If you’re living with diabetes, managing your condition is critical as uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to serious health problems like heart and kidney disease. While that can sound daunting, managing diabetes may not be as difficult as you think — and isn’t always about cutting out foods. In fact, you can add certain foods into your diet that help lower blood sugar. So what do these foods have in common that make them ideal for a diabetic diet?
Factors That Help Keep Blood Sugar Low
You may have heard of the Glycemic Index (GI), a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar. High glycemic foods tend to raise blood sugar quickly while low glycemic index foods raise blood sugar very slowly, or sometimes not at all.
How fast or slow a food changes your blood sugar depends on how quickly your body can break it down and move it from your digestive tract into the blood stream.
Foods or beverages that are mostly sugar, such as juice or soda, are high glycemic foods. These are digested very quickly and move almost immediately into the blood stream, resulting in a rapid increase in blood sugar.
In contrast, some foods take longer to digest and raise the blood sugar very slowly. These are referred to as low glycemic index foods. A whole apple, for example, is much higher in fiber than apple juice. It takes a while for you to chew the apple and for your body to break it down and move the natural sugars into your blood stream. Similarly, fatty or protein-rich foods, such as peanut butter and chicken breast, also take a while to digest (and contain fewer carbohydrates).
What About Insulin?
Insulin is the hormone that helps move sugar out of the bloodstream and into your cells to fuel your day. Foods that control blood sugar may also affect how well insulin works.
Top Foods for Lowering Blood Sugar
Incorporating these 6 foods as part of your diabetic diet plan can help you control your blood sugar and best manage your diabetes.
Beans and other legumes like lentils and peas top the list of low GI foods. High in fiber and a good source of protein, they take time to move through your digestive tract. Not only will adding 1 cup of beans, chickpeas or lentils to your diet each day keep you full and satisfied for a long time, they can help improve your blood sugar, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon is often associated with sweet desserts, not blood sugar control. But cinnamon actually slows down digestion of carbohydrates, and at the same time speeds up how quickly sugar moves out of your blood stream and into your cells and tissues.
Aside from being an excellent zero-calorie choice, regularly drinking green tea can lower your fasting insulin and hemoglobin A1C, a lab value commonly used to estimate average blood sugar levels. And, studies show it may have an even larger impact on blood sugar if it replaces high sugar beverages like sweetened coffee, soda and juice.
Oatmeal and other whole-grain foods, such as whole-grain pasta and bread, are great for keeping blood sugar stable. Compared to white bread and other refined grains, whole grains are complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber, protein and B vitamins. Whole grains are also particularly high in soluble fiber, a specific type of fiber that slows digestion, so they decrease blood sugar after eating and can improve insulin sensitivity.
Nuts and Seeds
Low glycemic foods, such as nuts and seeds, are rich in B vitamins and healthy fats. Nuts or nut butters (such as peanut or almond butter) can be added to other high-carbohydrate foods to slow your body’s blood sugar response.
Nuts are also high in unsaturated fats, making them a heart-healthy snack. And taking care of your heart is really important if you have diabetes, since uncontrolled blood sugar increases your risk for heart disease.
Leafy greens and other low-carb veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower and green beans, are high in nutrients and fiber but low in carbohydrates. Adding non-starchy vegetables to a meal can slow down digestion and can help you eat less overall. In fact, a study done at Penn State showed that starting your meal with a salad will help you eat 12% fewer calories.
How Much and How Often You Eat Matters, Too
Even healthy foods can be problematic if you eat too much. The best plan for managing your blood sugar is to include reasonable portions of low glycemic index foods regularly throughout the day. Use the healthy plate model for as a guide for meals to make sure you strike a balance between high-fiber complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats.
First, fill half your plate with whole vegetables and whole fruits (not juices). Most choices in this category are healthy, but the best are high in fiber such as:
- Leafy greens
Next, add a palm-sized serving of lean protein. Good choices in this category include:
- Chicken breast
- Lean ground beef
Finally, add a fist-sized serving of complex carbohydrates. Remember, the carbohydrates should be high-fiber, low glycemic index foods such as:
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato
- Whole-grain pasta
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
When it comes to managing diabetes, including low glycemic index foods regularly throughout the day is a winning strategy for better blood sugar control. If you suspect you or a loved one have diabetes, or if you need help managing your condition, our care team is here to guide you. Let us help you get your blood sugar in control, so you can get back to your life.