Living with type 2 diabetes (or trying to prevent it) can lead to obsession and confusion over food. What are you even supposed to eat?
Everyone responds to foods differently, so the key is to find the right balance with foods you enjoy.
Some “super” foods contain ultra-beneficial combos of micronutrients and compounds that help with glycemic control. What if you could pack a whole stack of diabetes-friendly superfoods into one yummy and satisfying day? Check it out — you can!
Fun fact. Eating just 80–125 grams (about 3–5 ounces) of yogurt per day can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 14 percent.
Fermented foods like yogurt are famous for supporting healthy digestion with good bacteria. Researchers think probiotics in yogurt may help with glucose metabolism (the process of breaking down sugar into energy) by altering your gut bacteria for the better.
Think of plain Greek yogurt as the Levi’s 501 to mix and match with some of the other superfoods listed here. Yogurt with strawberries and walnuts? Yes please. Who doesn’t love a protein with a side of antioxidants.
Synergy! Sounds like an X-Men name, but really it’s like if all the X-men teamed and their superpowers intensified because of #TeamWork.
Nutritional scientists think it’s the synergy of fiber, healthy fats, minerals, and other bioactive compounds in nuts that can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance, increasing insulin secretion, and regulating blood sugar spikes after eating.
Which nut should you crack? Walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds… sprinkle a few here and there until you find the ones you love.
Who needs an excuse to add half an avocado to their lunch? One study indicates people who include half of a nutrient-dense Hass avocado with lunch are more satisfied and had less desire to eat hours later. Participants also released more insulin and had lower blood sugar levels after eating avocado.
Scientists measured glucose response after participants ate comparable amounts of different breads and found sprouted-grain bread (like Ezekiel bread) had a bigger effect than whole grain, sourdough, or white bread.
Sprouted-grain bread is high in fiber, which slows the absorption of carbohydrates during digestion. The sprouting process may also increase vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant content.
Avocado toast with sprouted-grain bread, anyone? You’ll find these hearty loaves in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
The high magnesium content of pumpkin seeds can also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A daily increase of 100 milligrams of magnesium reduces diabetes risk by 15 percent! Just one ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 168 milligrams of magnesium.
Magnesium is not the only thing pumpkin seeds have going for them. They contain trigonelline, nicotinic acid, and d-chiro-inositol, which also help control glycemic levels.
Maybe “vitamin C” conjures stacks of juicy, gleaming oranges gathering for an assault on the common cold, but strawberries are also a good source of vitamin C. And a vitamin C-rich army of strawberries can also help improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes. In one study, people who took two daily 500-mg doses of vitamin C experienced a 36 percent drop in blood sugar elevation after eating.
One cup of strawberries contains 85 milligrams of Vitamin C. Though you can find them year-round, strawberries are at peak deliciousness from April through July.
It’s spicy, soothes an upset stomach, and describes everyone’s BFF — Ron Weasley. Ginger is easy to add to tea, soup, chicken, and just about anything else. But can it also lower blood sugar? Yes — studies show that ginger consumption reduces blood glucose by blocking enzymes that raise blood sugar during carbohydrate absorption.
People with type 2 diabetes who took 1–3 grams of ground ginger daily saw a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar, compared to those who took placebo.
Three cups of raw spinach (that’s a substantial salad) contains 558 milligrams of potassium. Studies have shown that low potassium is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, while eating more potassium-rich foods is associated with reduced risk.
The US Panel on Dietary Reference recommends a daily intake of 4700 milligrams of potassium. To hit that target, eat your spinach and try some of these other superfoods that are high in potassium: avocado, sweet potatoes, and beans. Sounds like a super salad.
A study found that people who took two 500-mg capsules of cinnamon powder per day for 3 months saw improvement in glucose and insulin levels. Cinnamon capsules are commercially available, but you could boost your daily intake just by sprinkling some powdered cinnamon on fruit, yogurt, and cereal.
Tomatoes really are super and full of good stuff that can help prevent diabetes, like lycopene, beta carotene, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, folate, and vitamin E.
One big bummer about living with diabetes is the comorbid conditions that must also be managed, like high blood pressure. Researchers found that when people with diabetes consumed 7 ounces of raw tomato daily for 8 weeks, their blood pressure was lower.
Embark on a tomato tour, trying as many different varieties as you can find.
If you think okra is slimy and weird, you’re right — it can be. It can also be roasted into a crunchy snack food. Or it can lay the foundation for a spicy gumbo to rival the healing properties of chicken soup.
Roasted okra seeds are a traditional treatment for diabetes in Turkey, so could eating the often-misunderstood veggie lower glucose? Scientists answer with a resounding “maybe,” based on animal studies.
Flaxseed is high in fiber, low in carbs, and contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. A 2011 study found that people who took 10 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons) of ground flaxseed powder daily for 1 month experienced a 19.7 percent reduction in fasting blood glucose.
Whole or ground flaxseed can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, salads, or baked goods for a nutritional boost.
Salmon is a good way to add protein to your diet, along with a healthy dose of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Unsaturated fatty acids are associated with better cholesterol levels and heart health, and they can improve glycemic control.
According to the American Diabetes Association, benefits are greater with whole food sources like salmon than with omega-3 supplements.
Beans, chickpeas, and lentils really are magical when it comes to glycemic control. In a 2012 study, people with diabetes who increased their consumption of beans by at least 1 cup per day for 3 months experienced a 0.5 percent reduction in HbA1c (a blood indicator for diabetes risk).
You don’t have to sit down to a giant bowl of black beans to see benefits (though that sounds kind of good); beans can be incorporated in so many ways throughout the day. Add some to soup, have hummus for a snack, top your salad at dinner, and you’re sure to reach that 1-cup goal.
Eggs suffered some bad PR in recent decades because of their cholesterol content, but researchers are uncovering evidence that they’re not only not harmful, but could be beneficial in blood sugar control.
In a 2018 study, people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes were given one large egg per day for 12 weeks. Their fasting glucose levels and insulin resistance were significantly lower by the end of the study. Why not boil a week’s worth of eggs and stash them in the fridge for snacking?
Turmeric has been used as a diabetes remedy in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, and many studies have examined its efficacy in rodents. A review of the research shows evidence that curcumin (the key component in the spice) improves insulin resistance and hyperglycemia and prevents complications associated with diabetes. Turmeric is especially tasty in warm drinks like Golden Milk.
The American Diabetes Association recommends these tips for meal planning:
- Go for fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and plant-based sources of protein.
- Eat less added sugar and processed food.
- Try superfoods to supercharge your diet with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
- Choose healthy fats to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Here’s what a day of superfoods looks like:
Breakfast: Unsweetened Greek yogurt topped with walnuts, strawberries, and flaxseed. A spicy cup of kickstarter tea with ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.
Snack: Boiled egg.
Lunch: Toasted Ezekiel bread with avocado, fresh tomatoes, and baked sweet potato wedges.
Snack: Dried or roasted okra dipped in hummus.
Dinner: Spinach salad topped with pumpkin seeds, black beans, and salmon.
Many factors impact the management of type 2 diabetes, some of which are tough to control. Loading up on potent foods is an easy way to take control. These superfoods have proven benefits for blood sugar management and diabetes prevention. Find your favorites and add a few to your diet each day. Living well with diabetes can be delicious!