Vegetables can play a valuable dietary role for people with type 2 diabetes. They provide fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients that can help manage inflammation, support weight loss, and boost overall health.
People with type 2 diabetes can eat any food, but they may need to plan carefully to avoid glucose spikes. This will mean considering how portion size and carbohydrate content fit in with their meal plan.
Vegetables can provide variety and flavor. They can also be filling while still being relatively low in calories.
In this article, we look at the best vegetables for people with type 2 diabetes. We also explain why vegetables are important for people who are monitoring blood sugar and offer a range of tasty meal ideas.
Good choices of vegetables for type 2 diabetes will most likely:
- be rich in fiber
- contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- contain nitrates, which reduce blood pressure
In addition, people should choose a variety of vegetables, focusing particularly on the ones they enjoy. If a person rarely eats vegetables because they do not enjoy them, it may be time to experiment with some new cooking and serving methods.
Eating a wide variety of foods, including a mix of vegetables, can help people with diabetes stay healthy while enjoying a range of meals.
There is also evidence that inflammation
Examples of antioxidants in the diet
|vitamin A and carotenoids||sweet potato, spinach, carrots, peppers|
|vitamin C||red peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomato juice|
|vitamin E||spinach, broccoli, tomato, vegetable oils, nuts|
|phenols||spinach, cabbage, broccoli, red peppers, onion|
|flavonoids||onion, kale, rutabaga, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, fava beans|
Consuming a diet that contains a range of fruits and vegetables can benefit anyone’s health, and some antioxidants may have specific benefits for people with type 2 diabetes.
- alpha-lipoic acid (ALA),
found ingreen leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC),
present inallium vegetables, such as onion and garlic
- vitamin C,
available incitrus fruits, red and green peppers, strawberries, and broccoli
Some experts have suggested that these antioxidants, in particular, might help reduce the risk of diabetic complications.
People with type 2 diabetes often have a
Eating foods naturally rich in nitrates
Nitrates are chemicals that naturally occur in specific vegetables. Some manufacturers use them as preservatives in foods.
It is best for people to choose vegetables with naturally high nitrate content rather than those with nitrate that manufacturers have added during processing.
Protein also stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas. In this way, it can help lower blood sugar levels after a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates.
Daily protein recommendations depend on a person’s size, sex, activity level, and other factors. A person should consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to help determine their daily protein needs.
People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or highly active may need more protein than other people.
Vegetables can also be an excellent source of fiber.
Fiber can help:
- boost digestive health
- reduce constipation
- reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol
- help with weight management
- help with glucose control
Foods that are high in fiber take longer to digest. A person will feel full for longer and be less likely to have a sugar spike. Raw vegetables have more fiber than cooked, ground, or otherwise processed vegetables.
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 25 grams (g) of fiber per day for females and 38 g for males. This recommendation varies depending on body size, overall health, and similar factors.
Here are some vegetables that contain protein and fiber. The table shows how much protein, carbohydrate, and fiber each raw vegetable contains per 100 g (around 3.5 ounces), according to the
|Vegetable||Protein in grams (g)||Carbohydrate (g)||Fiber (g)|
|spinach||2.86||3.63, of which 0.42 is sugar||2.20|
|asparagus||2.20||3.88, of which 1.88 is sugar||2.10|
|mustard greens||2.86||4.67, of which 1.32 is sugar||3.20|
|Brussels sprouts||3.38||3.80, of which 2.2 is sugar||3.80|
|broccoli||2.57||6.27, of which 1.4 is sugar||2.40|
|cauliflower||1.92||4.97, of which 1.91 is sugar||2.00|
People with diabetes can eat anything they choose as long as it fits with their eating plan. A person will need to take into account the amounts of carbohydrates they are eating at any meal or throughout the day.
Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, are
A glycemic index (GI) ranking
- dietary fiber content
- added sugar
- starch to sugar ratio
- liquid to solid ratio
This produces a measure of how much glycemic potential there is in each gram of carbohydrates — in other words, the chance of that food raising blood sugar levels.
The theory is that the body absorbs blood sugar faster from high-GI foods than low-GI foods. This means that foods that are high on the GI index are more likely to lead to a sugar spike, and a person with type 2 diabetes should eat them in moderation.
The table below shows the approximate GI value of some popular vegetables.
However, it is essential to note that many factors can affect the rate at which the body absorbs glucose. As a result, the GI may not be a reliable indicator of “good” and “bad” vegetables or other foods for people with diabetes.
|Vegetable||Approximate GI value||High, medium, or low?|
|frozen green peas, boiled||39||low|
|carrots, peeled, boiled, and ground||60–77||medium to high|
|sweetcorn, frozen and heated||47||low|
|chickpeas, dried and boiled||31||low|
|chickpeas, canned, in brine||41||low|
|sweet potato, peeled, cubed, and boiled||59||medium|
|beetroot||64–80||medium to high|
Reasons for choosing vegetables include the following:
- They provide a range of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- The carbohydrates in vegetables provide energy but are less likely to cause a sugar spike than those from baked goods and sweet snacks.
- Vegetables with a low to moderate GI ranking, such as carrots, can
help manageblood glucose levels.
- Nitrate-rich foods, such as beets, can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Eating a range of vegetables can provide the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants the body needs to stay healthy.
- Vegetables can be a filling, low-calorie option for people managing their weight.
Here are some health tips for eating vegetables with type 2 diabetes:
- Opt for fresh foods where possible.
- When buying canned foods, choose those without added sugar or salt or drain the liquid before use.
- Flavor vegetables with herbs, spices, or low-salt seasonings.
- Drizzle with lemon juice or try a vinegar pepper sauce.
- Boil, bake, or grill vegetables or roast them in a little vegetable oil rather than frying them. This will reduce calories and fat intake.
- Leave the peel on vegetables when possible to boost the fiber content.
- Where appropriate, opt for raw vegetables as they contain more nutrients.
- When adding high-fiber foods to the diet, introduce them gradually to prevent abdominal discomfort.
People with diabetes should work with a doctor or dietitian on a diet plan that suits their individual needs.
Meal tips and recipes
Some simple vegetable-based meal options include:
- hard-boiled eggs and roasted beets with black pepper and turmeric
- cottage cheese spread on toasted sweet potato slices. Add black or cayenne pepper for flavor
- spinach leaf salad with chia seeds, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a light sprinkling of goat’s cheese
- yellow and zucchini squash with quinoa
- peppers, onions, and diced tomatoes with scrambled egg
- cottage cheese with mixed greens and veggie salad
Here are some recipe ideas to try:
- spinach, chickpea, and tomato stew
- roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic
- baked kale chips
- roasted onions
- easy vegetable soup
More tips for making the most of vegetables
Here are some more tips for making the most of vegetables:
- Aim for half a plate of non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of carbs, such as potato, and a quarter of protein.
- Use vegetables such as celery sticks, raw carrots, and sliced peppers as snacks or with a yogurt-based dip instead of candies, cookies, or chips.
- Swap sweetened juices for vegetable juices or vegetable smoothies, but note that the additional processing will put these forms higher on the GI scale than eating the raw vegetable.
- Aim for a variety of colors on the plate, as a range of colors tends to reflect a range of nutrients.
Here are some questions people often ask about vegetables for people with diabetes.
Which vegetables lower blood sugar?
Vegetables do not lower blood sugar, but including vegetables in a diabetes diet plan can help a person feel full while reducing the risk of a glucose spike when compared with high-carb options such as pasta.
Should people with diabetes avoid any vegetables?
It is best for a person to eat high-carb vegetables, such as potatoes, in moderation. These should take up around a quarter of a person’s meal plate. Rather than worry about avoiding vegetables, people should consider avoiding added salt, sugar, or unhealthy fats, which often feature in sauces and salad dressings. Instead, they can season with herbs, spices, lemon juice, or a sprinkling of olive oil.
Are carrots OK for people with diabetes?
Carrots contain natural sugars but also fiber and antioxidants, especially when eaten raw. They are a good choice instead of chips as snacks or with dips. People should try to ensure a variety of colors when choosing vegetables and avoid focusing on a single item.
For people with diabetes, the best approach is to focus on a balanced, varied diet. Vegetables have high nutritional value but are just one part of managing a lifestyle with diabetes.
A healthcare professional can provide a bespoke diabetes meal plan to ensure that a person consumes the nutrients they need in suitable proportions.