Persistently high blood sugar levels can result in damage to blood vessels and nerve cells. It can affect all the body's organs and lead to vision loss, kidney damage, and a higher risk of disease and stroke.
This article will look at ten superfoods for diabetes, foods that can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet for people with this condition.
Walnuts are an excellent source of 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 higher risk for these conditions.
In a study published in 2012, people who consumed nuts at least twice a week appeared to have a lower risk of gaining weight than those who never or rarely ate nuts.
Walnuts also contain fiber. There is evidence that both insoluble and soluble fiber can help improve blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol, and lower the risk of some of the complications of diabetes.
Walnuts are available in grocery stores or for purchase online.
Tips for use
Add crushed walnuts to yogurt, oats, breakfast cereal, or salad.
Make a trail mix treat with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate chips.
Avocados are a good source of healthy fats and vitamins.
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. Scientists have linked a high fiber intake with a significantly lower risk of diabetes and its complications.
A 2012 study looked at 64 people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who took vitamin E with their regular treatment. The team compared their fasting blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure with those of a control group that took only insulin or medication.
Two years later, the researchers noted a slower progression of diabetes and its complications in those who took vitamin E with their insulin or medication.
People can buy a range of avocados and avocado products online.
- Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter.
- Use avocado instead of mayonnaise in chicken or egg salad or mix with tuna.
Click here to learn more about how avocado can benefit a person with diabetes.
3. Ezekiel bread
Ezekiel bread is one of the healthiest types of bread as it contains less processed ingredients.
Ezekiel bread is a sprouted-grain bread. To make Ezekiel bread, a person must first soak and sprout the grains. This allows for higher protein and nutrient content.
Whole grains are rich in B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Sprouting grains may increase these amounts while reducing starch content, compared with whole-grain breads.
An article published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism notes that whole-grain breads, and especially sprouted-grain breads, have improved blood sugar response in research involving men with obesity.
Sprouted grain breads have a dense consistency and are good for toasting.
People can often find Ezekiel bread in the freezer section of the grocery store or for purchase online.
- Toast Ezekiel bread and top with avocado, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and black pepper.
- Look out for sprouted grain bagels, English muffins, pizza crust, and tortillas.
Which breads are best for people with diabetes? Click here to find out.
4. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium.
Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, fiber, and healthful fatty acids. The body needs magnesium for over 300 processes, including breaking down food for energy.
Studies have suggested that some of the macromolecules in pumpkin seeds may help control blood sugar.
Low magnesium levels are common in people with insulin resistance, which is one reason why diabetes occurs.
According to the Office for Dietary Supplements, for every 100-milligram-a-day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes falls by around 15 percent.
Pumpkin seeds are available for purchase online or in groceries or health food stores.
- Brush pumpkin seeds with olive oil, season with cumin, and bake until brown and toasted.
- Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on a salad.
- Make pumpkin seed butter by blending whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth.
What makes pumpkin seeds so healthful? Click here to find out more.
Strawberries are rich in vitamins.
Berries are a good source of antioxidants, and they are also tasty and easy to eat.
Research published in 2011 found that fisetin, a substance contained in strawberries, prevented both kidney and brain complications in mice with diabetes.
Some studies have found low vitamin C levels in both people and animals with diabetes, suggesting that vitamin C may one day play a role in reducing the risk of complications.
However, a cup of strawberries also contains just over 7 g of sugar. People with diabetes should account for this in their tracking and avoid adding sugar to strawberries.
- Make a superfood salad by mixing strawberries, spinach, and walnuts.
- Add frozen strawberries to a smoothie with milk and peanut butter.
Learn more here about the health benefits of strawberries.
6. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants.
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and magnesium.
All of these may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and diabetes complications.
One ounce (28.35 g) of dried chia seeds provides almost 10 g of fiber.
An adult should consume between 22.4 and 33.6 g of fiber each day, depending on their age and sex.
Chia seeds are available for purchase online.
- Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt, cereal, and oats.
- Use chia as a substitute for eggs in baking.
To use the seeds as an egg substitute, 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 people can use instead of an egg.
Get more tips here on the health benefits of chia seeds and how to use them.
Ginger is particularly good for health benefits relating to diabetes.
Plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants are sometimes called anti-inflammatory foods.
They can lower inflammation, and this means they can help treat the symptoms and reduce the long-term risks of diseases such as diabetes.
Studies on ginger and diabetes are limited.
However, some research has found that ginger can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
Research published in 2014 found a reduction blood sugar levels in people who took three 1-gram capsules of ginger each day for 8 weeks.
Ginger root and related products are available for purchase online.
- Steep peeled fresh ginger in boiling water to make ginger tea.
- Add fresh or dried ginger to a stir-fry or homemade salad dressing.
What are the medicinal benefits of ginger, and how can people use it? Click here to learn more.
Spinach is rich in fiber and antioxidants.
Researchers have linked a low potassium intake with a higher risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.
Spinach is a good source of dietary potassium. A cup of raw spinach provides 167 mg of potassium, as well as a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but only 7 calories.
- Throw a handful of spinach into a smoothie.
- Add spinach to sandwiches instead of iceberg lettuce.
- Finely chop some spinach leaves, put a teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan, add the spinach and cook gently until the water evaporates, then use in an omelet.
- Add a cup of finely chopped spinach to a pasta sauce or soup and cook for a few minutes.
Why is spinach so healthful and what can it do for us? Find out more here.
Cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar levels for people with diabetes.
Some studies have suggested that cinnamon can lower blood sugars in people with diabetes.
Authors of a 2019 study published in Clinical Nutrition found that people with diabetes who used cinnamon supplementation saw improvements in body mass index (BMI), blood sugar levels, and lipid levels than those who did not.
This was especially true of those with a BMI of 27 or above.
The participants who used cinnamon took two 500-mg capsules each day for 2 months.
More research is needed to confirm that cinnamon supplements can help people with diabetes.
Cinnamon supplements, powdered cinnamon, and cinnamon sticks are available for purchase online. People should check first with their doctor before using any supplements.
- Try cinnamon on sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, and butternut squash.
- Stir cinnamon into tea or warm milk.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal instead of sugar.
How can people with diabetes benefit from cinnamon? Learn more in our dedicated article here.
Tomatoes can help reduce blood pressure for people with diabetes.
Fresh, whole tomatoes have a low glycemic index (GI) score.
Foods with a low GI score release their sugar slowly into the bloodstream and are unlikely to trigger a blood sugar spike. One reason for this is that they provide fiber. These two factors can help a person to feel full for longer.
A study published in 2010 found that people with diabetes who ate around 7 ounces (200 g) of fresh tomato, or 1–2 medium-sized tomatoes per day, had lower blood pressure after 8 weeks.
They concluded that eating tomatoes might help reduce the cardiovascular risk that is associated with type 2 diabetes.
Try this menu for a day. It incorporates several of the foods listed above.
- toasted Ezekiel bread (complex carbohydrate)
- avocado (healthy fat)
- spinach (antioxidants)
- hard-boiled egg (lean protein and healthy fat)
- leafy greens (fiber, vitamins, and minerals)
- quinoa (complex carbohydrate and lean protein)
- roasted beets (antioxidants)
- lean protein (tuna, chicken, or tofu)
- chopped apple (complex carb)
- walnut and pumpkin seed mix (healthy fat and lean protein)
- salmon (lean protein and healthy fat)
- fresh ginger (antioxidants)
- sweet potato (complex carb) topped with cinnamon
- a choice of veggie
Doctors do not recommend a specific diet for people with diabetes, or a fixed number of carbs and calories. Each person should ask their doctor or dietitian for advice.
Foods that help manage blood sugar
Following a few tips can help a person with diabetes to make dietary choices that will help them control their blood sugar levels.
Establish a regular eating routine: Include a source of fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat with each meal.
Limit quick-digesting carbohydrates: Instead of white bread and pasta, opt for slower-digesting carbohydrates with extra nutrients like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and berries.
Know a food's GI score: Foods with a lower GI score raise blood sugar levels more slowly and leave you feeling fuller for longer. They include oatmeal, muesli, and non-starchy vegetables.
Avoid or limit high-GI foods: These include white bread, sugar, and cornflakes.