A person’s diet can play an essential role in managing diabetes. Certain types of foods, such as non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, may help stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels.

A person living with diabetes can eat a balanced diet without giving up their favorite foods. Moderation and careful food choices are key to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

When a person eats carbohydrates, their body releases the hormone insulin. Insulin helps the body use and store these carbohydrates, lowering blood sugar levels. But when a person has diabetes, their body does not release or use insulin as it should, causing their blood sugar levels to remain high.

A person with diabetes should speak with a doctor or dietitian before making significant dietary changes.

This article identifies some of the best types of foods for stabilizing insulin and blood sugar levels. We also look at certain foods a person with diabetes should avoid or eat only in moderation.

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Non-starchy vegetables are an excellent addition to almost any diet, including diets suitable for people with diabetes.

There are two main types of vegetables: starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables are rich in carbohydrates, which can raise a person’s blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends eating at least 3–5 servings of vegetables each day. The ADA defines a serving as 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of uncooked vegetables.

Some examples of non-starchy vegetables are:

Most vegetables are available frozen, canned, or fresh. In addition to eating them raw, roasting and steaming are two easy preparation methods. Cooking vegetables in moderate amounts of olive oil is also a good way to get more healthy fats into a person’s diet.

Whole grains are a more nutritious alternative to highly processed or refined grains. They contain the endosperm, bran, and germ of a grain. Refined grains contain only the endosperm, offering less nutritional benefit.

The main difference is that whole grains have more fiber, whereas refined grains include only the starchy part of the grain. Eating the starchy endosperm alone may cause a person’s blood sugar levels to rise rapidly.

A 2020 research article discusses the results of three studies conducted over several decades. The studies examined the association between people’s consumption of whole grains and their type 2 diabetes risk.

The article’s authors concluded that greater consumption of whole grain foods had an association with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. However, consuming about one serving of popcorn per day had an association with a higher risk.

Whole grain foods still raise blood sugar, so including them in moderation is important. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people fill one-quarter of their plate with grains, one-quarter with protein, and the remaining half with fruits and vegetables. The ADA suggests that at least half of a person’s daily grain intake should come from whole grains.

Look for products with 100% whole grain ingredients, such as:

  • whole grain crackers
  • brown rice
  • whole wheat pasta
  • whole grain cereals
  • quinoa
  • whole oats or oatmeal
  • whole grain breads, pitas, and tortillas

In addition to helping manage diabetes, consuming whole grains may help prevent cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer, including gastric, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.

There are several types of dietary fat. While some types may negatively affect health if people consume them in excess, other types may help promote good health.

Healthy fats may be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish, are one type of polyunsaturated fat. Trans and saturated fats can increase levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood, which can contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Eating more unsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats can help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Consuming unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats can also help improve cholesterol levels and blood sugar regulation.

Many foods are rich in unsaturated fats. Examples include:

Learn more about healthy and unhealthy fats.

Protein is an essential nutrient that people can get from meats, fish, and plant-based foods such as nuts, beans, and legumes.

Research suggests that protein does not increase blood sugar levels and can help a person feel full longer. High protein diets may also help people reach or maintain a moderate weight more effectively than moderate or low protein diets.

However, a 2019 meta-analysis reported that a diet that includes too much animal protein may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. A diet with plenty of plant-based protein may modestly decrease this risk.

A person with diabetes should favor foods with lots of protein but little saturated fat. Examples include:

  • fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • skinless poultry such as chicken and turkey
  • beans such as lima, kidney, and black beans
  • lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • soybeans and tofu
  • low fat dairy products such as low fat Greek yogurt

A person can easily add protein to a meal. For example, beans are an excellent addition to salads, as are roasted chicken breasts without toppings.

Discover more high protein foods.

There are several foods that a person with diabetes should limit or eat only in moderation.

The following types of food can cause a person’s blood sugar and insulin levels to spike:

  • sugary drinks such as soda, juices, and sports drinks
  • highly processed foods and baked goods, which often contain trans fats
  • white rice, bread, and pasta
  • breakfast cereals with added sugar
  • yogurts with added sugar
  • honey and maple syrup
  • flavored, sugary coffee drinks
  • fried foods

Learn more about foods and drinks to avoid with diabetes.

Diabetes can cause a range of symptoms and health issues. Maintaining stable insulin and blood sugar levels can have many benefits, including:

Effective diabetes management can also reduce the risk of more severe complications such as:

Blood sugar tracking

A person can use devices to track their blood glucose levels.

Blood glucose monitors are portable devices that give people a snapshot of their blood sugar levels. To use these devices, a person must obtain a blood sample via a small prick on their finger. The monitor can then assess this blood sample.

Continuous glucose monitors constantly measure blood sugar levels throughout the day. These devices use a small implant under the skin to get continuous readings.

This information allows people with diabetes to note trends in blood sugar and manage their levels accordingly.

Diabetes resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on diabetes.

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How do you keep insulin levels stable?

In addition to eating a healthy diet and limiting foods and drinks that spike blood sugar, a person can try the following tips for keeping insulin levels stable:

  • Exercise regularly. When muscles are active, they are better at using insulin to take up sugar from the blood.
  • Take medication as a doctor has prescribed it.
  • Follow the doctor’s advice about checking blood sugar regularly.
  • Eat regularly and avoid skipping meals.
  • Track food, drinks, and physical activity.
  • Manage food portions. At mealtimes, try to fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with a grain or starchy food, and a quarter with lean protein.
  • Discuss diet with a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes care and education specialist, and follow their individualized advice.

What is the fastest way to stabilize blood sugar?

A person should discuss how to handle a hyperglycemic episode with their healthcare team.

Healthcare professionals may recommend that a person check their blood or urine for ketones and adjust their insulin dosage accordingly. Because blood glucose levels are individualized, a person should follow the specific advice of their healthcare team.

What regulates insulin and blood sugar?

The pancreas produces insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels. Diabetes happens when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use insulin effectively.

Read more about the pancreas.

Does cacao affect insulin?

Cacao contains flavonoids, which may help regulate blood sugar levels. A 2017 review points to the findings of several small studies, which suggest that cacao may help with insulin resistance and slow the progression of type 2 diabetes.

An easy way to add cacao to the diet is by eating dark chocolate, which contains more cacao than milk chocolate. However, dark chocolate still contains sugar, and consuming too much of it might still cause a spike in blood sugar. Therefore, a person should consume dark chocolate in moderation.

While dark chocolate typically contains less sugar than milk chocolate, the sugar content of dark chocolate products may vary, and it is important to check the label.

Which fish is good for blood sugar?

The high protein content in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring is particularly healthy for people with diabetes, as it has a low impact on blood sugar. It is filling and provides essential nutrients to help the body grow and repair.

Fatty fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce a person’s risk of heart failure and support cognitive function.

People with diabetes should try to eat fatty fish twice per week.

As with other foods, preparation is key. It is best to avoid sugary marinades and to grill fish instead of frying it.

To stay healthy, people with diabetes need to manage their blood sugar and insulin levels.

In addition to medications, lifestyle and dietary strategies are an essential part of diabetes management. Certain foods can help stabilize blood sugar levels, while others can make them less stable.

A person can better manage their blood sugar and insulin levels by eating a balanced diet filled with whole grains, vegetables, legumes, lean protein, nuts, and seeds.