For the 26 million people in the U.S. with diabetes and the estimated 79 million American adults with pre-diabetes, there has never been a better time to start managing and improving your diabetes. Researchers know more today than they did just five years ago about diet, insulin, medications and complications.
Each person with type 2 diabetes needs to work out his/her particular eating, exercise or medical plan so it translates into normal blood sugars in his/her particular body. In general food and meal choices that work best for these people are lower sugar, lower sodium, higher fiber, lean meats and plant protein, fruits and vegetables and sources of monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Beyond that there are some specific and even surprising foods that may help lower blood sugars in people with diabetes. Information and recipes for the following can be found in the new edition of my best-selling book, Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Diabetes.
Foods with little to no carbohydrate
The following foods, when eaten alone, even in large amounts, are not likely to cause a significant rise in blood sugar because they contain few carbohydrates:
- Dark green veggies and salad vegetables
Some Nuts (a 2-ounce serving of these nuts contain 5 grams or less net carbs: almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, walnuts).
Foods with synergy
In my book, FOOD SYNERGY, I looked at research that suggested synergy within and between certain foods or food components—where components seemed to work together for maximum health benefit. Foods with synergy that seemed to keep insulin levels steady include:
- Whole grains
- Soluble fiber in oats
- Soy protein
- Ground flaxseed
Foods and food partnerships with synergy that might improve blood sugar control include:
- Whole grains
- Soluble fiber in oats
- Ground flaxseed
I’m a big green/white tea advocate because of all the antioxidant plant compounds (polyphenols) it provides, but there are possibly bigger benefits for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. More investigation needs to be done, but a review of 17 randomized clinical trials suggests green tea consumption was associated with lower fasting blood sugar levels and lower fasting insulin levels.
There’s a lot more to beans than helping fill burritos! It’s the whole nutritional package (both types of fiber, carbs, protein, vitamins, minerals and assorted plant compounds) that may help improve blood sugars in people with type 2 diabetes. The plant protein and fiber in beans slow digestion (releasing carbs into the bloodstream slowly), which can help lessen the rise in blood sugar. The protein may help stimulate the release of insulin after the meal, while the protein and fiber also enhance the feeling of fullness.
Buckwheat does appear to be a potentially “magical” intact whole grain for people with diabetes; new research suggests buckwheat extract lowered meal-related blood sugar levels by 12-19 percent when given to rats. Look for buckwheat soba noodles and start experimenting with buckwheat groats.
Whey protein hydrolysates may prove to be helpful anti-diabetic agents, according to new research with obese diabetic mice. The whey protein improved blood glucose clearance, reduced elevated insulin levels, and remarkably restored the ability of pancreas cells to release insulin in response to glucose. These amazing potential benefits aren’t totally out of the blue, past research has linked lowfat dairy with a reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes and specific amino acids in milk have been reported to stimulate insulin secretion.
Several studies suggest cinnamon has a possible blood sugar lowering effect. For example, one study suggested less than a half-teaspoon of cinnamon a day might reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Another study found 2 teaspoons helped lower blood sugar levels after meals. More research needs to be done but in the meantime, sprinkle some cinnamon in your morning cereal, yogurt, smoothies, or coffee/lattes.
Stay tuned as more research trial results become available, but put mushrooms on our list of potential foods with anti-diabetic properties. So far, preliminary data from human trials appear to mirror the encouraging results in diabetic animal research, which includes potential in helping to lower plasma glucose, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and serum triglycerides. Polysaccharides (possibly both alpha- and beta- glucans) are the plant compounds in mushrooms that are thought to be responsible for these desirable effects. The mechanism needs to be confirmed, but some researchers suspect they work directly with insulin receptors on target tissues.
Diet soda can be a great alternative for soda lovers because they don’t contribute carbohydrates or calories. Recent intervention studies point toward a beneficial effect of low or no calorie sweeteners on fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels as well as insulin levels, energy or calorie intake and body weight—all things that people with diabetes care about. Certainly, it is important to drink water most of the time, but there is definitely room within a healthy diabetic lifestyle to enjoy a diet soda when a flavored beverage is preferred.
Other Books from Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
- Tell Me What to Eat if I Have Acid Reflux, Revised Edition
- Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Nutrition You Can Live With
- Tell Me What to Eat As I Approach Menopause
- Tell Me What to Eat if I Have Headaches and Migraines
- Tell Me What to Eat to Help Prevent Colon Cancer
- Tell Me What to Eat to Help Prevent Breast Cancer: Nutrition You Can Live With
- If I Suffer from Heart Disease: Nutrition You Can Live with (Tell Me What to Eat)
- Food Synergy: Unleash Hundreds of Powerful Healing Food Combinations to Fight Disease and Live Well
- The Flax Cookbook: Recipes and Strategies for Getting the Most from the Most Powerful Plant on the Planet
- The Good News Eating Plan for Type II Diabetes
- Alphabet Cooking: From Angel-In-A-Cloud to Zebra Pudding Cups: Fun Recipes for Children, from A to Z
- Comfort Food Makeovers: Healthy Alternatives to Your Favorite Homestyle Dishes
- The Change of Life Diet and Cookbook
- Lighten Up: Low-Fat Versions of More Than 100 of America’s Best-Known and Best-Loved Recipes
- Fry Light, Fry Right: Fried-Food Flavor Without Deep Frying
- Eat Well for a Healthy Menopause: The Low-Fat, High Nutrition Guide
- Someone’s in the Kitchen with Mommy: 100 Easy Recipes and Fun Crafts for Parents and Kids
- The Recipe Doctor
- The Fight Fat and Win Cookbook: Timesaving Recipes for a Low-Effort, Low-Fat Lifestyle
- Chez Moi: Lightening Up Recipes from Famous Restaurants
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the author of 25 books on nutrition and healthy cooking, including Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Diabetes, 4th edition
. She has worked as a nutrition expert/writer for a variety of organizations such as WebMD, magazines, universities, supermarket chains and food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola