What foods are better for diabetics?

Diet is essential for diabetics, therefore knowing what foods are better for diabetics is important to keep you or your loved ones healthy.

Diabetes patients can manage their blood sugar levels by eating certain foods and limiting others. Diets rich in healthy proteins, fruits, and vegetables can provide significant benefits [1].

Also see Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes for more information!

When you have diabetes, you know just how hard it can be to control your diet and blood sugar levels.

Some foods spike blood sugar wildly, while others lower it. It can take many people years before they find what works for them. 

Thankfully, science has helped us determine which foods are healthier than others over the years.

Let us first discuss what diabetes is and what are the types of diabetes. Then, we will discuss which foods are better for each diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) illness that affects how your body converts food into energy. Your body breaks down food into sugar (also known as glucose) and releases it into the bloodstream.

A rise in blood sugar stimulates the release of insulin by your pancreas. Insulin allows your blood sugar to enter your body’s cells for energy production.

Diabetes occurs when your body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should.

It is possible to retain too much blood sugar when the body does not have enough insulin or the cells stop responding to insulin.

Over time, this can lead to serious health problems, such as vision loss, heart disease, and kidney disease.

There is no cure for diabetes yet, but eating healthy food, losing weight, and staying active can help.

You can also minimize diabetes’ impact on your life by taking medications as needed, keeping health care appointments, and getting diabetes self-management education.

Types of diabetes:

There are mainly two types of diabetes [2]: 

  • Type 1
  • Type 2

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is due to an autoimmune reaction that prevents the body from producing insulin. About 5-10% of diabetics have type 1.

Diabetes type 1 often presents with rapid symptoms. Most commonly, it is diagnosed in children, teenagers, and young adults.

Type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin injections. We do not know how to prevent type 1 diabetes at the moment [3].

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes type 2 occurs when your body struggles to use insulin properly and cannot maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes affects about 90-95% of diabetics. It usually develops over a long period of time and is diagnosed in adults.

You might not notice any symptoms, so you should get your blood sugar checked if you’re at risk. Regular exercise, eating healthy foods, and weight loss can help to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes [4].

Diet for a type 1 diabetic

Diabetes has no standard diet. An expert nutritionist or dietitian can help you develop a long-term diet plan that you can stick to.

When you’re short on time and money, fast food and other processed foods are the first things you turn to. These foods, however, offer minimal nutrients and high levels of sugar, fat, and salt.

By planning meals in advance and shopping regularly, one can avoid eating unhealthy foods on a sudden whim.

By stocking your kitchen with healthy foods, you can reduce unnecessary carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and sodium that spike your blood sugar.

Consistency is key to a diabetic diet. Maintaining blood sugar levels requires:

  • Eat regularly and don’t skip meals
  • Each day, eat around the same time
  • Take a close look at food labels

Getting started with a type 1 diabetes diet

It’s essential to include nutritious foods that are high in vitamins and minerals. It is best to choose proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates rich in nutrients for general health.

To manage type 1 diabetes, work with your doctor or dietitian to determine the best medications and eating schedule for you. Also, you should discuss how many carbohydrates you should consume per meal.

You should also consider your exercise routine when determining how many carbohydrates you need.

Here are some basic recommendations:

Carbohydrates

There are three types of carbohydrates: starch, sugar, and fiber.

Fruits, starchy vegetables, beans, bread, and pasta are among the standard forms. As the carbohydrates pass through the digestive tract, they turn into sugar and absorb into the body. Glucose levels rise as a consequence.

If you have type 1 diabetes, it’s essential to manage your carbohydrate intake. Not all carbohydrates are created equal.

It’s best to choose easily digested, fast-acting carbs that absorb into the bloodstream if your blood sugar levels are low.

A starting carbohydrate intake of around 15 grams should be sufficient. If your reading is still low, you should have another 15 grams [5].

There are many sources of carbohydrates that are fast-acting and contain 15 grams of carbs, for example:

 

  • 1 small fresh fruit (4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • 4 to 6 crackers

Fruits

If you’re following a diet, fruits should count as carbohydrates since they’re natural sources of sugar.

You can choose any fresh or frozen fruits. Knowing how many carbohydrates are in a given amount of fruit is essential. This will allow you to manage your blood sugar levels and insulin levels [6].

Here are some examples of fruit portions that contain 15 grams of carbohydrates:

  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup of canned fruit
  • 3 ounces of grapes
  • 1 small fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 cup of melon or berries

It isn’t necessary to limit yourself to It isn’t necessary to limit yourself to 15 grams per meal or snack. However, it is essential to know how many carbs are in various servings to manage blood sugar properly.

Vegetables

Starch is a naturally occurring form of sugar found in potatoes, corn, peas, and other vegetables.

The carbohydrates in starchy vegetables are higher than those in other vegetables, so you should consume them in moderation. Calculate your carbohydrate intake by accounting for them.

In addition to being nutrient-rich and low in carbohydrates, non-starchy vegetables are rich in vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals.

You can easily eat up to three cups of these veggies without significantly affecting your blood sugar level [6].

You can consider anything higher than three cups as having about 15 grams of carbs, and anything less than that is considered “free.” These include:

  • cucumber
  • beets
  • green leafy vegetables
  • carrots
  • sprouts 
  • asparagus
  • celery
  • peppers
  • onions
  • tomatoes

Always choose fresh or frozen vegetables and do not have salt or sauces added.

Starchy vegetable portions with 15 grams of carbs include:

  • 1/2 cup of corn
  • 1 cup of winter squash
  • 1/2 cup of sweet potato or boiled potatoes
  • 3 ounces of a baked potato
  • 1/2 cup of peas

Whole grains

Whole grains are nutritious and fibrous starch. A person’s diet should contain at least 50 percent whole grains. The best sources are bran cereal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread.

To ensure your blood sugar is regulated with your medication, read labels and pay attention to how much you consume in one sitting [7].

Proteins and fats

Proteins are necessary for maintaining muscle tissue and healing wounds, while healthy fats support healthy heart and brain functions.

Beans, nuts, avocado, and seeds are good sources of healthy fats and/or proteins.

Proteins and fats will not directly raise your blood sugar levels. However, experts suggest you limit the amount of processed and fatty meats you consume, as these contain higher levels of saturated fat and sodium.

Eating too many of these substances can cause health problems, particularly heart disease, even though they have no direct effect on blood sugar [8].

overweight person walking on a highwire asparagus from fatty food towards vegetables and fruit

Diet for a type 2 diabetic

For health purposes, there are many types of diets and eating patterns that you can choose from.

Choose nutrient-dense foods for type 2 diabetes, as these will help provide your body with the vitamins, fiber, and minerals it needs.

Ensure that you consume various heart-healthy fats, including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. They can aid in keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level.

Furthermore, eating plenty of fiber-rich foods can help manage blood sugar levels and help you feel full for longer, which may prevent you from eating when you are not hungry.

The diet you follow should also be easy and sustainable. Overly restrictive diets or diet plans that don’t fit your lifestyle are harder to stick to in the long run.

Recommended foods for a type 2 diabetic diet

Depending on the type of diabetes, diabetes meal plans can follow several different patterns and have different ratios of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

  • Carbohydrates consumed should have a low glycemic index and mainly come from vegetables.
  • You should consume mostly plant-based fats and proteins [9].

The following are some examples of nutritious foods you should include in your diet:

Starting a type 2 diabetes diet

Glycemic index and load

The primary cause of elevated blood sugar is carbohydrates (carbs). Scientists use the terms glycemic index and glycemic load to measure carbohydrate effect on blood glucose levels.

People with diabetes can benefit from consuming foods with low glycemic load (index) because they raise blood sugar moderately and thus are better choices.

Foods’ (or meals’) glycemic load is determined by the amount of fiber, protein, and fat they contain.

There is a difference between glycemic index and glycemic load, namely that the former is a standardized measurement, while the latter takes into account real-life portion size.

For instance, a bowl of peas has a glycemic index of 68 (per 100 grams), but its glycemic load is just 16 (the lower, the better).

Looking at the glycemic index would give you the impression that peas are unhealthy, but you wouldn’t consume 100 grams of peas in reality.

Eating peas in a normal portion has a healthy glycemic index, making them an excellent protein source [10].

Carbohydrates

  1. Carbohydrates with a complex structure, or
  2. Simple sugars.

Carbohydrates that belong to a low-carb diet plan for type 2 diabetes are complex carbohydrates (low glycemic load foods) because they are in their whole food form and contain nutrients such as:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamins
  • Proteins and fats in smaller amounts

Additionally, these nutrients keep blood sugar levels stable by slowing glucose absorption.

The following foods contain complex carbohydrates or low glycemic index:

  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Steel-cut oatmeal

Foods rich in starch and grains

Whole grain, such as quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal, is an excellent source of fiber and nutrients and has a low glycemic index, making them a good food choice. Because of their low glycemic load, whole grains are considered healthy foods.

Whole grains are often difficult to understand on processed food labels. For example, “Whole wheat bread” can be made in various ways, but some are similar to white bread concerning blood sugar impact (glycemic load).

In the same way, whole grain pasta is still pasta. Because whole grains have a lower glycemic load, they have a lower impact on blood sugar levels.

Make sure you choose whole grains like brown rice and quinoa that are still in their grain form or pay attention to the fiber content on the nutrition label. For example, a slice of “good” whole grain high-fiber bread contains more than 3 grams of fiber [11].

It is essential to consume starchy vegetables because they contain many nutrients, like vitamin C, and they have more carbohydrates than green vegetables but fewer carbs than refined grains.

You should consume starchy vegetables moderately. Some starchy vegetables include:

  • Squash
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Root vegetables

Ideally, the above starchy vegetables should be eaten in small portions (1 cup) with protein and fats from plant sources.

Vegetables that are not starchy

Green vegetables are not starchy and are suitable for eating in large portions. These foods have a limited impact on blood sugar, and they have numerous health benefits, so eat up!

Everyone could eat more vegetables – the recommendation is five portions daily. Fresh vegetables are usually the best option since they are the tastiest.

Also, many studies have shown that frozen vegetables contain just as much vitamin and nutrient content as fresh ones, since their freezing occurs within hours of harvest. Ensure that there are no added fats or sweeteners in some of the sauces on frozen vegetables. 

Those who dislike vegetables on their own may prefer them prepared with olive oil, fresh or dried herbs, or a vinaigrette dressing. You can get all of your nutrients by consuming vegetables in a rainbow of colors.

Simple carbohydrates (e.g., foods with a high glycemic index or foods not recommended for people with type 2 diabetes because they raise blood sugar levels) are processed foods.

They lack nutrients to slow down sugar absorption, making them dangerous for people with type 2 diabetes.

Several simple carbohydrates should be avoided, known as “white foods.”

You should avoid simple carbohydrates or high glycemic index foods such as You should avoid simple carbohydrates or high glycemic index foods such as:

  • Sugar
  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • Flour
  • Pastries
  • Cookies
  • White potatoes
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Soft drinks
  • Pineapples
  • Fruit juice
  • Watermelon

Fats

A meal containing fat does not affect blood sugar directly; however, they slow the absorption of carbohydrates when consumed as part of a meal.

The effects of fats on health are not dependent on blood sugar levels. For example:

  • Fats from animal meat are associated with cardiovascular disease. Yogurt and fermented dairy products, such as milk decrease this risk [12].
  • Plant fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados) may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Additionally, fat plays an essential role in helping to reduce overeating and carbohydrate cravings. It is healthier and more satisfying to consume healthy fats (like avocado on whole-grain toast) instead of jam on white bread.

Protein

The slow, steady energy provided by protein has relatively little impact on blood sugar levels. You should always include protein in your meals and snacks, especially plant-based protein.

In addition to stabilizing blood sugar, protein also reduces sugar cravings and promotes satiety after eating.

Both animal and plant protein sources are available, but animal sources contain unhealthy saturated fats.

Proteins that are good choices include:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Peas
  • Tofu and soy foods

To support stable blood sugar levels, maintain the balance of macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) in a meal.

Specifically, protein, fat, and fiber all slow down carbohydrates’ absorption, allowing for a slower and lower insulin release, allowing glucose to be delivered steady from the bloodstream to the tissues [13].

Type 2 diabetes meal plans

Numerous dietary patterns have been studied and be beneficial in treating type 2 diabetes. People can select the eating pattern that works for them because multiple patterns are effective.

However, all diabetes diets have specific characteristics in common. A healthy diabetes diet includes the following:

  1. Several vegetables, and
  2. avoiding red meat and processed sugar.

If someone is a type 2 diabetic, he must pay close attention to what is in his meals so his blood sugar levels do not rise. If you are using injectable insulin, you must administer it appropriately [14].

Recommended vegan diets for type 2 diabetes

Vegans with diabetes may benefit from following a vegetarian diet. In general, vegetarian and vegan diets contain higher levels of carbohydrates – about 13 percent higher than diets that include food from both plants and animals (omnivorous) – a factor that increases diabetes risk.

However, vegan diets tend to be fiber-rich and low in calories and saturated fat, reducing the risks of overeating meat.

Research studies of vegan diets have shown that they are beneficial for people with diabetes to lower blood sugar levels.

A good quality vegan diet:

  • Contains a lot of vegetables and fruits
  • along with beans, nuts, seeds, and other high-quality protein sources
  • Olive oil and avocado are plant-based fats
  • The focus is on whole grains like brown rice and quinoa rather than refined carbs (sweets and packaged white foods).

So, what foods are better for diabetics?

You’re more likely to develop several serious diseases if you don’t manage your diabetes well. To avoid complications from diabetes, you should eat foods that help maintain insulin, blood sugar, and inflammation levels.

You should keep in mind that although these foods may help you manage your blood sugar, following a healthy and balanced diet is very important for a healthy blood sugar level.

Other related lifestyle articles:

  1. How To Boost Your Immune System
  2. Plant Based Sources of Zinc
  3. Vegan Brain Booster Foods
  4. 10 Foods That Boost The Immune System
  5. Vitamins and Minerals to Boost Metabolism
  6. How To Stay Healthy When Traveling
  7. Eating Healthy Food On A Budget

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Reference

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