. (1)
Foods that are rich in compounds or nutrients that are beneficial for health have recently emerged in the food industry. (2)
Certain foods play a favorable role in the management of diabetes, from modulating the slow release of glucose to controlling blood cholesterol levels, managing weight, and preventing damage from free radicals through antioxidant action. (3)
Foods That Help With Diabetes
Diet plays a major role not only in the occurrence of diabetes but also in managing optimal blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
Here are some of the foods that contain nutrients beneficial for the prevention and management of diabetes.
Eggs are low energy and nutrient dense, and egg consumption is associated with a lower risk of many diseases including diabetes. (4)
One egg contains about 6 g of protein, and the yolk, in particular, is a rich source of many vitamins including vitamins A, E, D, K, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, and B12, and minerals including selenium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. (4)
Studies have found that consuming one egg (about 45 g) each day is associated with a 45% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. (5) However, a higher intake of eggs (more than one per day) is discouraged due to their high cholesterol content of about 200 mg/egg. (5)
Include one egg each day as part of a healthy diet plan to receive all of its nutrients and to help manage diabetes.
Avocados have become a hot favorite in the health food community and rightly so.
Only half an avocado gives 4.6 g of dietary fiber, 5 mcg of vitamin A, 6 mg of vitamin C, 1.3 mg of vitamin E, 14 mcg of vitamin K, 60 mg of folate, 0.2 mg of vitamin B6, 345 mg of potassium, 5.5 mg of sodium, and 19.5 mg of magnesium. (6)
In one study, consuming one avocado each day for 3 months resulted in lowered abdominal obesity and management of insulin sensitivity in individuals with overweight or obesity. (7)
Avocados are versatile and can be used on sandwiches and in dips, salads, soups, and smoothies.
Oily fish such as salmon, cod, and haddock are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids and prevent heart diseases.
In one study, the consumption of oily fish was associated with a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes in people in the UK. Fish oil supplements that are also replete with omega-3 fatty acids also had similar results. (8)
Tomatoes are high in water content and low in calories, making them an ideal low-density food for people with diabetes. They are also abundant in lycopene, vitamins C and E, potassium, flavonoids, and folate, which together can offer protection against type 2 diabetes. (9)
Consuming 200 g of raw tomato has been known to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure and the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes. (9)
Recently, lycopene – a potent bioactive compound in tomatoes – has emerged as beneficial in protecting the body against oxidative damage that can lead to the development of diabetes. It can also help in the better control of blood sugar levels and weight gain associated with type 2 diabetes by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (10)
5. Green leafy vegetables
Healthcare practitioners recommend consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain fiber, for the ideal management of blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of diabetes. (3)
In a study done on people with type 2 diabetes, increased vegetable intake showed an improvement in blood sugar levels in the state of fasting and after meals. There were also reductions in overall body weight, waist circumference, and total cholesterol. (11)
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 4–5 servings of vegetables are ideal for people with diabetes. (3)
Beans and legumes are chock-full of fiber, are great sources of plant protein, and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. (12) Consumption of 50–190 g of cooked beans for 6–8 weeks can improve the management of type 2 diabetes. (12)
Including beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans, fava beans, white beans, mung beans, and black-eyed and white peas in a well-balanced diet can help lower the risk of diabetes.
7. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, mandarins, pomelo, and other hybrids contain flavonoids that are beneficial for type 2 diabetes. (13)
Studies have found citrus fruit flavonoids to repair damage to tissues resulting from long-term exposure to unregulated blood sugar levels. They also reduce inflammatory markers in the body, regulate blood sugar levels, and improve insulin sensitivity in the cells. (13)
Commonly consumed berries such as cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain several bioactive polyphenols that have a beneficial effect on type 2 diabetes. (14)
Daily consumption of 40–250 g of berries can balance blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and help with weight management in individuals with overweight and obesity. (14)
Tree nuts such as almonds, macadamia, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, cashews, and hazelnuts are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Studies have reported that diabetics consuming nuts had better blood sugar control in both fasting states and post meal. (15)
Flaxseeds are rich in fats including alpha-linolenic acid, and they have antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering, and blood sugar-lowering properties. (16)
Animal studies have reported that some components of flaxseed can lower blood glucose levels and can reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes and delay the development of type 2 diabetes. (16)
In human trials, whole flaxseeds were found to have significant blood sugar-lowering properties. (17) Flaxseeds can be added to smoothies and salads and can be mixed with flour to make wraps or flatbreads.
Most-Asked Questions About Foods for Diabetes
What foods should I avoid if I have or am at risk of diabetes?
High-fat foods that are low in fiber such as cakes, pastries, and biscuits can raise blood sugar levels quicker than insulin can direct them into cells. Deep-fried foods with a high fat content should also be avoided.
Can I eat fruits if I have diabetes?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends 4–5 servings of fruits each day as part of the diet for diabetics. (3)
Fruits contain fiber and several bioactive compounds that are beneficial for overall health. However, care must be taken not to overconsume fruits or eat too much at one time, as fruits contain sugar and can spike blood sugar levels if overconsumed.
Diabetes is a growing concern in today’s world. It can lead to the development of other conditions such as obesity and heart diseases. Dietary and lifestyle modifications often form a part of the treatment plan meant to manage diabetes.
Including high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods such as those discussed in this article can not only reduce the risk of diabetes but also help in the management of blood sugar levels and improvement of insulin sensitivity along with other benefits to overall health.