Chocolate is rich in flavonoids, and research shows that these nutrients reduce insulin resistance, improve insulin sensitivity, drop insulin levels and fasting blood glucose, and blunt cravings. But not all chocolate is created equal. In a 2008 study from the University of Copenhagen, people who ate dark chocolate reported that they felt less like eating sweet, salty, or fatty foods compared to volunteers given milk chocolate, with its lower levels of beneficial flavonoids (and, often, more sugar and fat, too). Dark chocolate also cut the amount of pizza that volunteers consumed later in the same day, by 15 percent. The flavonoids in chocolate have also been shown to lower stroke risk, calm blood pressure, and reduce your risk for a heart attack by 2 percent over five years. (Want more delicious, healthy, seasonal foods? Click here.)
Broccoli is an anti-diabetes superhero. As with other cruciferous veggies, like kale and cauliflower, it contains a compound called sulforaphane, which triggers several anti-inflammatory processes that improve blood sugar control and protect blood vessels from the cardiovascular damage that’s often a consequence of diabetes. (Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes, so this protection could be a lifesaver.) Sulforaphane also helps flip on the body’s natural detox mechanisms, coaxing enzymes to turn dangerous cancer-causing chemicals into more innocent forms that the body can easily release.
Blueberries really stand out: They contain both insoluble fiber (which “flushes” fat out of your system) and soluble fiber (which slows down the emptying of your stomach, and improves blood sugar control). In a study by the USDA, people who consumed 2 1/2 cups of wild blueberry juice per day for 12 weeks lowered their blood glucose levels, lifted depression, and improved their memories. Researchers credit these results to anthocyanins in the berries, a natural chemical that shrinks fat cells and also stimulates the release of adiponectin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels, among other things. Increasing adiponectin levels can help keep blood sugar low and increase our sensitivity to insulin.
Steel-cut oatsBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock
You may not think of oatmeal as a superfood, but it can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Oatmeal contains high amounts of magnesium, which helps the body use glucose and secrete insulin properly. An eight-year trial showed a 19 percent decrease in type 2 diabetes' risk in women with a magnesium-rich diet, and a 31 percent decreased risk in women who regularly ate whole grains. Steel-cut oats are just as easy to cook as quick-cooking oatmeal, but when grains are left whole they are filled with the fiber, nutrients, and bound antioxidants that challenge digestion in a good way, allowing blood sugar to remain more stable.
Fish is a slimming star: rich in protein, it will help to keep you satisfied; but also, fish contains a special type of fat that helps cool inflammation. Thousands of studies show that people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have less body-wide inflammation, the very inflammation that leads to and worsens diabetes and weight problems.A fish-rich diet can also reduce your risk of developing health problems, especially stroke, as a result of your diabetes. People who ate baked, broiled, or steamed fish reduced their odds for a stroke by 3 percent, as reported in a 2010 Emory University study. (However, fried fish—such as fast-food fish sandwiches, fish sticks, and fried seafood of any type—increased risk.)
Olive oilben bryant/Shutterstock
Following a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 50 percent compared to a diet low in fat, according to a recent Spanish study. Independently, researchers at Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of Vienna found that olive oil improved satiety the most when compared to lard, butter, and rapeseed (canola) oil. In addition to being a standout source of health-promoting monounsaturated fats, olive oil is also rich in antioxidant nutrients that protect cells from damage, and prevents the development of heart disease.
This fiber supplement, long used for constipation relief, is proven to help people with diabetes control blood sugar better. A 2010 review from the University of California, San Diego, published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, confirms this benefit. People who took psyllium before a meal saw their post-meal blood sugar levels rise 2 percent less than those who didn’t use the supplement. One caution: The researchers recommend waiting at least four hours after taking psyllium before taking medications, because psyllium can decrease their absorption.
Packed with protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, legumes such as tender, white cannellini beans are slow to raise blood sugar. As part of a 2012 University of Toronto study, 121 people with type 2 diabetes followed a healthy diet containing a daily cup of beans or whole grains. After three months, the bean group saw their A1c levels—a check of average blood sugar levels—fall nearly twice as much as the whole-grain group.
Spinach is one of many leafy greens that have been shown to drop the risk of developing diabetes; collards are another great choice. People who consume more than one serving a day of spinach and other leafy greens slashed their risk by 14 percent, compared to people who ate less than 1/2 a serving daily, found one British study. This green is particularly rich in vitamin K, along with several minerals including magnesium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It’s also a good source of the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, and various flavonoids. Although spinach is technically a rich source of calcium, another nutrient in spinach called oxalic acid prevents much of that calcium from being absorbed, but you can blanch spinach (boil it for just one minute) to reduce this chemical.
Sweet potatoesjulie deshaies/Shutterstock
One analysis found that sweet potatoes reduce HbA1c measures between 0.30 and 0.57 percent and fasting blood glucose by 10 to 15 points. Sweet potato also contains anthocyanins, which are the natural pigments that give the sweet potato its deep orange color and the antioxidants believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial qualities.