What make a food super? Type 2 diabetics should continue reaching for these diabetes-friendly superfoods to help manage blood sugar and reduce your risk of complications.
What makes a food “super”? When it comes to type 2 diabetes, it’s not just about foods that pack lots of nutrients. For
a diabetes-friendly diet, you also need foods that will help keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels in check. There is no one single best food for type 2 diabetes. Instead, the best diet for type 2 diabetes is one that is based on whole foods and is rich in fiber, protein, and a moderate amount of healthy carbohydrates.
While it’s true people with type 2 diabetes need to watch their carb intake, you don’t have to follow a fad
low-carb diet. On the contrary, says Leah Kaufman, RD, CDE, of Leah Kaufman Nutrition in New York City, the best diet for people with type 2 diabetes is “a well-balanced diet that has a healthy amount of carbs, protein, healthy fats, and vegetables per meal.”
While changing your diet won’t cure diabetes, it can lower your risk for
type 2 diabetes complications, such as heart disease and neuropathy (nerve damage). In fact, diet affects type 2 diabetes in a number of ways, including glucose regulation, heart health, weight maintenance, and mood.
How can you tell a good food from a bad one when it comes to managing diabetes? “Look for items that contain healthy fats and are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Sue McLaughlin, RD, a certified diabetes educator at Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Iowa. It’s also crucial to eat a wide variety of foods to make sure you’re getting a healthy mix of macronutrients, phytochemicals, and essential fatty acids.
Researchers are also increasingly finding evidence of links between diet and type 2 diabetes development. An
article published in November 2017 in the journal studied the impact of nutrition in more than 64,000 women for 15 years. Researchers found that antioxidant-rich foods significantly lowered type 2 diabetes risk. Increasingly, such antioxidant-rich foods are being called superfoods. Diabetologia
“Superfoods is a term used to describe nutrient-packed foods that may have more health benefits than other foods,” says Kaufman, adding it’s “not a medical term.”
You’ll also find that, when it comes to diabetes, superfoods are all whole, unpackaged foods — meaning they aren’t processed with added sugars, fats, or preservatives.
Unsure where to start? Check out these 11 tips for adding more superfoods to your diabetes diet!
Swap Out Meat for Beans and Lentils for Less Fat and More Fiber
High in fiber and protein, beans are digested slowly in your body, making them great for managing blood glucose levels in a type 2 diabetes diet. Just ½ cup of any type of beans will provide about one-quarter of your daily requirement of fiber and as much protein as 1 ounce (oz) of meat.
Other legumes have a similar effect. In a
study published in November 2012 in , Canadian researchers linked eating beans, chickpeas, and lentils with improved blood glucose control and reduced blood pressure, JAMA Internal Medicine cholesterol, and triglycerides (fat found in the blood) levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Another bonus? Beans are good sources of magnesium and potassium.
Eat Salmon for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Many types of seafood are good for people with diabetes. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and bluefish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health by helping to lower blood fats called triglycerides. Just be sure to avoid fried fish and fish with high levels of mercury, such as tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel.
Eating fish twice a week, which is recommended by the American Heart Association, has other far-reaching benefits: A
British study published in the found it may protect people with diabetes against kidney problems. Fish is considered a diabetes-friendly food as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. American Journal of Kidney Disease
Loaded with fiber and protein, nuts are filling and contain high levels of unsaturated fats, the kind that contribute to
HDL, or “good” cholesterol. But when it comes to stabilizing blood sugar, polyunsaturated fats in tree nuts — such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios — are especially beneficial. (As a side note, peanuts aren’t tree nuts; they’re legumes.)
study published in July 2014 in the journal , Canadian researchers looked at data from 12 clinical trials and found that eating two servings of tree nuts a day lowered and stabilized blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels (dyslipidemia), and metabolic syndrome. Nutrition and Metabolism
“Plant-based healthy fats can improve lipid levels,” says Kaufman. She recommends adding foods rich in polyunsaturated fats to help control high cholesterol related to elevated blood glucose, but with a caveat. “Although healthy, these foods do have a higher amount of calories, so I would limit them to one serving per day,” Kaufman notes. One serving is defined as 1 oz or ¼ cup.
Grab a Handful of Fresh Blueberries for Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
While all berries contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber,
blueberries may be one of the most beneficial for people who have, or at risk for, type 2 diabetes. “Antioxidants,” says Kaufman, “are a broad term used to describe a food that can help protect the body from damage. Antioxidants can be found in the vitamins of the actual food, or even the coloring.” In general, the deeper the color, the higher the antioxidant content.
article published in August 2013 in the , researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that for every three servings of blueberries (as well as grapes and apples) eaten per week, people reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 26 percent compared with those who ate less than one serving per month. The authors based their conclusions on longitudinal studies of previous clinical trials conducted between 1984 and 2008, 1986 and 2008, and 1991 and 2009. British Medical Journal
Fiber-rich berries also have the added benefit of satisfying your sweet tooth without any added sugars. Swapping out cookies for blueberries and other antioxidant-rich fruits will reduce blood sugar while keeping sugar cravings at bay. “Patients with diabetes should generally stay away from refined sugars and processed carbs to improve glucose control,” Kaufman says.