The best vegetables for type 2 diabetes are low on the glycemic index (GI) scale, rich in fiber, or high in blood pressure-lowering nitrates.
Why choose vegetables?
Arugula and other green, leafy vegetables are rich in nutrients and fiber.
When considering foods to avoid, many people with diabetes might think about sugary or high-carbohydrate foods, such as cinnamon rolls or bread. Certain vegetables, though, can also cause blood glucose problems.
The GI refers to how quickly foods cause blood sugar levels to rise. Foods high on the GI, such as most potatoes, rapidly release glucose, potentially triggering blood glucose spikes. They can also cause weight gain when eaten in excess.
Low to moderate GI vegetables, such as carrots, offer better blood glucose control, and a lower risk of weight gain.
Nitrates are chemicals that naturally occur in some vegetables. They are also used as preservatives in some foods.
This means that nitrate-rich foods, such as beets, are among the best vegetables for people with type 2 diabetes who have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. This is still true despite their high level of carbohydrates.
The key to good food management, in this instance, is to reduce carbohydrate consumption elsewhere, such as by eliminating bread or sugary snacks.
Fiber and protein are both very important in a healthful diabetes diet. Protein is vital for good health, and can help people feel fuller for longer, reducing the urge to snack and supporting weight loss. Many dark, leafy greens are rich in many vital nutrients, fiber, and contain protein.
Fiber can help control blood glucose levels.
Many fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes are rich in fiber.
Best vegetables for type 2 diabetes
Eating a wide variety of foods, including a mix of the best vegetables for type 2 diabetes, can help people stay healthy while enjoying a range of meals.
Low GI: Vegetables, with GI scores less than 30, include:
- Frozen green peas score 39 on the GI index
- Carrots score 41 when boiled and 16 when raw
- Broccoli scores 10
- Tomatoes score 15
- green beans
- snow peas
It is worth remembering that the GI gives a relative value to each food item, and it does not refer to an amount of sugar. The glycemic load (GL) refers to how much a person will eat in a serving.
Nitrates: Vegetables rich in nitrates include:
- beets and beet juice
Protein: Daily protein recommendations depend on a person's size, sex, activity level, and other factors. People should speak to a doctor for the best insight on what their ideal daily protein intake is.
Pregnant or lactating women, highly active people, and those with large bodies need more protein than others.
Vegetables higher in protein include:
- bok choy
- mustard greens
- Brussels sprouts
Fiber: Most people need 25-38 grams (g) of fiber each day.
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend 25 g per day for women, and 38 g per day for men.
This recommendation varies depending on body size and similar factors.
Fiber should come from real food, not supplements. Vegetables and fruits with high fiber content include:
- Brussels sprouts
- split peas
Eating vegan or vegetarian with diabetes
Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet can prove challenging for people with diabetes. Animal products are generally the most protein-rich options, but vegans avoid dairy and other animal products.
Some of the best vegan protein-rich options include:
- beans and chickpeas
- pumpkin seeds
- amaranth and quinoa
- sprouted grain bread
- soy milk
A vegan or vegetarian person who has diabetes can eat a balanced diet. Nuts, seeds, and lentils offer high protein, often with few calories.
Healthful diabetes meals
Any meal that blends several of the ingredients listed above offers excellent nutrition. To keep meals healthy and flavorful, people should avoid using lots of added salt, or relying on prepackaged ingredients that are high in sodium.
People with diabetes should watch the number of calories in their food, too. Excess calories can turn an otherwise healthful meal into something that leads to excessive weight gain.
Some simple, healthful meals include:
Avocado, arugula, and tomato are healthful and delicious in a salad.
- avocado, cherry tomato, and chickpea salad
- hard-boiled eggs and roasted beets sprinkled with black pepper and turmeric
- low-sodium cottage cheese spread on toasted sweet potato slices. Add black or cayenne pepper to boost the flavor
- tofu burger patty with spinach and avocado
- spinach salad with chia seeds, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a light sprinkling of goat cheese
- quinoa and fruit added to unsweetened Greek yogurt with cinnamon
- quinoa seasoned with pepper, or vinaigrette, eaten it on its own
- almond butter on sprouted grain bread topped with avocado and crushed red pepper flakes
Balancing less healthful foods with more nutritious ones is a way to remain healthy. For instance, eating a cookie or two per week is usually fine when balanced by a high-fiber diet rich in plants.
People with diabetes who want to eat well should focus on a balanced overall approach to nutrition.
There is a risk that forbidding certain foods can make them feel even more appealing, and this can lead to less control of diet choices and blood sugar over time.
Vegetables are just one part of healthy living with diabetes.
People should eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups, and consider eating five to seven small meals instead of three large meals. Gaps between meals can cause blood sugar levels to vary a lot through the day.