19 of the best foods for diabetes
19 Of The Best Foods For Diabetes
Almonds are quite low in carbohydrate, contain many healthy minerals, like magnesium, as well as fiber.
A study on type 2 diabetics found that eating just 1 serving (1 ounce or 28 grams) of almonds 5 days per week for 12 weeks, reduced HbA1c.1
It also found that adding 1 serving of almonds to a carbohydrate-rich meal reduced post-meal blood sugar by 30%.1 In other words, almonds reduced the meal’s glycemic index.
In another study, type 2 diabetics eating about 2 ounces (60 grams) of almonds per day for 4 weeks, got lower body fat and fasting blood sugar, and 9% lower insulin resistance, compared to a standard diabetes diet.2
I think it’s best to use almonds as a substitute for refined carbohydrates, high-carb snacks, sugary foods, junk foods, and so on.
2. Aloe vera
Aloe vera supplements are all-around antidiabetic in prediabetics and type 2 diabetics. For example, aloe vera supplements can reduce body weight, body fat, insulin resistance, blood sugar, and cholesterol, compared to placebo.3-6
Aloe vera juice is also effective. In diabetics, one tablespoon of aloe juice twice a day reduced blood sugar.7, 8
Interestingly, a single dose of oral aloe vera powder accelerated wound healing in type 2 diabetic rats (the rats had been deliberately injured for the experiment). Note that the powder was dissolved in water and consumed orally, not applied to the wound.9 This could, hypothetically, mean that aloe vera juice (or supplements) could accelerate healing of diabetic foot ulcers, which are a serious complication of diabetes.
A guide to eating aloe vera is outside the scope of this article, but there are websites and other sources dedicated to cooking and preparing aloe vera for the purpose of eating it. The safest approach is to buy aloe vera juice, or other pre-made, edible, aloe vera foods such as beverages or plant parts, from a health food store or super market. That way, you know they’re edible.
3. Argan oil
Argan oil is an edible oil from argan nuts from the argan tree, that grows in Marocco and Algeria, as well as other locations. Argan oil is rich in unsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Research shows that argan oil can improve heart disease risk factors.
In one study, type 2 diabetics were randomly assigned to consume 5 teaspoons of argan oil with breakfast every day for 3 weeks, or a similar amount of butter. By the end of the study, the argan oil group had lower levels of total cholesterol and the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, while they had higher levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. There was also a tendency for less inflammation in the argan oil group.10
Rodent studies showed that argan oil can reduce high blood pressure, and improve diabetes caused by overfeeding.11-13
Argan oil can typically be used as a substitute for other oils.
When buying argan oil, make sure it’s edible, (also known as culinary). Argan oil is also sold as a skin care product, which should NOT be consumed.
You can buy culinary argan oil at www.amazon.com (or health food stores, or stores that sell North African or Middle Eastern foods).
Barley is a relatively good high-carb food. If you want to follow a low-carb diet, don’t feel forced to eat barley. I think a low-carb diet is usually best if you want optimal blood sugar. However, if you want to eat carbohydrate, barley is a good choice.
In prediabetics, barley has favorable effects compared to oatmeal. Barley reduced blood sugar, HbA1c, insulin resistance, total cholesterol and the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and increased carbohydrate tolerance, compared to oatmeal.14
One study on type 2 diabetics found that barley has a relatively low glycemic index (53). In other words, it doesn’t raise blood sugar very much after a meal, compared to other carbohydrate-rich foods.15
Try to buy high-fiber barley if possible. It has an even lower glycemic index than common barley.16
5. Black seeds
Black seeds are a somewhat unusual food, but they are actually readily available in many grocery or health food stores.
Several human studies have demonstrated that black seeds are good for diabetes, as evidenced by reduced fasting blood sugar and HbA1c, and improved carbohydrate tolerance.17, 18
In one study, type 2 diabetics were randomly assigned to eat just 2 grams black seed daily, or placebo, for 12 months. By the end of the study, fasting blood sugar and HbA1c declined significantly in the black seed group, compared to placebo.17
The oil of black seeds is also beneficial. In a study on patients with metabolic syndrome, eating one level teaspoon of black seed oil per day for 6 weeks significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and cholesterol, compared to an untreated control group.19
As mentioned above, two to three grams per day of black seeds appears to be enough to get the beneficial effects.17, 18 More is not necessarily better.
Because black seed goes by many other names, it’s best to double check for the botanical name, Nigella sativa, when buying products.
6. Chia seeds
Chia seed is a high-carbohydrate food. However, as far as carbohydrate sources go, it’s relatively good for diabetics, because it contains high amounts of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fats. Salba is the name of a white-colored variety of chia seeds.20 Salba contains around 20% more nutrients than chia seeds.
In type 2 diabetics, including around 37 grams (1.3 ounces; uncooked weight) of ground Salba seeds per day in the diet reduced blood pressure and inflammation compared to wheat bran. HbA1c was also reduced in the Salba group only.20
Studies in diabetes-free individuals showed that ground Salba seeds baked into white bread reduced its glycemic index.21 In other words, ground Salba seeds dampened the post-meal blood sugar levels.
Finally, a weight loss diet incorporating chia seeds (plus oats, nopal, and soy protein) led to improved blood sugar control, lower inflammation and blood fats, compared to a diet without those foods.22
Chia and Salba, therefore, appear to be relatively good carbohydrate foods, if you can’t or won’t abstain from carbohydrate.
Chicken is a great substitute for red meat for diabetics. It has been studied in relation to kidney disease.
Kidney disease often develops in diabetics, partly due to high blood sugar. A low-protein diet is helpful for treating diabetic kidney disease, but is difficult to follow.
However, various studies showed that replacing red meat with chicken, without eating less protein, has similar effects as a low-protein diet.
In type 1 diabetics, replacing red meat with chicken and fish, for 3 weeks, resulted in improved markers of kidney disease. In fact, the improvements with the fish and chicken diet were similar to a low-protein vegetarian diet.23
Subsequent studies on type 2 diabetics confirmed the kidney-protective effects of replacing red meat with chicken.24-26
Note that, when it comes to protein-rich foods like chicken, more is NOT better. Large amounts of protein are still unhealthy, even in the form of chicken. Therefore, don’t force-feed yourself chicken, or any other protein source. Rather, keep your protein intake at normal levels, and replace red meat with chicken.
The reason that red meat is harmful for diabetics is partly because it contributes to high iron levels, which directly promote diabetes and diabetic complications. But that discussion is outside the scope of this article.
Cod seems to be a good protein source for diabetics and insulin resistant individuals.
In a study on humans, most of whom were prediabetics, a 4-week diet with cod instead of red meat, eggs, milk, and milk products, increased insulin sensitivity more than 30%. 27
Insulin secretion also improved on the cod diet.27 Moreover, inflammation was reduced by the cod diet.28
The reason why cod was healthier is not entirely clear, but may be thanks to its lower iron content.
Replacing other animal protein sources with cod seems like a good idea. However, as mentioned in the discussion on chicken, keep your protein intake to normal levels.
9. Dark chocolate and cocoa
Foods such as dark chocolate, made from cacao/cocoa beans, frequently reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure in human studies.29-34
In one study on prediabetics, dark chocolate even increased insulin secretion, an effect not seen with white chocolate.32
A meta-analysis published in 2011, which pooled the results of 24 studies of cocoa on 1106 participants, found that cocoa consumption reduces insulin resistance, blood pressure and the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and raises the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.30
How much dark chocolate is enough?
Some studies found that as little as 20 grams (0.7 ounces) of dark chocolate per day can reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure,31 demonstrating that quite small, realistic amounts can be sufficient. However, larger amounts like 100 grams (3½ ounces) per day are also healthy.32, 34
When buying dark chocolate, aim for a cocoa content of at least 70%. You can also consume other cocoa products, but stay away from those containing a lot of sugar.
Dark chocolate also contains pretty high amounts of magnesium, an important mineral for blood sugar control.
Multiple studies have found that flaxseed is good for diabetics.
Studies have shown that adding ground, or crushed, or milled flaxseed to the diet reduces insulin resistance, fasting blood sugar, and HbA1c. In short, it improves blood sugar control.35-38
The doses used have varied between 10 and 40 grams (0.35-1.4 ounces) per day in most studies. 35-37, 39, 40
The reason that flaxseed improves blood sugar control is likely thanks to its high levels of omega-3, fiber, antioxidants, and a low carbohydrate content.
It’s probably best to add some ground flaxseed to each meal rather than consuming everything at once. This way, the flaxseed can attenuate post-meal blood sugar spikes caused by each meal.
Flaxseed can also be baked into bread to reduce its glycemic index (post-meal blood sugar levels).
To highlight some studies, type 2 diabetics that added 10 grams per day of flaxseed powder for 1 month reduced fasting blood sugar (-20%) and HbA1c (-16%).37
In prediabetics, a 12-week diet with 40 grams of ground flaxseed per day reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance, an effect not seen with the same amount of wheat bran.40
11. Grape seed oil
Only one study examined the effects of grape seed oil on diabetes-related markers in humans, but the results are encouraging.
Overweight or obese women were randomly assigned to consume grape seed oil or sunflower oil for 8 weeks, as part of a weight loss diet. Grape seed oil reduced insulin resistance and inflammation, whereas sunflower oil did not.41
When buying grape seed oil, make sure it’s edible, because it’s also sold as a skin care product, which could be inappropriate to consume, although some varieties can be used for both purposes.
An alternative spelling is ”grapeseed”, which may be useful if you’re searching online.
12. Macadamia nuts
One of my favorite nuts are macadamia nuts. They contain only 7% carbohydrate, 5% protein and 88% fat. Hence, they are perfect in a low-carb or very low-carb diet, and taste delicious, too.
Macadamia nuts also reduce cholesterol, when used as a substitute for saturated, cholesterol-rich, fat sources, like butter.42, 43
They are great as a snack, or something to bring along that doesn’t spoil.
If you’ve ever thought that a low-carbohydrate diet is boring, give these nuts a try.
Oats are a relatively good carbohydrate-rich food.
A meta-analysis with data up to October 2013, pooled the results of 15 studies, lasting 1 to 16 weeks, that included a total of 673 participants, and examined the effects of oat consumption on blood sugar control. The meta-analysis showed that oats, compared to other carbohydrates, reduced post-meal blood sugar levels and decreased insulin levels.44 In this context, lower insulin levels are actually a good sign, because it indicates a higher effectiveness of insulin. Thus, less insulin is needed to regulate blood sugar, causing insulin levels to decline.
Oats are a good source of zinc and magnesium, minerals that improve blood sugar regulation in diabetics.
The downside, as mentioned, is that oats are rich in carbohydrate. I generally don’t recommend carbohydrate-rich foods for diabetics. For optimal blood sugar, it’s better to eat a low-carbohydrate diet in most cases. However, if you’re going to eat carbohydrate, oats seem like a good choice to replace other carbohydrate foods such as wheat, sugar, rice, white bread etc.
14. Oyster mushrooms
Various animal studies and at least 2 human studies have shown that oyster mushrooms improve diabetes.
In the first human study, 30 diabetics added oyster mushrooms to their diets for 7 days. This reduced blood pressure, fasting and post-meal blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood fats (triglycerides).45
Another study on type 2 diabetics showed that eating oyster mushroom before a sugar-rich drink attenuated post-meal blood sugar levels and increased insulin secretion.46
In diabetic rats, oyster mushrooms reduced post-meal blood sugar and increased insulin secretion.46
There are around 40 species of oyster mushrooms. Botanical names of good species for diabetics include Pleurotus ostreatus and Pleurotus cystidiosus, but most species referred to as ”oyster mushrooms” are probably effective.
Oyster mushrooms can be purchased dried, fresh, powdered, or as supplements.
15. Pistachio nuts
Pistachios are one of the most studied nuts for improving health. A brief summary of some human studies follows below.
Pistachios can promote weight loss, and reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation, blood pressure, HbA1c and insulin resistance, compared to pistachio-free diets. 47-52
In type 2 diabetics, pistachios have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart disease risk factors, lower fasting and long-term (HbA1c) blood sugar, compared to nut-free diets. 50, 51
In prediabetics, eating 2 ounces (57 grams) per day of pistachios for 16 weeks led to lower fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance, compared to a pistachio-free diet.52
In fact, every study I’ve seen found some beneficial effect of pistachios on diabetes and/or heart disease.
It’s best to use pistachios to replace sugary foods, white rice, potatoes, white bread, and other high glycemic index foods. Also, unsalted pistachios are preferable in most cases, especially if you have high blood pressure.
16. Safflower oil
Safflower oil is cheap and widely available in most countries. It should not be confused with sunflower oil.
In obese women with type 2 diabetes, eating just 8 grams (barely 2 teaspoons) per day of safflower oil, for 16 weeks, significantly reduced fasting blood sugar, insulin resistance and inflammation, and increased levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.53, 54
The effect on blood sugar was not seen before 16 weeks, so you may have to give this oil some time to work its magic.
Various studies have found that certain edible seaweeds can fight diabetes.
Eating brown algae before, or with, a carbohydrate-rich meal can increase insulin sensitivity55 or dampen post-meal blood sugar.56 Adding sodium alginate – a fiber made from brown algae – to a meal also dampens post-meal blood sugar in type 2 diabetics.57
In prediabetics, a supplement made from the brown algae Ecklonia cava increased carbohydrate tolerance compared to placebo, when consumed for 12 weeks. Additionally, insulin resistance was reduced in the algae group only.58
In a study on type 2 diabetics, daily seaweed (brown algae) consumption for 4 weeks reduced fasting blood sugar and increased carbohydrate tolerance. Blood fats also improved.59 This was probably thanks to a 2.5 fold higher fiber intake in the seaweed group.
Taken together, these studies show that brown algae are healthy for diabetics. They are sometimes referred to as sea tangle or sea mustard, and should also be effective. They can often be purchased in Asian stores or markets, or over the Internet.
Soy can be used as a substitute for meat to improve blood sugar control.
One study found that volunteers who replaced red meat with foods made from soy beans, had a 55% higher insulin sensitivity, and lower cholesterol, after 4 weeks. 60
Because soy contains a lot of protein, it isn’t one of those foods you should gorge on. More isn’t better, in this case. Excessive protein intake can be problematic for anyone, and for diabetics in particular. Therefore, it’s best to use soy as a substitute for red meat, without increasing your total protein intake.
Vinegar is antidiabetic in various ways. Adding vinegar to a carbohydrate-rich meal reduces post-meal blood sugar levels. In one study, post-meal blood sugar was 36% lower when eating bread with vinegar.61
Type 2 diabetics consuming two tablespoons apple cider vinger at bedtime, had significantly reduced morning blood sugar compared to consuming the same amount of water.62
Longer-term studies showed that consuming 2 tablespoons vinegar with 2 meals per day (4 Tbsp total) reduced HbA1c in type 2 diabetics.63
In women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance characterized by insulin resistance, six of seven patients (86%) had lower insulin resistance after consuming 1 tablespoon per day of apple vinegar, for 90 to 110 days.64
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