Diabetes can be a lifelong, debilitating illness if left untreated. From poor blood circulation to impaired healing, diabetes can cause a host of problems that can make life difficult for sufferers.
There are also no accepted mainstream cures for diabetes, but this does not mean that the disease is a death sentence. Scientists agree that proper diet and good nutrition are big factors in reducing diabetes risk and managing its symptoms in the long run.
In fact, adopting a balanced diet, eating more of the right foods and steering clear of unhealthy ones can slash the risk of diabetes or help keep it in remission for diabetics. This holistic method of treatment also offers the added benefit of promoting good overall health.
The best foods for diabetes
Certain foods can lower the risk of diabetes or give diabetics better control over their blood sugar. That being said, creating an anti-diabetes diet is all about balance.
This means that ideally, your diet should feature a range of healthful food groups, which are good sources of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Green vegetables – Spinach, broccoli, kale and other green vegetables contain little to no calories and digestible carbohydrates. This means that even when consumed in large quantities, these foods are not going to raise your blood sugar levels.
Whole grains – Fiber-rich grains like quinoa, oats and bulgur help inhibit the absorption of glucose in the gut. In effect, these foods keep blood sugar levels from spiking after meals.
Fish – Fish, especially fatty ones, are among the healthiest foods you can eat for diabetes management and prevention. Salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect blood vessels from inflammation and minimize the risk of heart disease, a common complication of diabetes.
Beans – On top of their high fiber content, beans are a healthy source of plant-based protein. Beans also help regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and total cholesterol.
Nuts – Nuts are nutritious additions to an anti-diabetic diet. Previous studies show that regular nut consumption can reduce inflammation, high blood sugar and total cholesterol.
Citrus fruits – Oranges, lemons and grapefruits contain beneficial plant compounds with anti-diabetic properties. Citrus fruits are also rich in potassium, an essential mineral that helps regulate insulin production. Insulin is responsible for controlling blood sugar.
Berries – Some essential nutrients in berries, including potassium, manganese and vitamins C and K, can combat inflammation and prevent blood sugar spikes after meals. Berries are also among the richest plant-based sources of antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of heart disease in prediabetics and diabetics.
Sweet potatoes – Compared to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes have less of an impact on blood sugar. They also contain nutrients that are essential for blood sugar management, such as fiber and potassium.
Yogurt – The beneficial microorganisms in yogurt called probiotics support good gut health. On top of that, probiotics also protect against insulin resistance, a pathological condition that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
Chia seeds – Like nuts and beans, chia seeds boast incredible amounts of fiber, plant-based protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These three nutrients contribute to better blood sugar control.
Foods to avoid
Good nutrition is not just about eating the right foods. It is also about cutting back on the bad ones.
Sugar-rich foods and drinks – Sodas, flavored tea and processed fruit juices all contain added sugar, which can worsen diabetes symptoms. (Related: 6 More reasons NOT to drink diet soda.)
Dried fruit – Eating too much of these can cause blood sugar levels to spike.
Refined grains – Foods made from refined or processed grains contain little to no nutrients except for low-quality carbohydrates. Once digested, these carbs will also cause blood sugar levels to rise.
Full-fat milk – Full-fat milk can raise bad cholesterol and increase insulin resistance.
Red meat – Red meat and high-fat cuts of meat can promote inflammation, raise bad cholesterol and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and other cardiometabolic conditions.
Packaged or baked goods – Potato chips, pretzels, cookies, doughnuts and other similar foods are chock-full of trans fats that can further increase the risk of heart conditions for diabetics.
Fried foods – Deep-fried foods can raise your blood sugar and keep it high for long periods.
Alcohol – Alcohol can also affect blood sugar levels, so drink only moderate amounts or avoid it altogether.
Your food choices and eating habits can influence your risk of diabetes or the severity of its symptoms. To minimize this risk or put diabetes in remission, eat nutritious, plant-based foods and cut back on sodas, sugar-rich foods and drinks, and refined grains.