The Best Foods for Diabetics

blackberries raspberries blueberries

Fight diabetes with every bite you take. Below I have listed some of the healthiest foods to help improve your blood sugar and health. Tips are included in each section on how to include these nutritious choices into your everyday diet.

Peanuts

               Almonds are usually recommended as a great snack for diabetics because they help improve blood sugars, but they can be expensive. What about peanuts, which are cheaper? In a 2018 study published in Nutrients, researchers compared the effects of peanuts versus almonds on blood sugar. The researchers found that in both groups, blood sugars improved equally and that almonds were not superior in blood sugar control [1]. So, peanuts are a great, cost effective snack to help control blood sugars. Try including ¼ cup in between meals.   

Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries

               Berries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. These antioxidants help transport glucose from your blood stream into your cells. Another way these anthocyanins help diabetics is by acting on the liver. Normally, the liver helps maintain blood sugar levels, but in type 2 diabetes it goes haywire and dumps way too much sugar into your blood stream. The anthocyanins in berries help keep the liver from doing that, which helps stabilize your blood sugar [2].

               Did you know fresh and frozen berries are the same, nutrient-wise? Berries can be expensive and spoil quickly, so buying frozen is a great way to make them last. Frozen berries can be added to oatmeal or plain, low-fat Greek yogurt as a healthy topping. They also make a great in-between meals snack.

Sweet Potatoes

               Sweet potatoes have been shown to lower insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. Basically, they help insulin work better, which allows your cells to remove sugar from the blood stream. In addition to improving insulin sensitivity, sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate and are slowly absorbed into your blood stream, which keeps your blood sugar from spiking. Sweet potatoes also are full of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and vitamins to help promote your health [3].

               Have you ever tried cooking a potato in the microwave? Use a fork to pierce a small (200-300 grams) sweet potato, then microwave for five minutes (you may have to adjust the time depending on your microwave). Another tip is to chop the sweet potato into bite-size pieces. Place on a sheet pan and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of cumin, then roast at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until fork-tender. Mix 2 cups roasted sweet potatoes with one 16-ounce can of black beans and ¼ cup of cilantro. And speaking of beans…

Beans: black, pinto, kidney, red beans, chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans)

               Beans help lower blood sugar because they are high in fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates [4]. It takes the body longer to break down complex carbohydrates and fiber, which slows down how quickly your blood sugar will rise. Protein also helps slow down blood sugar spikes. In addition to fiber, beans also contain lots of vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, folate, and magnesium to help promote your health.

               Here is an easy but healthy recipe for beans. Take a 16 ounce can of black beans, kidney beans, and 16 ounce can of white beans. Rinse all the beans in a strainer until their drainage runs clear. Dice 2 colored peppers. Mix. In a separate dish, whisk ¼ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and 1 tablespoon of minced garlic. Pour over the bean/pepper mixture. Let the dish sit overnight for maximum flavor. You can also add cilantro leaves right before serving.  

Swiss Chard

               In addition to being one of the most nutrient rich foods in the world, swiss chard contains kaempferol and syringic acid [5]. These two special antioxidants help control blood sugar. Normally, during digestion, enzymes break down the carbohydrates you eat into simple sugars, which will cause your blood sugar to rise. Syringic acid slows these enzymes down, so carbohydrates are not broken down as quickly. This prevents your blood sugar from jumping.

Kaempferol can help your pancreas work better. A healthy pancreas releases insulin. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work correctly, sugar will hang out in the bloodstream damaging your organs, including the pancreas. This creates a downward spiral as high blood sugar damages the pancreas, so it releases less insulin, which causes blood sugar to continue to be high, which further damages the pancreas, and so forth. Kaempferol, however, protects the cells of your pancreas and can even reverse damage caused by high blood sugar [6]!

I won’t lie, swiss chard is bitter, which is why it works best in soups and sautées. And if you are wondering what the heck swiss chard is or where to find it, I have included a picture below. Most grocery stores do sell it in the fresh produce section along with leafy greens. Farmers markets are another place to find swiss chard.

Swiss Chard, Vegetable, Kitchen Garden, Organic, Fresh
swiss chard [picture from: Pixabay.com]

For a quick but healthy recipe, pick up a ready-to-eat bag of frozen Asian style vegetables. Spray a pan with nonstick cooking spray, then heat for 1-2 minutes or until smoke rises. Add the vegetables, cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the ice on the vegetables starts to melt. Rip up the leaves from swiss chard into bite size pieces and dice the stems. Add to your vegetable mixture and cook until the swiss chard leaves start to wilt, stirring occasionally. While the vegetables are cooking, whisk ½ cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, and ½ a teaspoon of ginger. Pour over your vegetables. Serve with a bed of brown rice. You can add chicken or shrimp to this dish if you wish.

References

[1] Y.-Y. Hou, O. Ojo, L.-l. Wang, Q. Wang, Q. Jiang, X.-Y. Shao and X.-H. Wang, “A Randomized Controlled Trial to Compare the Effect of Peanuts and Almonds on the Cardio-Metabolic and Inflammatory Parameters in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 11, 2018.
From: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/11/1565/htm  
[2] T. Tsuda, “Recent Progress in Anti-Obesity and Anti-Diabetes Effect of Berries,” settings, vol. 5, no. 2, 2016.
From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4931534/
[3] R. Mohanra and S. Sivasankar, “Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam) – A Valuable Medicinal Food,” Journal Of Medicinal Food, vol. 17, no. 7, p. 733–741, 2014.
From: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2013.2818?rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&journalCode=jmf
[4] A. Helmsta¨dter, “Beans and diabetes—Phaseolus vulgaris preparations as antihyperglyemic agents,” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 1-4, 2010.
From: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Axel_Helmstaedter/publication/41406904_Beans_and_Diabetes_Phaseolus_vulgaris_Preparations_as_Antihyperglycemic_Agents/links/00b7d5180e1fd66536000000/Beans-and-Diabetes-Phaseolus-vulgaris-Preparations-as-Antihyperglycemic-Agents.pdf
[5] J. C. d. S. Dias and S. Imai, “Vegetable consumption and its benefits on diabetes,” Journal of Nutritional Therapeutics, vol. 6, pp. 1-10, 2017.
From: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joao_Dias36/publication/316631106_Vegetables_Consumption_and_its_Benefits_on_Diabetes/links/5908b4dea6fdcc4961645795/Vegetables-Consumption-and-its-Benefits-on-Diabetes.pdf
[6] Y. Zhang and D. Liu, “Flavonol kaempferol improves chronic hyperglycemia-impaired pancreatic beta-cell viability and insulin secretory function,” Endocrine Pharmacology, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 325-332, 2011.
From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0014299911009009

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