Type 2 Diabetes
15 Foods Every Person With Diabetes Can (and Should) Enjoy
Include these nutrition superstars in your diabetes diet to lower blood sugar, burn fat, reduce inflammation, and gain more health benefits.
Chocolate lovers, take note: A review of studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives found that cocoa may help prevent type 2 diabetes (T2D) and improve insulin resistance. It may also help stave off cardiovascular complications in people with diabetes.
Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, and research shows that these nutrients reduce insulin resistance, improve insulin sensitivity, drop insulin levels and fasting blood glucose, and blunt cravings. One caveat: most cocoa products or chocolates on the supermarket shelf contain low amount of flavanols and are rich in sugar and calories that may aggravate glycemic control in T2D patients, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Antioxidants.
Broccoli is an anti-diabetes superhero. As with other cruciferous veggies like kale and cauliflower, this diabetes-friendly food contains a compound called sulforaphane, which triggers several anti-inflammatory processes that improve blood sugar control and protect blood vessels from the cardiovascular damage that’s often a consequence of diabetes. (Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes, so this protection could be a lifesaver.) Sulforaphane also helps flip on the body’s natural detox mechanisms, coaxing enzymes to turn dangerous cancer-causing chemicals into more innocent forms that the body can easily release. Not a broccoli lover? “Prepare until al dente—cooked through, yet still firm—and add to a stir-fry of ingredients you enjoy, like chicken, bell pepper, and peanuts,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, a registered dietitian, chef, and the author of The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook. “If raw, consider serving with a dip, like hummus.” And if that’s not enough to have you crunching on the super veggie, here’s why all type 2 diabetics should be eating more of it.
Blueberries really stand out: They contain both insoluble fiber (which “flushes” fat out of your system) and soluble fiber (which slows down the emptying of your stomach, and improves blood sugar control). That’s not all: Mounting research shows not only that blueberries have a beneficial effect on insulin resistance and glucose tolerance, but they also lift depression. In a study published in 2017 in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, older adults who made a habit of drinking concentrated blueberry juice every day improved cognitive function.
You may not think of oatmeal as a superfood, but it can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This diabetes-friendly food contains high amounts of magnesium, which helps the body use glucose and secrete insulin properly. A study published in 2018 in The Journal of Nutrition showed that eating a diet rich in whole grains–the researchers singled out rye bread, whole-grain bread, and oatmeal–can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind: Steel-cut oats are just as easy to cook as quick-cooking oatmeal, says Newgent. But when grains are left whole they are filled with the fiber, nutrients, and bound antioxidants that challenge digestion in a good way, allowing blood sugar to remain more stable.
Fish is a slimming star: rich in protein, it helps keep you satisfied; but this diabetes-friendly food also contains a special type of fat that helps cool inflammation. Thousands of studies show that people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have less body-wide inflammation, the very inflammation that leads to and worsens type 2 diabetes and weight problems. A fish-rich diet can also reduce your risk of developing health problems, especially stroke, as a result of your diabetes. In fact, a study published in a 2016 issue of Food & Nutrition Research found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce inflammation in people with high blood pressure and/or diabetes.
Salmon is the most obvious go-to, but it’s not the only fish loaded with good-for-you fat. “Sardines and anchovies are rich in omega 3’s,” says Newgent. “Grill or pan-grill sardines, then squirt with lemon and serve on top of avocado toast for a more intriguing and balanced bite—or squirt with lime and enjoy as the feature ingredient in fish tacos.”
When you’re tired of making meals at home, try out these tasty restaurant dishes that are great for people with diabetes.
Following a Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in olive oil, and engaging in physical activity is a winning combination for anyone looking to lose weight. A study published in Diabetes Care in 2019 shows that a Mediterranean diet is also beneficial for people with diabetes or at risk for diabetes, who experience better glucose control from these lifestyle changes. In addition to being a standout source of health-promoting monounsaturated fats, olive oil is also rich in antioxidant nutrients that protect cells from damage, and prevents heart disease.
This fiber supplement, long used for constipation relief, is proven to help people with diabetes control blood sugar better. A review of studies published in 2018 in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine suggests that a high-fiber diet also helps prevent type 2 diabetes. The researchers recommend that people with type 2 diabetes increase their intake of fiber-rich foods, such as high-fiber cereals, or to use fiber supplements.
Packed with protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, legumes such as tender, white cannellini beans are slow to raise blood sugar. No wonder they landed at the top of the list of superfoods from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Along with kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans, cannellini beans are high in fiber and packed with vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium. To save time you can use canned beans, but be sure to drain and rinse them to get rid of as much added salt as possible. Here are some other ways to incorporate beans (and other yummy foods like *gasp* french fries) into your meals with these tricks for diabetes diet planning.
Spinach–along with collards, kale, and other dark leafy greens–landed the #2 spot on the the ADA’s round-up of superfoods. That’s because spinach is particularly rich in vitamin K, along with minerals such as magnesium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It’s also a good source of the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, and various flavonoids. Although spinach is technically a rich source of calcium, another nutrient in spinach called oxalic acid prevents much of that calcium from being absorbed. “To help prevent that interference from oxalic acid, cook spinach just slightly,” suggests Newgent. Here are some other benefits of spinach to convince you to eat more leafy greens.
One analysis found that sweet potatoes reduce A1C measures between 0.30 and 0.57 percent and fasting blood glucose by 10 to 15 points. They also contain anthocyanins, the natural pigments that give the sweet potato its deep orange color, and antioxidants, compounds that help defend your cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals. “For people with diabetes, I suggest scrubbing sweet potatoes and leaving on the peel for bonus fiber,” says Newgent. “Or pair with ingredients that are rich in protein, healthy fats, or both. For instance, cook cubes of sweet potato into chili or prepare a hash brown dish by sautéing cubes of sweet potatoes along with lots of non-starchy veggies like green peppers, red peppers, and onions. You can make good-for-you sweet potato fries, too. Just toss them in olive oil—don’t be too skimpy—add your favorite seasonings, and bake until crisp. Looking for more yummy foods with anti-diabetes properties? Search no more: here are 15 of the best foods for people with diabetes.
The most widespread tree nut in the world, this diabetes-friendly food contains the polyunsaturated fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, which has been shown to lower inflammation. The L-arginine, omega-3s, fiber, vitamin E, and other phytochemicals found in walnuts and other tree nuts make them potent: scientists have found them to have antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral, and anti-high cholesterol actions. These powers can help stop and reverse the progression of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But that’s not all: A study published in a 2017 issue of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism found that eating walnuts decreased feelings of hunger Snack on walnuts straight from the shell; the time it takes to crack them open can help you slow down, so your body has more time to register the food and you feel full with fewer calories.
Quinoa tastes like a grain, but it’s more closely related to spinach than it is to rice. Contrary to most grains, it’s a dense source of “complete” protein (14 grams per 1/2 cup!), boasting all nine essential amino acids. One is lysine, which helps the body absorb all that fat-burning calcium and also helps produce carnitine, a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into energy and helping to lower cholesterol. One of the most fiber-rich grain-like foods, quinoa contains 2.6 grams per 1/2 cup, and fiber helps to balance blood sugar levels and keep you fuller, longer. And if you’re hesitant to incorporate grains and starches into your diet, read up on these common diabetic diet myths. (Hint: quinoa is one of them.)
Research has shown that this cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar, thanks to its abundance of chromium, a mineral that enhances the effects of insulin. It’s also loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants that gather up all the free radicals in your blood to protect you from cancer and also lower systemic inflammation, further guarding you from diabetes and heart disease. But that’s not all: A study published in a 2017 issue of Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental found that an essential oil in cinnamon attacks fat cells and could be used as a treatment to fight obesity, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens are excellent sources of vitamin C, which helps lower cortisol in the body and consequently reduces inflammation as well. Collard greens (and other cruciferous veggies like kale and Brussels sprouts) are also a good source of alpha-lipoic acid, a micronutrient that helps the body deal with stress. Good news for people with diabetes: Alpha-lipoic acid also helps reduce blood sugar and can help to strengthen the nerves damaged by diabetic neuropathy, according to a 2018 report in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Just be careful not to overcook it, which creates a strong sulfur smell. Just five minutes of steaming, and you’re done.
Turmeric does more than add color and spice to many curry dishes; it also helps lower blood glucose and may play a role in preventing diabetes. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is the compound believed to regulate fat metabolism in the body. Curcumin acts directly on fat cells, pancreatic cells, kidney cells, and muscle cells, dampening inflammation and blocking the nefarious activities of cancer-causing tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6. Experts believe the combined action of all of these factors together gives curcumin the power to reverse insulin resistance, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, and other symptoms linked to obesity, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, according to a review of studies published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
While it can be tough to tackle exactly what to eat when you have diabetes, we have plenty of resources, like these nutritionists’ clever tricks for grocery shopping with diabetes.
- Jackie Newgent, RDN, registered dietitian, chef, and the author of The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook.
- Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives: “Use of Dark Chocolate for Diabetic Patients: A Review of the Literature and Current Evidence.”
- Antioxidants, “Effects of Cocoa Antioxidants in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: “Enhanced Task-Related Brain Activation and Resting Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults After Chronic Blueberry Supplementation.”
- Nutrients: “Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy.”
- The Journal of Nutrition, “Higher Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes among Middle-Aged Men and Women: The Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort.”
- Diabetes Care, “Risk of Cause-Specific Death in Individuals With Diabetes: A Competing Risks Analysis.”
- Science Translational Medicine, “Sulforaphane reduces hepatic glucose production and improves glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes.”
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, “Sulforaphane Protects against Cardiovascular Disease via Nrf2 Activation.”
Antioxidants: “Blueberries’ Impact on Insulin Resistance and Glucose Intolerance.”
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, “Enhanced Task-Related Brain Activation and Resting Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults after Chronic Blueberry Supplementation.”
- Food & Nutrition Research: “Effect of Long Chain Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Inflammation and Metabolic Markers in Hypertensive and/or Diabetic Obese Adults.”
- Diabetes Care: “Effect of a Lifestyle Intervention Program With Energy-Restricted Mediterranean Diet and Exercise on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors: One-Year Results of the PREDIMED-Plus Trial.”
- The Journal of Chiropractic Medicine: “Dietary Fiber Intake and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses.”
- American Diabetes Association: “Diabetes Superfoods.”
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Sweet Potato for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”
- Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism: “Walnut Consumption Increases Activation of the Insula to Highly Desirable Food Cues.”
- Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental: “Cinnamaldehyde Induces Fat Cell-Autonomous Thermogenesis and Metabolic Reprogramming.”
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Alpha-Lipoic Acid for Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy.”
- Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review.”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Antioxidants: In Depth.”