Diabetics are two to four times more likely than people without diabetes to die of heart disease or experience a life-threatening stroke, according to the American Heart Association. And for those who don’t properly control their condition, the odds of health issues—which range from cardiovascular trouble to nerve damage and kidney disease—increases exponentially.
Luckily there are plenty of delicious foods that are compatible with diabetes. We tapped registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators for their top food picks that are low-carb and low-sugar, but still high in flavour. These superfoods will keep your blood sugar in check without skimping on flavour. Bonus: Most of these foods are also packed with essential vitamins and antioxidants to fight off inflammation and keep your energy levels high. While you’re stocking up your grocery cart with these staples, be sure to avoid the 75 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
This nutty, trendy whole grain is a good source of fibre and protein, making it a smart pick for a diabetes diet, Sarah Koszyk, RDN tells us. “With the fibre and protein combination found in quinoa, you’ll feel fuller and have better blood sugar control. Protein also helps with the uptake of carbohydrates so the body can process them more easily. I suggest enjoying quinoa in a salad or casserole.”
2. 100% Whole Wheat bread
Elizabeth Snyder, RD, CDE says you can still eat carbs if you’re diabetic. You just have to watch out for portion sizes: “The trouble [with eating carbs as a diabetic] lies in eating more carbohydrates than we need, as the body will choose to store any extra energy as fat,” she says. So, rather of cutting out carbs entirely, Snyder recommends switching to complex carbs, such as 100% whole wheat bread, which are higher in vitamins, minerals, and blood-sugar-managing fibre than their simple, refined counterpart
“Beans provide a notable combination of plant protein and soluble fibre that can help boost feelings of fullness and manage blood sugar levels,” Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook explains. “Replacing some meat with beans can play a helpful role in heart health,” which is particularly important for diabetics as heart disease is one of the most common complications of diabetes. Consider adding kidney beans to soups and black beans to your casseroles
Lentils are rich in something called resistant starch: a type of carb that has a very minimal impact on your blood sugar levels because it passes through the body undigested and ultimately ends up feeding the healthy bacteria at the bottom of your digestive tract. So, not only will lentils help keep your blood sugar levels more even-keeled, they’ll also help to improve your gut health.
5. Wild Salmon
“Salmon is a smart addition to anyone’s eating plan, but for individuals with diabetes, it’s especially beneficial,” Lori Zanini, RD, CDE tells us. Here’s why: “It’s a healthy protein source that will not raise blood sugar levels and will help to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke—a major concern for diabetics.” Salmon’s heart-healthy qualities come from its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This particular fat reduces levels of triglycerides, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, according to a review in the journal Atherosclerosis.
6. Greek Yogurt
Looking for a protein-packed way to fuel your morning? Greek yogurt is the answer. “It naturally contains both carbohydrates and protein, which is a perfect combination to help control hunger levels and blood sugars,” says Koszyk. “Plus, choosing Greek yogurt will give you more protein and fewer carbohydrates than regular yogurt, which can help better control blood-sugar levels. Enjoy yogurt in a smoothie or as a snack paired with some berries and chia seeds.”
“Leafy greens, like spinach, are great non-starchy vegetable options because they contain lutein, an important nutrient for eye health. This nutrient is essential for people with diabetes since they have a higher risk for blindness than those without diabetes,” explains Newgent. That’s not all spinach has going for it. A study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that adults who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 37 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to those who consumed only 1,793 milligrams. Just one cup of cooked spinach contains 839 milligrams of potassium (which is equivalent to what’s in 2 medium bananas) or 20 percent of that target intake.
Craving a treat? Consider berries your go-to when your sweet tooth strikes. “Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are all low on the glycemic index and are considered to be superfoods for diabetics,” Koszyk explains. The combination of being low in sugar and high in fibre contributes to their diabetes-friendly ability to gradually raise blood sugars. An added bonus: according to two recent animal studies, consuming a diet rich in polyphenols—a naturally occurring chemical found abundantly in berries—can decrease the formation of fat cells by up to 73 percent!
“Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage are high in something called sulforaphane,” Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN says. “The compound helps reduce oxidative stress and vascular complications associated with diabetes like heart disease and neuropathy, a term used to describe a problem with the nerves.”
10. Ground FlaxseedsAdd a satisfying crunch to your favourite oatmeal, salad, soup, or smoothie with the help of ground flaxseeds, a potent superfood for people with diabetes. “Ground flaxseeds contain lignans (a plant-based chemical compound) and fibre which help maintain blood sugar levels and glycaemic control,” Koszyk explains.