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What’s the best diet for diabetes?
Diabetes is one of the commonest chronic diseases in the world right now.
Most patients want to know what they can eat to better control their medical condition.
Well, the good news is that the nutritional needs of a Diabetic patient are virtually the same as everyone else, so no “special foods” are necessary.
But you do need to pay attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat. While following a Mediterranean or other heart-healthy diet can help with this, the most important thing you can do is to lose a little weight.
Losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Losing weight and eating healthier can also have a profound effect on your mood, energy, and sense of wellbeing.
Even if you’ve already developed diabetes, it’s not too late to make a positive change. By eating healthier, being more physically active, and losing weight, you can reduce your symptoms or even reverse diabetes.
It’s not too late. You have more control over your health than you may think.
Belly fat is the biggest risk for type 2 diabetes
Being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
However, your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs.
A lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance. You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:
A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more
Calories obtained from fructose (found in sugary beverages such as soda, energy, and sports drinks, coffee drinks, and processed foods like doughnuts, muffins, cereal, candy, and granola bars) are more likely to add weight around your abdomen.
Cutting back on sugary foods can mean a slimmer waistline as well as a lower risk of diabetes.
Planning a diabetes diet
A diabetic diet doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to give up all your favorite foods. The first step to making smarter choices is to separate the myths from the facts about eating to prevent or control diabetes.
Myths and facts about diabetes and diet
Myth: You must avoid sugar at all costs.
Fact: You can enjoy your favorite treats as long as you plan properly and limit hidden sugars. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan.
Myth: You have to cut way down on carbs.
Fact: The type of carbohydrates you eat as well as serving size is key. Focus on whole grain carbs instead of starchy carbs since they’re high in fiber and digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.
Myth: You’ll need special diabetic meals.
Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re diabetic. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit.
Myth: A high-protein diet is best.
Fact: Studies have shown that eating too much protein, especially animal protein, may actually cause insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A healthy diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need all three to function properly.
The Best Foods for Diabetes patients
1. Whole grains
Whole grains contain high levels of fiber and more nutrients than refined white grains.
Eating a diet high in fiber is important for people with diabetes because fiber slows down the digestion process. Slower absorption of nutrients helps keep blood sugar levels stable.
Whole wheat and whole grains are lower on the glycemic index (GI) scale than white bread and rice. This means that they have less of an impact on blood sugar.
Good examples of whole grains to include in the diet are:
You can swap white bread or white pasta for whole-grain options.
Beans are an excellent food option for people with diabetes. They are a good source of plant-based protein, and they can satisfy the appetite while helping people reduce their carbohydrate intake.
Beans are also low on the GI scale and are better for blood sugar regulation than many other starchy foods.
Also, beans may help people manage their blood sugar levels. They are a complex carbohydrate, so the body digests them slower than it does other carbohydrates.
Eating beans can also help with weight loss and could help regulate a person’s blood pressure and cholesterol.
There is a wide range of beans for people to choose from, including:
These beans also contain important nutrients, including iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Beans are a highly versatile food choice. People can include a variety of beans in a chili or stew, or in tortilla wraps with salad.
For my Naija people, there are sooooo many ways to enjoy beans- Rice and beans, beans porridge, beans and plantain, beans and sweet potato, beans and fish, beans and meat, beans and crayfish, akara, moinmoin, gbegiri, salad etc.
When using canned beans, be sure to choose an option with no added salt. Otherwise, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly to remove any added salt.
Oats contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which seems to have an anti-diabetic effect.
Specifically, this review concluded that beta-glucans help to reduce high blood sugar and blood pressure, adding,
For Diabetes patient, however, it is better to stick with rolled oats.
Sweet potatoes have a lower GI than white potatoes. This makes them a great alternative for people with diabetes, as they release sugar more slowly and do not raise blood sugar as much.
Sweet potatoes are also a great source of:
People can enjoy sweet potatoes in a range of ways, including baked, boiled, roasted, or mashed. For a balanced meal, eat them with a source of lean protein and green leafy vegetables or a salad.
5. Unripe Plantain
Plantains are rich sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and are easily digestible.
Fiber and complex carbs are less processed and more slowly digested than the simple carbs found in processed foods.
They keep you full and more satisfied for longer after a meal, which can mean less snacking on unhealthy foods.
If you have ever eaten unripe plantain, you will probably relate to the fact that it keeps you fuller for longer.
Plantains are also a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
A cup of sliced plantains gives you roughly 34 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
This vitamin helps decrease homocysteine levels which are often associated with coronary artery disease and stroke- common complications of diabetes.
The fiber in plantains also helps lower your cholesterol, which in turn keeps your heart functioning at its best.
While most studies done to show the antihyperglycemic effect of rats are done on rats, it is still an excellent choice based on the features outlined above.
Load up! You’ll get fiber and very little fat or salt (unless you add them). Remember, potatoes and corn count as carbs.
Fresh veggies, eaten raw or lightly steamed, roasted, or grilled
Plain frozen vegetables, lightly steamed
Green leafy vegetables such as pumpkin aka ugwu, bitter leaf, scent leaf, kale, spinach, etc.
Low sodium or unsalted canned vegetables
Go for a variety of colors: dark greens, red or orange (think of carrots or red peppers), whites (onions) and even purple (eggplants).
7. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
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 diabetics, 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 improve the way your arteries function after eating.
This is important because people with diabetes are prone to developing heart diseases. You definitely want to eat food that will protect the heart.
Fish is also a great source of high-quality protein, which helps you feel full and increases your metabolic rate.
Eggs provide amazing health benefits.
In fact, they’re one of the best foods for keeping you full for hours.
Regular egg consumption may also reduce your heart disease risk in several ways.
Eggs decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase your “good” HDL cholesterol levels and modify the size and shape of your “bad” LDL cholesterol.
I know a lot of people believe the myth that eggs increase your cholesterol level. The truth is that you have to eat a trailer load of eggs to experience that. In fact, this study showed that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed 2 eggs daily as part of their protein intake had improvements in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Additionally, eggs are one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect the eyes from disease.
Please stop throwing away the yolk of eggs. The benefits of eggs are primarily due to nutrients found in the yolk rather than the white.
9. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a great dairy choice for diabetics.
It’s been shown to improve blood sugar control and reduce heart disease risk, perhaps partly due to the probiotics, it contains.
Studies have found that yogurt and other dairy foods may lead to weight loss and improved body composition in people with type 2 diabetes.
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 promotes weight loss by reducing appetite and decreasing calorie intake.
Nuts are delicious and nutritious.
All types of nuts contain fiber and are low in digestible 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, and LDL levels.
This study showed that people with diabetes who included 30 grams of walnuts in their daily diet for one year lost weight, had improvements in body composition and experienced a significant reduction in insulin levels.
This finding is important because people with type 2 diabetes often have elevated levels of insulin, which are linked to obesity.
Extra-virgin olive oil is extremely beneficial for heart health.
It contains oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that has been shown to improve triglycerides and HDL, which are often at unhealthy levels in type 2 diabetes.
It may also increase the fullness hormone GLP-1.
Olive oil also contains antioxidants called polyphenols. They reduce inflammation, protect the cells lining your blood vessels, keep your LDL cholesterol from becoming damaged by oxidation and decrease blood pressure.
Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined and retains the antioxidants and other properties that make it so healthy. Be sure to choose extra-virgin olive oil from a reputable source. Many olive oils are adulterated with cheaper oils like corn. soy, and sunflower oil.
12. Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles are wonderful for diabetes and weight control.
These noodles are high in the fiber glucomannan, which is extracted from konjac root.
This plant is grown in Japan and processed into the shape of noodles or rice known as shirataki.
Glucomannan is a type of viscous fiber, which makes you feel full and satisfied. It also lowers levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin.
This study showed how glucomannan improves glycemia and other associated risk factors for coronary heart disease in type 2 diabetes in a randomized controlled metabolic trial.
A 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving of shirataki noodles also contains less than one gram of digestible carbs and just two calories per serving.
However, these noodles are typically packaged with a liquid that has a fishy odor and you need to rinse them very well before use. Then, to ensure a noodle-like texture, cook the noodles for several minutes in a skillet over high heat without added fat.
13. Chia seeds
People often call chia seeds a superfood due to their high antioxidant and omega-3 content. They are also a good source of plant-based protein and fiber.
In this randomized controlled trial from 2017, people who were overweight and had type 2 diabetes lost more weight after 6 months when they included chia seeds in their diet compared with those who ate an oat bran alternative.
The researchers, therefore, believe that chia seeds can help people manage type 2 diabetes.
You can sprinkle chia seeds over breakfast or salads, use them in baking, or add water to make a dessert.
If you have been following me for a while, you will know that I’m a big fan of chia seeds.
Flaxseeds are incredibly healthy food.
A portion of their insoluble fiber is made up of lignans, which can decrease heart disease risk and improve blood sugar control.
This study showed that people with type 2 diabetes who took flaxseed lignans for 12 weeks had a significant improvement in hemoglobin A1c.
Another study suggested that flaxseeds may lower the risk of strokes and potentially reduce the dosage of medication needed to prevent blood clots.
Flaxseeds are very high in viscous fiber, which improves gut health, insulin sensitivity, and feelings of fullness.
Your body can’t absorb whole flaxseeds, so purchase ground seeds or grind them yourself. It’s also important to keep flaxseeds tightly covered in the refrigerator to prevent them from going rancid.
Strawberries are one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat.
They’re high in antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which give them their red color.
Anthocyanins have been shown to reduce cholesterol and insulin levels after a meal. They also improve blood sugar and heart disease risk factors in type 2 diabetes.
A one-cup serving of strawberries contains 49 calories and 11 grams of carbs, three of which are fiber.
Other fruits you can eat include Cucumber, Carrots, Garden eggs, avocado, etc.
Cinnamon is a delicious spice with potent antioxidant activity.
Several controlled studies have shown that cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Long-term diabetes control is typically determined by measuring hemoglobin A1c, which reflects your average blood sugar level over 2–3 months.
In one study, type 2 diabetes patients who took cinnamon for 90 days had more than a double reduction in hemoglobin A1c, compared those who only received standard care.
A recent analysis of 10 studies found that cinnamon may also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
There are 2 major forms of Cinnamon. Ceylon “true” cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon.
Cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of coumarin, which is linked to health problems at higher doses.
Therefore, you should limit your intake of cassia cinnamon — the type found in most grocery stores — to less than 1 teaspoon per day.
On the other hand, Ceylon (“true”) cinnamon contains much less coumarin.
Garlic is a delicious herb with impressive health benefits.
Several studies have shown it can reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and LDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.
One clove of raw garlic contains only 4 calories and 1 gram of carbs.
18. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has many health benefits.
Although it’s made from apples, the sugar in the fruit is fermented into acetic acid, and the resulting product contains less than 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon.
Apple cider vinegar has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lowers fasting blood sugar levels. It may also reduce blood sugar response by as much as 20% when consumed with meals containing carbs.
Carbohydrates are an important part of all meals. However, people with diabetes will benefit from limiting their carbohydrate intake in a balanced diet or pairing carbs with a healthful protein or fat source.
Unhealthful fats, such as saturated and trans fats, can make a person with diabetes feel worse. Many fried and processed foods, including fries, chips, and baked goods, contain these types of fats.
They also increase the chance of developing heart disease which is already a known complication of Diabetes.
People with diabetes should aim to limit or avoid refined sugar, likely present in both store-bought and homemade sweets, cakes, and biscuits.
Per day, the American Heart Association advise consuming no more than 24 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugar for women, and 36 grams, or 9 teaspoons, for men. This does not include naturally occurring sugars from foods such as fruit and plain milk.
Drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, some coffees, and shakes, can imbalance a person’s insulin levels.
It’s best to stick with herbal teas like moringa tea, fennel tea, fenugreek tea, ginger tea, etc.
Foods that are high in salt can raise blood pressure. Salt may also appear as sodium on a food label.
The ADA recommendsthat people keep their daily sodium intake to under 2,300 milligrams per day, which is the same as the recommendation for the general population.
2,300 milligrams of salt is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt.
Drinking alcohol in moderation should not have serious risks for people with diabetes and should not affect long-term glucose control.
People using insulin or insulin secretagogue therapies may have a higher risk of hypoglycemia linked to alcohol consumption.
For people who have diabetes and those who do not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Now it’s your turn, share with us in the comment section below foods that are helpful with diabetes1 not in the list above!
Hello! I'm Dr. Adebusola Adefeso, Medical Doctor and Certified Personal Nutritionist who helps busy women struggling with weight loss and their health.
They've tried all sort of diets with no lasting results due to their busy schedule. I provide simple and actionable strategies to lose the weight and maintain it so they can live a life they love.
With me in your corner, you can skip the struggle and jump right into what works.