Eating right is key to managing diabetes.
Fortunately, your food “prescription” includes filling, flavorful fare that tastes like anything but medicine.
A diet rich in these 10 “super foods” will help minimize blood sugar and even throw your disease into reverse. Dig in!
1. Vegetables. The advantages of eating more vegetables are undeniable. Packed with powerhouse nutrients, vegetables are naturally low in calories, and they’re full of fiber, so they’re plenty filling. Loading your plate with more vegetables will automatically mean you’re eating fewer simple carbs (which raise blood sugar) and saturated fats (which increase insulin resistance). Aim to get four or five servings a day. (A serving is 1/2 cup canned or cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw vegetables.) Go easier on starchy vegetables — including potatoes and corn, and legumes such as lima beans and peas — which are higher in calories than other vegetables.
2. Fruit. It has more natural sugar and calories than most vegetables, so you can’t eat it with utter abandon, but fruit has almost all the advantages that vegetables do — it’s brimming with nutrients you need, it’s low in fat, it’s high in fiber, and it’s relatively low in calories compared with most other foods. Best of all, it’s loaded with antioxidants that help protect your nerves, your eyes, and your heart.
Aim to get three or four servings a day. (A serving is one piece of whole fruit, 1/2 cup cooked or canned fruit, or 1 cup raw fruit.) Strive to make most of your fruit servings real produce, not juice. Many of the nutrients and a lot of the fiber found in the skin, flesh, and seeds of fruit are eliminated during juicing, and the calories and sugar are concentrated in juice.
3. Beans. Beans are just about your best source of dietary fiber. Fiber slows digestion and keeps blood sugar from rising quickly after a meal. This effect is so powerful that it can even lower your overall blood sugar levels. Because it slows digestion, fiber also keeps you feeling full longer.
Throw canned beans into every salad you make (rinse them first), and add them to pasta dishes and chili. Black bean, split pea, or lentil soup, even it comes from a can, is an excellent lunch.
4. Cereal. The right breakfast cereal is your absolute best opportunity to pack more fiber into your day. There’s a bonus: Studies show that people who start the morning with a high-fiber cereal actually eat less later on. So don’t forgo breakfast. And choose a cereal brand with at least 5 grams fiber per serving. Good choices include Kashi GoLean Crunch! (10 grams), Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (8 grams), General Mills, Multi-Bran Chex (8 grams), Post Wheat ‘N Bran Spoon Size (8 grams), Kellogg’s All-Bran Original (10 grams) and General Mills Fiber One (14 grams). Top your cereal with fruit and you’ve checked off a fruit serving for the day.
5. Fish. Fast and easy to prepare, fish is a good source of protein, and a great substitute for higher-fat meats. Fatty fish is also the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, those remarkable good-for-you fats that help keep the arteries clear. People with diabetes often have high triglycerides and low levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve both numbers. Aim to eat fish at least twice a week. Excellent sources of omega-3s are salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
6. Chicken breast. Versatile, extremely lean, and low in calories, chicken breast is practically a miracle food. Unlike steaks and hamburgers, it’s low in saturated fat, which raises “bad” cholesterol and may increase insulin resistance, making blood sugar control more difficult. A 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast has only 142 calories and 3 grams fat. Turkey breast is even leaner and lower in calories.
7. Nuts. Nuts have several things going for them — and for you. They’re loaded with “good” fats that fight heart disease. These fats have even been shown to help reduce insulin resistance and make blood sugar easier to control. Nuts are also one of the best food sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells and may help prevent nerve and eye damage. They are rich in fiber and magnesium, both of which may benefit your blood sugar. Studies suggest that including them in your diet may even help you lose weight. Because nuts are high in calories, though, eat them in moderation.
8. Olive oil. At the dead center of the famously heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is olive oil, full of “good” fats that slash the risk of heart attack — and help keep blood sugar steady. These fats have even been shown to help reduce insulin resistance. So toss the butter and cook with olive oil instead. At home and in restaurants, dip your bread in a bit of the stuff. Just watch how much you eat, because at 9 calories per gram, even the “good” fat in olive oil can pack on the pounds.
9. Yogurt. Yogurt is rich in protein and something else important for weight loss: calcium. Several studies have shown that people who eat plenty of calcium-rich foods have an easier time losing weight — and are less likely to become insulin resistant. As a snack or for breakfast, choose nonfat plain yogurt, and add your own fresh fruit or a sprinkling of wheat germ or low-fat granola for a burst of extra nutrients.
10. Cinnamon. Believe it! Amazingly, just by sprinkling cinnamon on your foods, you could lower your blood sugar. Components in cinnamon help the body use insulin more efficiently, so more glucose can enter cells. A recent study found that in people with diabetes, just 1/2 teaspoon a day can significantly lower blood sugar levels. So go ahead and add powdered cinnamon to your whole wheat toast, oatmeal, baked apples, or even chicken dishes. Or soak a cinnamon stick in hot water to make a soothing and curative cup of cinnamon tea.