Figuring out the best foods to eat when you have diabetes can be tough.

That’s because your main goal should be controlling your blood sugar levels.

However, it’s also important to eat foods that help prevent diabetes complications like heart disease.

Your diet can have a major role in preventing and managing diabetes (1).

Here are the 16 best foods for people living with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2.

Some people consider fatty fish to be 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 people with diabetes, who have an increased risk for heart disease and stroke (2).

DHA and EPA protect the cells that line your blood vessels, reduce markers of inflammation and may help improve the way your arteries function (3, 4, 5, 6).

Research indicates that people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk for acute coronary syndromes, like heart attacks, and are less likely to die from heart disease (7, 8).

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

A study in 68 adults with overweight and obesity found that participants who consumed fatty fish had significant improvements in post-meal blood sugar levels, compared with participants who consumed lean fish (9).

Fish is also a great source of high quality protein, which helps you feel full and helps stabilize blood sugar levels (10).

Summary:

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

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 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 (11).

In addition, leafy greens are good sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

These antioxidants protect your eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts, which are common diabetes complications (12, 13, 14).

Summary:

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

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 (15).

Avocado consumption is also associated with improved overall diet quality and significantly lower body weight and body mass index (BMI) (16).

This makes them an ideal snack for people with diabetes, especially since obesity increases your chances for 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 (17).

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

Summary:

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.

Eggs provide amazing health benefits.

In fact, they’re one of the best foods for keeping you full and satisfied in between meals (18, 19).

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

Eggs decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase your HDL (good) cholesterol levels and modify the size and shape of your LDL (bad) cholesterol (20, 21, 22, 23).

A 2019 study found that eating a high-fat, low-carb breakfast of eggs could help individuals with diabetes manage blood sugar levels throughout the day (24).

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

But a more recent review of controlled studies found that consumption of 6 to 12 eggs per week as part of a nutritious diet did not increase heart disease risk factors in those with diabetes (25).

What’s more, some research suggests that eating eggs may reduce the risk of stroke (26).

In addition, eggs are a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that provide protection against eye diseases (27, 28).

Just be sure to eat whole eggs. The benefits of eggs are primarily due to nutrients found in the yolk rather than the white.

Summary:

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

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 (29).

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 (30, 31).

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

A study involving 77 adults with obesity or overweight and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes found that chia seed consumption supports weight loss and helps maintain good glycemic control (32).

Additionally, chia seeds have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammatory markers (33).

Summary:

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

Beans are cheap, 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 for cardiovascular disease, those who had a higher consumption of legumes had a 35 percent reduced chance of developing type 2 diabetes (34).

Summary

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

Greek yogurt is a great dairy choice for people with diabetes.

Some research suggests that eating certain dairy products like yogurt may improve blood sugar management and reduce heart disease risk factors, perhaps partly due to the probiotics it contains (35, 36).

Studies also indicate that yogurt consumption may be associated with lower levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance (37).

Additionally, yogurt may reduce your risk for diabetes.

A long-term study involving health data from over 100,000 participants found that a daily serving of yogurt was linked to an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (38).

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 (39).

The high levels of calcium, protein, and a special type of fat called conjugated linolic acid (CLA) found in yogurt may help reduce your appetite, making it easier to resist unhealthy foods (40, 41).

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 decreasing calorie intake (42, 43).

Summary:

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

Nuts are delicious and nutritious.

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

Here are the amounts of digestible carbs, per 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of nuts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (44):

  • Almonds: 2.6 grams
  • Brazil nuts: 1.4 grams
  • Cashews: 7.7 grams
  • Hazelnuts: 2 grams
  • Macadamia: 1.5 grams
  • Pecans: 1.2 grams
  • Pistachios: 5 grams
  • Walnuts: 2 grams

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 (45, 46, 47, 48).

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

A 2019 study involving over 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 (49).

Research also indicates that nuts can improve blood glucose levels.

A study in subjects with type 2 diabetes found that consumption of walnut oil daily improved blood glucose levels (50).

This finding is important because people with type 2 diabetes often have elevated levels of insulin, which are linked to obesity (51).

Summary:

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

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 (52).

What’s more, studies in people with diabetes have found that eating broccoli sprouts may help lower insulin levels and protect against cellular damage (53, 54).

Broccoli may also help manage your blood sugar levels.

One study found that consuming broccoli sprouts led to a 10 percent reduction in blood glucose in people with diabetes (55).

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

Additionally, broccoli is another good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These important antioxidants may help prevent eye diseases (56).

Summary:

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

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 glycemic management, reduce fasting and post-meal triglyceride levels, and have antioxidant properties (57, 58, 59).

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 (60).

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 (61).

Olive oil also contains antioxidants called polyphenols.

Polyphenols reduce inflammation, protect the cells lining your blood vessels, keep your LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming damaged by oxidation, and decrease blood pressure (62, 63, 64, 65).

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 (66).

Summary:

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

Flaxseeds are an incredibly healthy food.

Also known as common flax or linseeds, flaxseeds have a high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, and other unique plant compounds (67).

A portion of their insoluble fiber is made up of lignans, which may help decrease heart disease risk and improve blood sugar management (68).

A review analyzing 25 randomized clinical trials found a significant association between whole flaxseed supplementation and a reduction in blood glucose (69).

Flaxseeds may also help lower blood pressure.

A 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 (70).

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.

Another study suggested that flaxseed may help lower your risk for stroke and potentially reduce the dosage of medication needed to prevent blood clots (71).

Plus, flaxseeds are very high in viscous fiber, which improves gut health, insulin sensitivity, and feelings of fullness (72, 73, 74).

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.

Summary:

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

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.

According to a meta-analysis of six studies, including 317 patients with type 2 diabetes, apple cider vinegar has beneficial effects on fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c (75).

It may also reduce blood sugar response by as much as 20% when consumed with meals containing carbs (76, 77, 78).

Apple cider vinegar is believed to 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 1 teaspoon mixed in a glass of water each day. Increase to a maximum of 2 tablespoons per day.

Summary:

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

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 for people with type 2 diabetes (79, 80, 81, 82).

Strawberries 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 (83).

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

A 1-cup serving of strawberries contains about 46 calories and 11 grams of carbs, three of which are fiber.

This serving also provides more than 100% of the RDI for vitamin C, which provides additional anti-inflammatory benefits for heart health (11).

Summary:

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

For its tiny size and low calorie count, garlic is incredibly nutritious.

One clove (3 grams) of raw garlic, which is roughly 4 calories, contains (84):

  • Manganese: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 2% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 1% of the DV
  • Selenium: 1% of the DV
  • Fiber: 0.06 grams

Research indicates that garlic contributes to improved blood glucose management and can help regulate cholesterol (85).

Although many studies that determine garlic is a proven healthy option for people living with diabetes include abnormal dietary amounts of garlic, the meta-analysis cited above only included servings from .05–1.5 grams.

For context, one clove of garlic is around 3 grams.

Research also indicates that garlic can help reduce blood pressure and regulate cholesterol levels (86).

In one study, people with high blood pressure that wasn’t well managed who took aged garlic for 12 weeks averaged a 10-point decrease in blood pressure (87).

Summary:

Garlic helps lower blood sugar, inflammation, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure in people with diabetes.

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 (88).

Research shows that pumpkin polysaccharides improved insulin tolerance and decreased levels of serum glucose in rats (89).

Research also indicates that pumpkin seeds can help with glycemic management (90).

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 (91).

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.

Summary:

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

Shirataki noodles are wonderful for diabetes and weight management.

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 helps you feel full and satisfied (92).

What’s more, it’s been shown to reduce blood sugar levels after eating and improve heart disease risk factors in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome (93, 94).

In one study, glucomannan significantly reduced levels of fasting blood glucose, serum insulin, and cholesterol in rats with diabetes (95).

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of shirataki noodles also contains just 3 grams of digestible carbs and just 10 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.

Summary:

The glucomannan in shirataki noodles promotes feelings of fullness and can improve blood sugar management and cholesterol levels.

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

But eating foods that help keep blood sugar, insulin, and inflammation manageable can dramatically reduce your risk for 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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