Fact-checked and Edited by Christopher M. Cirino, DO MPH
Table of Contents
Which foods are the most diabetes-friendly? Natural foods. Eating a variety of natural foods is a key element in addressing and preventing diabetes. Healthy eating is not always so easy if you have diabetes and you normally eat more processed foods. From avoiding those hard-to-resist foods or ingredients that could significantly raise your blood sugar level to picking the ideal food options that meet your nutritional needs, no doubt, there is a lot that goes into planning meals.
So how do you create a clean eating plan that keeps blood sugars in check while improving your overall health? Consider the following factors: First, choose food options that don’t cause weight gain, making it a challenge to manage your diabetes. Next, high-fiber, natural foods are great because they make you feel full, are slow to digest, and prevent blood sugar spikes that are often problematic in diabetes.
In this post, you will find an extensive list of foods from A to Z that gives you many options for preparing your meals each day. If you know of any foods that start with the letter “X” or have any other comments, please include them in the comment section.
Almonds come with immense health benefits, especially if you are looking to control your blood sugar. One study recommends a maximum of 10 nuts per day. These nuts contain monounsaturated fats, which slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream to prevent spikes in your blood sugar levels.
Research supports that even a small amount of weight loss in people living with diabetes can help to control their blood sugar levels. Here is one trick about controlling your blood sugar – if you eat foods that make you feel full and keep you feeling that way, you can significantly reduce the odds of snacking in between meals. The result is that you tend to eat less and lose weight. That said, an avocado is an excellent example of a food option that can make you feel full and satisfied for hours. Consequently, it can help you lose weight and improve your blood sugar control.
Three words describe beans: inexpensive, nutritious, and healthy. Regardless of where you live, you will never have to pay a premium to buy beans. Combining this affordability with the nutrient density, it is clear that beans belong to the superfood class. Beans allow weight loss due to their high fiber and low-calorie content. They have a low glycemic index (GI), meaning a smaller and slower rise in blood sugar levels when consumed – an essential factor when managing diabetes.
Bell peppers are a sweet, versatile, and low-calorie food rich in vitamin C, A, K, and antioxidants (e.g., beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein). The glycemic index of bell peppers is very low.
Not all peppers are created equally. Research shows that red (less orange and yellow) bell peppers have more vitamin C and A than green peppers.
With at least three active substances having anti-diabetic properties, bitter melon can help lower blood sugar levels allowing people with diabetes to control their condition better. So whether you enjoy eating your bitter melon or prefer to cook it in various recipes, this food option can be beneficial in lowering your blood sugar levels.
When it is time to choose a snack or side dish that does not spike your blood sugar quickly, carrots can be a great choice because they fall under the category of low GI foods.
If you haven’t tried incorporating chia seeds into one of your recipes, you are certainly missing out on something unique. Whether it is chia salad, chia pudding, or even including the seeds as a part of your smoothie, there are several ways to reap the nutritional benefits of chia seeds in your diet. What’s more, this superfood contains plenty of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower blood sugar.
In one study, cinnamon reduced fasting blood sugar levels after 40 days. Another study revealed that cinnamon increased insulin sensitivity immediately after consumption, which was said to last for at least 12 hours. There are many ways to add cinnamon to your diet: use it for your water (as a tea) or coffee; sprinkle the powder over steel-ground oatmeal.
If you have not given this cruciferous vegetable a try, it has a milder flavor than its more common cousin. Whether used in a salad or added to a vegetable stir-fry, you can expect to enjoy a vegetable packed with vitamin C and other micronutrients.
With one large egg containing about half a gram of carbohydrates, eggs are another diabetes-friendly food that will not raise your blood sugar. One study discovered that eating eggs can improve fasting blood sugar levels in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. What about the cholesterol content in eggs? The good news is a large egg contains about 200mg of cholesterol, and the ADA recommends a maximum of 300mg of cholesterol per day, so one egg a day is fine.
Diabetes is common in people who are overweight because of increased insulin resistance. If you wonder what that means – it is simply when your cells cannot optimally follow insulin’s instruction to take up glucose from the bloodstream and use it. Typically, this leads to a high level of glucose in the blood, a condition that often leads to diabetes. Fatty fish, like mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna, lake trout, contain EPA and DHA – two excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce insulin resistance and improve sensitivity.
This vegetable has an aromatic compound anethole similar to anise, giving it a subtle licorice flavor. The bulb and stalk can be baked or grilled with olive oil, salt, lemon juice for an exotic taste.
These shiny, nutty seeds have a plethora of excellent nutritional benefits, and some have tagged it a wonder food because it has been linked to improved digestive, brain, and heart health. Nutritionists tout it as a diabetic superfood because of its fiber and omega-3 essential fatty acids that can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
Eating raw or cooked garlic in moderate amounts can regulate blood sugar due to specific chemical components- allicin and allyl propyl disulfide. Also, garlic contains antioxidants that can lower the risk of conditions such as a heart attack or stroke, which people with diabetes are at risk of developing.
Commonly eaten in the Middle East, hummus is another great addition to our list of diabetes-friendly foods because it comes from chicken peas, known for its low GI.
Although ubiquitous and not as in mode as kale, spinach, and arugula, iceberg lettuce is a healthy option because of its fiber, water, and vitamins A and K. As a very low-calorie food, it makes a great, crunchy salad. Omnivores can substitute hamburger or hotdog buns for iceberg lettuce or use it as a carrier for chicken or pork, e.g., lettuce wraps.
Jackfruit is a fruit from southeast Asia and the national fruit of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It has an aroma and flavor similar to pineapple and banana but milder. Jackfruit has a lower glycemic index because it contains plenty of fiber to balance its natural sugar content. Whatever the case, it has become popular as a fruit or added in many dishes as a meat substitute and is certainly worth a try. Here is a list of purported benefits.
Kale has become a staple to a healthy diet. It is a cruciferous vegetable. It is high in fiber, vitamin A, K, B6, C, and micronutrients. The number of ways kale can be prepared illustrates how versatile it is: it can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, stir-fried, or sautéed.
Packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, and broccoli, can be necessary for people with diabetes. Due to their high antioxidant content, these leafy green veggies can protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration, which are some complications linked to diabetes. The significant amount of fiber in these leafy vegetables combined with their low calorie means that they tend to digest slowly, make you feel full, and prevent the post-meal blood sugar spike.
One study showed that replacing half of the potatoes or rice in your diet with lentils can reduce your blood sugar by up to 30 percent. The report further stated that replacing these starch meals completely with lentils can lower your blood sugar by 70 percent. Lentils slow digestion and delay the release of the sugar found in starch, thereby reducing blood sugar levels.
Of the 10,000 known species of mushrooming fungi in North America, only 1% are poisonous. Of the remaining, only about 4% are flavorful. Mushrooms are low in calories and carbohydrates with a very low glycemic index. They contain B vitamins and protein. Try truffles, morel, portobello, cremini, enoki, oyster, and chanterelle. Whether sautéed with butter or added to pasta sauce, mushrooms add a dimension to a meal.
These are peppery and bitter greens, and, similar to kale, they are high in vitamin K, C, and fiber. Not usually eaten raw because of their bitter flavor, try these steamed or sautéed with butter and salt.
Peanut butter can be a great snack if you have diabetes, especially when paired with fruits such as apple, banana, or pear because of its high fiber content. Eating peanut butter along with any of these fruits means you can feel full and satisfied, which also keeps your blood sugar in check. In most shopping centers, you can find all different types of nut butter, including cashew, pistachio, hazelnut, and walnut.
If you are looking for an excellent breakfast option that allows you to feel full and satisfied without significantly raising your blood sugar, you don’t have to look any further than oats. Known for its high fiber and low-calorie content, oatmeal is also a low GI food that can help regulate your blood sugar.
Olives and Olive Oil
Compared with other types of fats, research has shown that extra-virgin olive oil reduces blood glucose and cholesterol levels. A study has also revealed that a diet rich in olive oil and nuts can significantly reduce fasting blood sugar and HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin). Interestingly, olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown better control of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes that embrace this diet.
Whether you choose to eat the seeds or the leaves, pumpkin is a wholesome fruit replete with nutrients and low in calories, making it suitable for those looking to control their blood sugar while improving their overall health.
It’s no longer news that consuming white rice if you have diabetes can cause a spike in your blood sugar due to its high GI. Thankfully, with quinoa, you have an excellent substitute for white rice. Quinoa contains twice more protein and fewer calories and carbohydrates. Also, one cup of quinoa contains 5g more dietary fiber than an equivalent cup, which means it can keep you feeling full for long hours and improve your blood sugar control.
From stews to soups, salads, and sandwiches, onions can be versatile when incorporated into diverse meal options. For people with diabetes, onions also bring some good tidings to help lower blood sugar and increase insulin levels.
Originating from Japan, the Shirataki noodles come from Konjac Yam, known as konnyaku or elephant yam. They also go by “miracle noodles.” Shirataki consists mainly of soluble fiber and water, which slow down the rate the body absorbs carbohydrates. Combining shirataki noodles with a healthy diet and exercise can create a powerful weight-loss tool to improve your blood sugar control and better manage diabetes.
Who doesn’t love strawberries? From its appearance to its taste, fragrance, and nutritional value, this plump little fruit can be said to be nothing short of appealing. If you have diabetes, there is a lot to gain when you include strawberries in your diet. First, strawberries have a low GI load, which means that they won’t cause a significant increase in your blood sugar levels when you eat them. Also, strawberries contain fiber that improves satiety and reduces your urge to snack between meals, which can help you better control your blood glucose levels.
It is easy to think of sweet potato as a high-calorie, starchy food. However, sweet potatoes are also nutrient-dense containing vitamin A, protein, and a lot of fiber that can help those with diabetes improve their blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and better manage their weight.
The list can’t be complete without this happy-looking vegetable. You can add tomatoes to almost anything, and thankfully, you don’t have to worry about tomatoes being off-limits if you have diabetes. One of the reasons tomatoes are beneficial to diabetics is that it is a low-calorie food, which helps keep your weight in check. So you can keep enjoying your tomato pudding, tomato pie, and tomato sorbet.
Nuts are an essential part of a healthy diet. One such nut is the walnut, which can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Also, walnut increases satiety which helps to manage your blood sugar better.
You don’t have to say goodbye to bread even if you have been told that bread isn’t a great food choice for people with diabetes. With whole-wheat bread, you have a healthy bread option packed with fiber and nutrients that improve not only your blood sugar but your overall health. This also explains why the ADA recommends 100 percent whole-wheat bread instead of white bread for diabetics and even prediabetics.
Wild rice is a nutrient-dense, low-calorie food that delivers several vital nutrients to the body, including protein, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. It is also a low GI food that can help you regulate your blood sugar.
Yogurt, Plain Greek
In the past decade, Greek yogurt has become the go-to variety of yogurt for optimal health. Why is this so? Greek yogurt, unlike regular yogurt, is a thicker and creamier yogurt form because it has been strained one additional time to remove its whey. The result is a concentrated yogurt with more protein but less sodium, carbohydrates, and calcium. For people with diabetes, consuming foods low in carbohydrates and high in protein can minimize blood sugar, making Greek yogurt an excellent food choice.
Pasta may be on the list of worst foods to eat if you have diabetes, but with the zucchini noodles (zoodles), you don’t have to eliminate pasta from your diet. Zucchini is low-carb and versatile, as it can be prepared in various ways depending on your taste preference. More importantly, this pasta can serve as an excellent alternative to high-carb foods for people with diabetes because it can lower blood sugar levels.
Overall, the ideal diabetic diet should comprise low-carb, low-sugar, and high fiber foods while adding healthy fats and protein to the mix. Also, remember that low to medium GI foods are a vital part of this diet as they tend to digest slowly and don’t cause that dramatic spike in blood sugar. You can pair a low GI with a high GI one to balance your meal as well as the glycemic response. These pairing options include avocado and white toast, broccoli and baked potatoes, and beans and white rice. If you want to understand better what combination is the most diabetes-friendly, you can also monitor your post-meal blood sugar level with your glucometer.
- Insulin Resistance: What it is and 9 ways to counteract it
- Stop and Treat Your Prediabetes Using the Ketogenic Diet
- If You Have Diabetes, Your Best Bet is to Pick these Foods
Ayotola is a pharmacist and researcher with a Master’s in Pharmacology from the University of Lagos. He is passionate about creating engaging healthcare content that drives his target audience to take action to lead healthier lives. You can reach Ayotola on his website here.