The Top 20 Foods for Beating Diabetes

What you eat can help you control and fight your diabetes. Incorporate these healthy foods into your diet

foods for beating diabetes photo credit: shutterstock

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have a boring diet

Every time you roll your shopping cart into the supermarket, you’re making a decision that goes far beyond whether you’re going to have pork or pierogies for dinner. You’re actually choosing between being a victim and a victor. What you put in your cart goes a long way toward determining whether you’ll be compromised by diabetes or start controlling and eventually even beating it.

That’s why we’ve assembled the following list of the 20 best foods for fighting diabetes. Every time you go to the store from now on, take this list with you and check off each item. In fact, if your favourite store has a delivery service, sign up for it so your supplies are automatically replenished every few weeks.

Research proves that making a few key changes to your diet such as eating more produce, fewer refined carbohydrates, plenty of lean protein, and more ‘good’ fat’helps improve blood-sugar control and cuts the risk of diabetes-related complications. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that one or two or even five foods on this list will transform you. You need most of them, yes, even the flaxseed, because together they represent a new approach to eating, a lifestyle rather than just a diet.

1. Apples

Because they offer so many health advantages, put these at the core of your diet. Apples are naturally low in calories, yet their high fibre content (4 grams) fills you up, battles bad cholesterol, and blunts blood-sugar swings. Red Delicious and Granny Smith are also among the top 10 fruits with the most disease-fighting antioxidants.

Eat them whole and unpeeled for the greatest benefit, or make a quick ‘baked’ apple. After washing and chopping one apple, put it in a bowl with a dusting of cinnamon and microwave until soft (about 4 minutes). Enjoy with yogourt and oat bran sprinkles for a nutritious dessert, or serve over oatmeal for breakfast.

2. Avocado

Rich, creamy, and packed with beneficial monounsaturated fat, avocado slows digestion and helps keep blood sugar from spiking after a meal. A diet high in good fats may even help reverse insulin resistance, which translates to steadier blood sugar long-term. Try putting mashed avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise or on bread instead of butter. To keep what’s left over from turning brown, spritz the flesh with cooking spray or coat with lemon juice and wrap in plastic.

3. Barley

Choosing this grain instead of white rice can reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal by almost 70 per cent’and keep your blood sugar lower and steadier for hours. That’s because the soluble fibre and other compounds in barley dramatically slow the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrate. Even brown rice can’t compare. Add barley to soups, serve it as a side dish, or make it the basis for a stir-fry or casserole. Pearled, hulled, or quick-cooking varieties are all crackling good choices.

4. Beans

When menu planning, think ‘bean cuisine‘ at least twice a week. The soluble fibre in all types of beans (from chickpeas to kidney beans to even edamame) puts a lid on high blood sugar. And because they’re rich in protein, beans can stand in for meat in main dishes. Just watch the sodium content. Always rinse canned beans before using. To save time cooking beans, invest in a pressure cooker. Soaked beans are tender in just 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Beef

Yes, beef is a diabetes-friendly food, as long as you choose the leanest cuts and keep portions to one-fourth your plate. Getting enough protein at mealtime keeps you feeling full and satisfied. Plus, it helps maintain muscle mass when you’re losing weight, so your metabolism stays high. The skinniest beef cuts are eye of round, inside round, ground round, tenderloin, sirloin, flank steak, and filet mignon. To lean up other cuts, put them in the freezer for 20 minutes. This hardens the meat so it’s easier to slice off the fat. Lean cuts can be tenderized and made more flavourful by marinating in any mixture that contains vinegar, wine, or citrus juice. The acid softens them up.

6. Berries

Think of them as nature’s M&Ms: sweet, convenient, colourful, and satisfying. Berries are full of fibre and antioxidants. The red and blue varieties also contain natural plant compounds called anthocyanins. Scientists believe these may help lower blood sugar by boosting insulin production. Put some in an easy-to-grab location or freeze a handful to suck on or use as ice cubes.

7. Broccoli

Hey, don’t make that face. Broccoli is filling, fibrous, and full of antioxidants (including a day’s worth of vitamin C in one serving). It’s also rich in chromium, which plays an important role in long-term blood sugar control. If you don’t already love it, either ‘hide’ it in soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles, or sauté it with garlic, soy sauce, and mustard, or dark sesame oil (or any combination thereof) for a taste you’ll fall for.

8. Carrots

Don’t believe what you hear about carrots rapidly raising blood sugar. While the type of sugar they contain is transformed into blood sugar quickly, the amount of sugar in carrots is extremely low. That’s good news because carrots are one of nature’s richest sources of beta-carotene, which is linked to a lower risk of diabetes and better blood-sugar control. Sick of raw sticks? Make some ‘fries’ by slicing carrots into thin strips, scattering on a baking sheet, and flavouring with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400°F (200°C) for 40 minutes. Who needs McDonald’s?

9. Poultry

These meats can be high-fat disasters or perfectly healthy fare. It all depends on the cut and how it’s prepared. Breast meat, whether ground or whole, is always lower in fat than dark meat such as thighs and drumsticks. Never eat the skin because of its high saturated fat content, and when buying ground turkey, make sure the package says ground turkey breast. Otherwise, you may as well be eating hamburger. And need we remind you, the Colonel is not your friend. (Why are you eating anything that comes in a bucket anyway?) If you stick to these rules, you’ll enjoy a nice, low-calorie dose of sustaining protein. No time to cook? Pick up a rotisserie chicken.

10. Eggs

Eggs are another excellent, inexpensive source of high-quality protein’so high, in fact, that egg protein is the gold standard nutritionists use to rank all other proteins. An egg or two won’t raise your cholesterol, and will keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours afterward. Such a magic food deserves a little sleight of hand in its preparation. To flip an egg, spritz the skillet with cooking spray, wait for the egg white to bubble and, in one continuous motion, slide the pan quickly toward you and then forward with a slight upward flick of the wrist. Bow to your guests.

11. Fish

The single deadliest complications of diabetes is heart disease, and eating fish just once a week can reduce your risk by 40 per cent, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. The fatty acids in fish reduce inflammation in the body’a major contributor to coronary disease, as well as insulin resistance and diabetes. And unless you’re pregnant, don’t worry too much about potential chemical contaminants. An exhaustive review of the scientific literature on fish and human health by Harvard researchers led to the conclusion that eating it far outweighs any accompanying risks.

12. Flaxseed

No, this is not something you fill the bird feeders with come winter. Rather, these shiny brown seeds hit the diabetes trifecta: They’re rich in protein, fibre, and good fats similar to the kind found in fish. They’re also a source of magnesium, a mineral that’s key to blood-sugar control because it helps cells use insulin. Ground flaxseed spoils quickly, so buy whole seeds in bulk, keep in the fridge, and grind as needed. Sprinkle on cereal, yogourt, or ice cream or blend into meat loaf, meatballs, burgers, pancakes, and breads. It works in just about anything’including bird feeders.

13. Milk and yogurt

Both are rich in protein and calcium, which studies show may help people lose weight. And diets that include plenty of dairy may fight insulin resistance, a core problem behind diabetes. Go low-fat or fat-free, though. If you don’t like the taste of skim milk, try 1 percent. It’s a little thicker and creamier than skim. Likewise, reduced-fat Greek-style yogurt tends to taste richer than its Canadian counterparts because of how it’s made. Drizzle with honey and imagine you’re on the Mediterranean.

14. Nuts

Because of their high fibre and protein content, nuts are ‘slow burning’ foods that are friendly to blood sugar. And even though they contain a lot of fat, it’s that healthful monounsaturated kind again. Roasting really brings out the flavour of nuts and makes them a great addition to fall soups and entrées. Just spread shelled nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 300°F (150°C) for 7 to 10 minutes.

15. Seeds

Like nuts, seeds of all types pumpkin, sunflower, sesame are filled with good fats, protein, and fibre that work together to keep blood sugar low and stave off heart disease. They’re also a natural source of cholesterol-lowering sterols, the same compounds added to some cholesterol-lowering margarines. Fill an empty Altoids mint tin with your favourite unsalted seeds and stash it in your purse or pocket in case of snack emergencies. Or tell the waiter to hold the croutons on your Caesar and substitute pumpkin or sunflower seeds instead.

16. Oatmeal

Ever wonder why oatmeal is so good for you? It’s because it’s loaded with soluble fibre which, when mixed with water, forms a paste. Just as it sticks to your bowl, it also forms a gummy barrier between the digestive enzymes in your stomach and the starch molecules in your meal. So it takes longer for your body to convert the carbs you’ve eaten into blood sugar. Don’t like oatmeal in the morning? Buy oat flour and use it as a thickener in autumn stews, casseroles, and soups. Or add ground oatmeal (not the instant kind) to muffin, pancake, or waffle batters. You won’t even know it’s there.

17. Olive Oil

This stuff is liquid gold. In fact, it contains an anti-inflammatory component so strong that researchers liken it to aspirin. This may be one reason why people who follow a Mediterranean diet’a traditional way of eating that emphasizes olive oil along with produce, whole grains, and lean meat’have such low rates of heart disease and diabetes, both of which are linked with inflammation. Unlike butter, the good fat in olive oil won’t increase insulin resistance and may even help reverse it. A touch of olive oil also slows digestion, so your meal is less likely to spike your glucose. Dribble it on salads, baked potatoes, pasta, just about anything.

18. Peanut Butter

One study found that eating peanut butter dampens the appetite for up to 2 hours longer than a low-fibre, high-carb snack, making this childhood favourite a grown-up weight-loss ally. The monounsaturated fats in PB also help control blood sugar. Looking for a new way to enjoy it? Try raw or steamed veggies with this peanut dip: Bring 2/3 cup water to boil in a saucepan, stir in 1/3 cup creamy PB, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 teaspoons fresh-grated ginger, 2 medium chopped scallions, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and a dash of chili powder. Simmer 2 minutes, remove from heat, and stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Wait until it cools, then start dipping!

19. Whole-Grain Bread

Eating white bread is practically like eating table sugar when it comes to raising blood sugar. So if you eat a lot of it (and this includes bagels), simply switching to whole grain may improve your sensitivity to insulin. In one study of nearly 1,000 men and women, the higher their intake of whole grains, the greater their insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar stability. Don’t mistake any old brown bread, or even multigrain, for whole grain. If it doesn’t have the word ‘whole’ in the first ingredient, don’t buy it. And look for the coarsest bread you can find; the coarseness will slow digestion.

20. Sweet Potatoes

Choose a baked sweet potato instead of a baked white potato, and your blood sugar will rise about 30 percent less. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and disease-fighting fibre, almost 40 percent of which is the soluble kind that lowers cholesterol and slows digestion. They’re also extra rich in carotenoids, orange and yellow pigments that play a role in helping the body respond to insulin. Plus, they’re full of the natural plant compound chlorogenic acid, which may help reduce insulin resistance.