diabtes

Foods to Control Diabetes and Lower Blood Sugar and Physical Activity

Nutrition and physical activity are important parts of a healthy lifestyle when you have diabetes. Along with other benefits, following a healthy meal plan and being active can help you keep your blood glucose level, also called blood sugar, in your target range. To manage your blood glucose, you need to balance what you eat and drink with physical activity and diabetes medicine, if you take any. What you choose to eat, how much you eat, and when you eat are all important in keeping your blood glucose level in the range that your health care team recommends.

Becoming more active and making changes in what you eat and drink can seem challenging at first. You may find it easier to start with small changes and get help from your family, friends, and health care team.

Eating well and being physically active most days of the week can help you

  • keep your blood glucose level, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target ranges
  • lose weight or stay at a healthy weight
  • prevent or delay diabetes problems
  • feel good and have more energy

If you have diabetes, you know how difficult it can be to manage your diet and control your blood sugar levels. Certain foods cause massive spikes while others actually lower blood sugar, but many people go through years of trial and error before they find out what works for them. Luckily, thanks to years of scientific findings, we’ve been able to determine what foods are better than others.

Best foods for people living with diabetes

Broccoli

Broccoli is a low calorie, low carb food with high nutrient value. It’s loaded with healthy plant compounds that may help protect against various diseases.

Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables around.

A half cup of cooked broccoli contains only 27 calories and 3 grams of digestible carbs, along with important nutrients like vitamin C and magnesium.

Broccoli may also help manage your blood sugar levels.

One study found that consuming broccoli sprouts led to a reduction in blood glucose in people with diabetes.

This reduction in blood glucose levels is likely due to sulforaphane, a chemical in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and sprouts.

Nuts

Nuts are a healthy addition to a balanced diet. They’re high in fiber and can help reduce blood sugar and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Nuts are delicious and nutritious.

Most types of nuts contain fiber and are low in net carbs, although some have more than others.

Research on a variety of different nuts has shown that regular consumption may reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar, HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar management), and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Nuts may also help people with diabetes improve their heart health.

A 2019 study involving more than 16,000 participants with type 2 diabetes found that eating tree nuts — such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios — lowered their risk of heart disease and death.

Research also indicates that nuts can improve blood glucose levels.

A study with people with type 2 diabetes found that eating walnut oil daily improved blood glucose levels.

This finding is important because people with type 2 diabetes often have elevated levels of insulin, which are linked to obesity.

Greek yogurt

Yogurt may promote healthy blood sugar levels, reduce risk factors for heart disease, and help with weight management.

A long-term study involving health data from more than 100,000 participants found that a daily serving of yogurt was linked to an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It may also help you lose weight, if that’s a personal goal.

Studies show yogurt and other dairy foods may lead to weight loss and improved body composition in people with type 2 diabetes.

The high levels of calcium, protein, and a special type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in yogurt may help keep you full for longer.

What’s more, Greek yogurt contains only 6–8 grams of carbs per serving, which is lower than conventional yogurt.

It’s also higher in protein, which may promote weight loss by reducing appetite and thus decreasing calorie intake.

Beans

Beans are cheap, nutritious, and have a low glycemic index, making them a healthy option for people with diabetes.
Beans are affordable, nutritious, and super healthy.

Beans are a type of legume rich in B vitamins, beneficial minerals (calcium, potassium, and magnesium), and fiber.

They also have a very low glycemic index, which is important for managing diabetes.

Beans may also help prevent diabetes.

In a study involving more than 3,000 participants at high risk of cardiovascular disease, those who had a higher consumption of legumes had a reduced chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds contain high amounts of fiber, which may help you lose weight. They also help maintain blood glucose levels.

Chia seeds are a wonderful food for people with diabetes.

They’re extremely high in fiber, yet low in digestible carbs.

In fact, 11 of the 12 grams of carbs in a 28-gram (1-ounce) serving of chia seeds are fiber, which doesn’t raise blood sugar.

The viscous fiber in chia seeds can actually lower your blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which food moves through your gut and is absorbed.

Chia seeds may help you achieve a moderate weight because fiber reduces hunger and makes you feel full. Chia seeds may also help maintain glycemic management in people with diabetes.

A study involving 77 adults with overweight or obesity and a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes found that eating chia seeds supports weight loss and helps maintain good glycemic control.

Additionally, chia seeds have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammatory markers.

Eggs

Eggs may improve risk factors for heart disease, promote good blood sugar management, protect eye health, and keep you feeling full.

Regular egg consumption may reduce your heart disease risk in several ways.

Eggs may decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and modify the size and shape of your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A 2019 study found that eating a high fat, low carb breakfast of eggs could help people with diabetes manage blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Older research has linked egg consumption with heart disease in people with diabetes.

But a more recent review of controlled studies found that eating 6 to 12 eggs per week as part of a nutritious diet did not increase heart disease risk factors in people with diabetes.

What’s more, some research suggests that eating eggs may reduce the risk of stroke.

Avocados

Avocados have less than 1 gram of sugar and are associated with improved overall diet quality. Avocados may also have properties specific to diabetes prevention.

Avocados have less than 1 gram of sugar, few carbohydrates, a high fiber content, and healthy fats, so you don’t have to worry about them raising your blood sugar levels.

Avocado consumption is also associated with improved overall diet quality and significantly lower body weight and body mass index (BMI).

This makes avocados an ideal snack for people with diabetes, especially since obesity increases the chances of developing diabetes.

Avocados may have properties specific to preventing diabetes.

A 2019 study in mice found that avocatin B (AvoB), a fat molecule found only in avocados, inhibits incomplete oxidation in skeletal muscle and the pancreas, which reduces insulin resistance.

More research is needed in humans to establish the connection between avocados and diabetes prevention.

Leafy greens

Leafy green vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C as well as antioxidants that protect your heart and eye health.

Leafy green vegetables are extremely nutritious and low in calories.

They’re also very low in digestible carbs, or carbs absorbed by the body, so they won’t significantly affect blood sugar levels.

Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are good sources of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C.

Some evidence suggests that people with diabetes have lower vitamin C levels than people without diabetes, and they may have greater vitamin C requirements.

Vitamin C acts as a potent antioxidant and also has anti-inflammatory qualities.

Increasing dietary intake of vitamin C-rich foods can help people with diabetes increase their serum vitamin C levels while reducing inflammation and cellular damage.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish contain omega-3 fats that can help reduce inflammation and other risk factors of heart disease and stroke. Plus, it’s a great source of protein, which is important for managing blood sugar.

Salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and mackerel are great sources of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which have major benefits for heart health.

Getting enough of these fats on a regular basis is especially important for people with diabetes, who have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

DHA and EPA protect the cells that line your blood vessels, reduce markers of inflammation, and may help improve the way your arteries function.

Research indicates that people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk of acute coronary syndromes, like heart attacks, and are less likely to die from heart disease.

Studies show that eating fatty fish may also help regulate blood sugar.

A study involving 68 adults who had overweight or obesity found that participants who consumed fatty fish had significant improvements in post-meal blood sugar levels than participants who consumed lean fish.

Fish is also a great source of high quality protein, which helps you feel full and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil contains healthy oleic acid. It has benefits for blood pressure and heart health.

Extra-virgin olive oil contains oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that may improve glycemic management, reduce fasting and post-meal triglyceride levels, and has antioxidant properties.

This is important because people with diabetes tend to have trouble managing blood sugar levels and have high triglyceride levels.

Oleic acid may also stimulate the fullness hormone GLP-1.

In a large analysis of 32 studies looking at different types of fat, olive oil was the only one shown to reduce heart disease risk.

Olive oil also contains antioxidants called polyphenols.

Polyphenols reduce inflammation, protect the cells lining your blood vessels, keep oxidation from damaging your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and decrease blood pressure.

Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined, so it retains antioxidants and other properties that make it so healthy.

Be sure to choose extra-virgin olive oil from a reputable source, since many olive oils are mixed with cheaper oils like corn and soy.

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds may help reduce inflammation, lower heart disease risk, decrease blood sugar levels, and improve insulin sensitivity.

Also known as common flax or linseeds, flaxseeds have a high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, and other unique plant compounds.

A portion of their insoluble fiber is made up of lignans, which may help decrease heart disease risk and improve blood sugar management.

A review analyzing 25 randomized clinical trials found a significant association between whole flaxseed supplementation and a reduction in blood glucose.
Flaxseeds may also help lower blood pressure.

A 2016 study involving participants with prediabetes found that a daily intake of flaxseed powder lowered blood pressure — but it did not improve glycemic management or insulin resistance.

More research is needed to investigate how flaxseed can help prevent or manage diabetes.

But overall, flaxseed is beneficial for your heart and gut health.

Plus, flaxseeds are very high in viscous fiber, which improves gut health, insulin sensitivity, and feelings of fullness.

Apple cider vinegar and vinegar

Apple cider vinegar may help improve fasting blood sugar levels, but more research is needed to confirm its health benefits.

Apple cider vinegar and plain vinegar have many health benefits.

Although it’s made from apples, the sugar in the fruit is fermented into acetic acid. The resulting product contains less than 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon.

According to a meta-analysis of six studies, including 317 people with type 2 diabetes, vinegar has beneficial effects on fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c.

Apple cider vinegar may have many other healthful properties, including antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. But more studies are needed to confirm its health benefits.

To incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet, begin with 4 teaspoons mixed in a glass of water each day before each meal. Note that you may want to put 1 teaspoon per glass of water so that the taste is not as strong. Increase to a maximum of 4 tablespoons per day.

Strawberries

Strawberries are low sugar fruits that have strong anti-inflammatory properties and may help improve insulin resistance.

Strawberries are high in antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which give them their red color.

They also contain polyphenols, which are beneficial plant compounds with antioxidant properties.

A 2017 study found that a 6-week consumption of polyphenols from strawberries and cranberries improved insulin sensitivity in adults with overweight and obesity who didn’t have diabetes.

This is important because low insulin sensitivity can cause blood sugar levels to become too high.

A 1-cup serving of strawberries contains about 53.1 calories and 12.7 grams of carbs, three of which are fiber.

This serving also provides more than 100% of the reference daily intake (RDI) for vitamin C, which provides additional anti-inflammatory benefits for heart health.

Squash

Summer and winter squash contain beneficial antioxidants and may help lower blood sugar.

Squash, which has many varieties, is one of the healthiest vegetables around.

The dense, filling food is fairly low in calories and has a low glycemic index.

Winter varieties have a hard shell and include acorn, pumpkin, and butternut.

Summer squash has a soft peel that can be eaten. The most common types are zucchini and Italian squash.

Like most vegetables, squash contains beneficial antioxidants. Squash also has less sugar than sweet potatoes, making it a great alternative.

Research shows that pumpkin polysaccharides, which are also found in squash, improved insulin tolerance and decreased levels of serum glucose in rats (27).

Although there’s very little research on humans, a small study in humans found that squash decreased high blood glucose levels quickly and effectively in people with diabetes who were critically ill.

More studies with humans are needed to confirm the health benefits of squash.

But the health benefits of squash make it a great addition to any meal.

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How much can I eat if I have diabetes?

Eating the right amount of food will also help you manage your blood glucose level and your weight. Your health care team can help you figure out how much food and how many calories you should eat each day.

Weight-loss planning

If you are overweight or have obesity, work with your health care team to create a weight-loss plan.

The Body Weight Planner can help you tailor your calorie and physical activity plans to reach and maintain your goal weight.

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories and replace less healthy foods with foods lower in calories, fat, and sugar.

If you have diabetes, are overweight or obese, and are planning to have a baby, you should try to lose any excess weight before you become pregnant.

Meal plan methods

Two common ways to help you plan how much to eat if you have diabetes are the plate method and carbohydrate counting, also called carb counting. Check with your health care team about the method that’s best for you.

Plate method

The plate method helps you control your portion sizes. You don’t need to count calories. The plate method shows the amount of each food group you should eat. This method works best for lunch and dinner.

Use a 9-inch plate. Put nonstarchy vegetables on half of the plate; a meat or other protein on one-fourth of the plate; and a grain or other starch on the last one-fourth. Starches include starchy vegetables such as corn and peas. You also may eat a small bowl of fruit or a piece of fruit, and drink a small glass of milk as included in your meal plan.

Portion sizes

  • You can use everyday objects or your hand to judge the size of a portion.
  • 1 serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • 1 3-ounce serving of fish is a checkbook
  • 1 serving of cheese is six dice
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta is a rounded handful or a tennis ball
  • 1 serving of a pancake or waffle is a DVD
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is a ping-pong ball

Carbohydrate counting

Carbohydrate counting involves keeping track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat and drink each day. Because carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, they affect your blood glucose level more than other foods do. Carb counting can help you manage your blood glucose level. If you take insulin, counting carbohydrates can help you know how much insulin to take.

Carbohydrate counting is a meal planning tool for people with diabetes who take insulin, but not all people with diabetes need to count carbohydrates. Your health care team can help you create a personal eating plan that will best meet your needs.

The amount of carbohydrates in foods is measured in grams. To count carbohydrate grams in what you eat, you’ll need to

  • learn which foods have carbohydrates
  • read the Nutrition Facts food label, or learn to estimate the number of grams of carbohydrate in the foods you eat
  • add the grams of carbohydrate from each food you eat to get your total for each meal and for the day

Most carbohydrates come from starches, fruits, milk, and sweets. Try to limit carbohydrates with added sugars or those with refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. Instead, eat carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk.

What physical activities should I do if I have diabetes?

Most kinds of physical activity can help you take care of your diabetes. Certain activities may be unsafe for some people, such as those with low vision or nerve damage to their feet. Ask your health care team what physical activities are safe for you. Many people choose walking with friends or family members for their activity.

Doing different types of physical activity each week will give you the most health benefits. Mixing it up also helps reduce boredom and lower your chance of getting hurt. Try these options for physical activity.

Add extra activity to your daily routine

If you have been inactive or you are trying a new activity, start slowly, with 5 to 10 minutes a day. Then add a little more time each week. Increase daily activity by spending less time in front of a TV or other screen. Try these simple ways to add physical activities in your life each day:

  • Walk around while you talk on the phone or during TV commercials.
  • Do chores, such as work in the garden, rake leaves, clean the house, or wash the car.
  • Park at the far end of the shopping center parking lot and walk to the store.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Make your family outings active, such as a family bike ride or a walk in a park.

Do aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is activity that makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe harder. You should aim for doing aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day most days of the week. You do not have to do all the activity at one time. You can split up these minutes into a few times throughout the day.

To get the most out of your activity, exercise at a moderate to vigorous level. Try

  • walking briskly or hiking
  • climbing stairs
  • swimming or a water-aerobics class
  • dancing
  • riding a bicycle or a stationary bicycle
  • taking an exercise class
  • playing basketball, tennis, or other sports

Talk with your health care team about how to warm up and cool down before and after you exercise.

Do strength training to build muscle

Strength training is a light or moderate physical activity that builds muscle and helps keep your bones healthy. Strength training is important for both men and women. When you have more muscle and less body fat, you’ll burn more calories. Burning more calories can help you lose and keep off extra weight.

You can do strength training with hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines. Try to do strength training two to three times a week. Start with a light weight. Slowly increase the size of your weights as your muscles become stronger.

Do stretching exercises

Stretching exercises are light or moderate physical activity. When you stretch, you increase your flexibility, lower your stress, and help prevent sore muscles.

You can choose from many types of stretching exercises. Yoga is a type of stretching that focuses on your breathing and helps you relax. Even if you have problems moving or balancing, certain types of yoga can help. For instance, chair yoga has stretches you can do when sitting in a chair or holding onto a chair while standing. Your health care team can suggest whether yoga is right for you.

Bottom Line

When diabetes is not well managed, it increases your risk of several serious diseases.

But eating foods that help keep blood sugar, insulin, and inflammation in check can dramatically reduce your risk of complications.

Just remember, although these foods may help manage blood sugar, the most important factor in healthy blood sugar management is following an overall nutritious, balanced diet.

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