15 of the Best Foods for People With Diabetes, According to Science
According to research, a healthy diet including these foods can help manage blood sugar levels, or even reverse early-stage high blood-sugar problems.
At 4 grams of fiber per cup, steel-cut oatmeal is among the most diabetes-friendly foods you can eat. That’s because fiber helps you release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, keep blood sugar levels steady in people with type 2 diabetes, suggests a study published in 2015 in Nutrients. Just be sure to choose steel-cut, rather than instant, oatmeal.
loaded with soluble fiber, steel-cut oats are slower to digest than processed carbs. Eat them and you’ll release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, which will prevent spikes in your blood sugar levels. These science-backed strategies can work to reverse diabetes.
This sweet seasoning contains a compound called hydroxy chalcone, which may stimulate insulin receptors on cells and, in turn, improve your body’s ability to absorb blood sugar. A study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Food Science found that consuming 1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day can have a positive impact on blood glucose levels. Sprinkle the fragrant spice onto oatmeal or add a dash to a cup of coffee or tea. These myths about diabetes could be damaging your health.
“In addition to its naturally-occurring sugar, fruit offers fiber and plenty of plant-based nutrients that are actually beneficial for diabetes management,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, chef, and the author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook and the forthcoming The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook. One study, published in 2016 in the British Journal of Medicine, suggests that the phenols derived from red grapes and acai berries, among other foods, may help reduce the release of inflammatory molecules from white blood cells in laboratory tests. Make sure to avoid these foods that are bad for diabetics.
This Mediterranean staple is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs, for short), which may improve insulin sensitivity. A study published in Diabetes Care in 2019 shows that people with diabetes or at risk for diabetes experience better glucose control when following a Mediterranean diet and exercising on a regular basis. A diet that is high in MUFAs and lower in saturated fats is also associated with improvements in cardiovascular health, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduced triglycerides and blood pressure, says Alison Massey, RD, LDN, and certified diabetes educator at Frederick Primary Care Associates in Frederick, Maryland. MUFAs may also help reduce belly fat, which can contribute to inflammation and increase type 2 diabetes risk.
These little legumes pack a powerful punch for people with type 2 diabetes, with a winning combination of high-quality carbohydrates, lean protein, and soluble fiber that helps stabilize the body’s blood-sugar levels and keeps hunger in check. Packed with vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium, legumes such as kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans are good for people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. These are other superfoods that are great for type 2 diabetes.
Eggs provide a great dose of satiating protein (about 4 grams per large white egg), and are a healthy choice compared to many meats. Participants in a study published in a 2018 issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research who regularly ate an egg a day had a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. For people with diabetes, however, nutrition experts recommend limiting yolks to about three times a week, but you can have whites more often.
The calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D in milk, cheese, and yogurt may make your body more sensitive to insulin, according to the 2-Day Diabetes Diet. In a study published in a 2017 issue of the journal Nutrients researchers studied almost 170,000 Korean adults ages 40-69 and they found that the more milk participants consumed, the less likely they were to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that increases your risk for diabetes and heart disease. Just make sure you avoid the worst eating habits for people with diabetes.
All vegetables are crucial to a healthy diabetes diet, but leafy greens pack a particularly powerful punch. Rich in nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin K, kale and its cousins have been linked to better blood sugar control, according to the Reader’s Digest 2-Day Diabetes Diet book. Leafy greens are also a good source of alpha-lipoic acid, a micronutrient that helps reduce blood glucose and can help to strengthen the nerves damaged by diabetic neuropathy, according to a 2018 report in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Research suggests that people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have less body-wide inflammation, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes and weight problems. Indeed, a study published in 2016 in the journal 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 among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but it’s not the only one, says Newgent. “Sardines and anchovies are also rich in omega 3s. Grill or pan-grill sardines, then squirt with lemon and serve on top of avocado toast for a more intriguing and balanced bite,” she suggests. “Or squirt with lime and enjoy in fish tacos.”
Cranberries contain a large amount of phytonutrients. One of these nutrients, anthocyanins, is especially good for people with diabetes. They also contain antioxidants that lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Indeed, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that drinking low-calorie cranberry juice can improve a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease in adults, including insulin resistance.
Quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids. This grain can help to prevent spikes in blood sugar and will keep you feeling full for long periods of time.
An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. Eating apples can also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, a review of studies, published in 2017 in the journal Food & Function, found that eating an apple (or pear!) once a week was associated with a reduced risk for type 2.
Preliminary research suggests onions may help lower blood glucose. An animal study presented at the 2015 annual meeting of The Endocrine Society found that the extract of onion bulb lowered blood glucose and total cholesterol levels in rats with diabetes when given with the diabetes drug metformin. Those findings mirror the results of a number of studies, including one published in 2013 in the journal Preventive Nutrition and Food Science.
Nuts are among the 10 “Diabetes Superfoods” recommended by the American Diabetes Association. Why? An ounce of nuts can go a long way in getting key healthy fats along with helping to manage hunger; they offer magnesium and fiber; and some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flax seeds, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. “Healthy fats in nuts and seeds can help stabilize blood sugar and keep you satisfied,” says Jillian Kubala, RD, a registered dietitian in Westhampton, NY.
A study published in 2018 in the journal PLoS One showed that people with type 2 diabetes tend to be deficient in an glutathione, an antioxidant found in abundance in asparagus. For instance, participants in the study with diabetic retinopathy were found to have lower levels of glutathione than those who didn’t have the disease.
- Nutrients, "The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- International Journal of Food Science, "The Effect of Different Amounts of Cinnamon Consumption on Blood Glucose in Healthy Adult Individuals."
- Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian, chef, and the author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook and the forthcoming The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook.
- British Journal of Medicine, "Identification of (poly)phenol treatments that modulate the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines by human lymphocytes."
- 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"
- American Diabetes Association, "Diabetes Superfoods"
- Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, "Metabolic Profiling of High Egg Consumption and the Associated Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Middle‐Aged Finnish Men"
- Nutrients, "Association between Milk Consumption and Metabolic Syndrome among Korean Adults: Results from the Health Examinees Study"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, "Alpha-lipoic acid for diabetic peripheral neuropathy"
- Food & Nutrition Research, "Effect of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on inflammation and metabolic markers in hypertensive and/or diabetic obese adults: a randomized controlled trial"
- Journal of Nutrition, "Cranberry juice consumption lowers markers of cardiometabolic risk, including blood pressure and circulating C-reactive protein, triglyceride, and glucose concentrations in adults"
- Food & Function, "Apple and pear consumption and type 2 diabetes mellitus risk: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies."
- Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, "In vivo Investigation of Anti-diabetic Properties of Ripe Onion Juice in Normal and Streptozotocin-induced Diabetic Rats"
- PLoS One, "Glutathione metabolism in type 2 diabetes and its relationship with microvascular complications and glycemia"
- Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Frederick Primary Care Associates in Frederick, Maryland
- Jillian Kubala, RD, a registered dietitian in Westhampton, New York