A healthy, well-balanced diet is important in general. But if you are a diabetic, diet will play a vital role in diabetes management.
It can help to control blood sugar levels successfully, and in some cases, even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Yes, a healthy diet can be a powerful weapon when it comes to managing diabetes. But what does a well-balanced diabetic diet actually consist of?
In this article, we will be discussing the best type of diet for diabetes and how it can benefit your health.
When managing diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels is one of the main goals. And certain types of food can either raise or lower it.
As a result, many people with diabetes opt for a low carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet.
If you have diabetes, your body is unable to effectively process carbohydrates as the carbs convert into glucose.
This causes your blood sugar levels to rise, resulting in several health complications, including hyperglycemia.
However, this does not mean that you have to forsake all carbohydrates. You may be surprised to learn that carbs are not completely off-limits for those with type 2 diabetes.
You can still enjoy carbs, but they need to be vitamin-enriched, minimally processed, and slow-releasing carbohydrates. These include quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta, and cereals.
Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts, are a nutrient-dense, low glycemic food that has been widely recommended in a diabetic diet.
A randomized controlled trial reviewed 121 participants with type 2 diabetes.
One group was encouraged to increase their legume intake by at least 1 cup per day or increase insoluble fiber by consuming whole wheat products for 3 months.
The primary outcome was changed in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) values with calculated coronary heart disease (CHD) risk score as a secondary outcome.
Dietary fiber is extremely beneficial for people dealing with diabetes.
Fiber is beneficial for the treatment of diabetes. This is because it helps to reduce cholesterol and improve your blood sugar levels while helping to keep insulin levels nice and stable.
As you know, this is hugely beneficial for people who have diabetes. Dietary fiber helps to slow down rates of digestion nutrient absorption, meaning that glucose sugars in foods you consume reach your bloodstream much slower than usual.
Fatty fish are an excellent food source for anyone, but especially people with diabetes.
The omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish are necessary for brain and heart health, and our bodies cannot produce them on their own.
Therefore, we can only get them from the foods we eat. Fatty fish also help you stay full for longer and are an excellent source of protein.
Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol levels.
Any oxidized fats, including oils heated to high temperatures, contribute to the damage in the arteries that people with diabetes are prone to develop.
The ADA reports that a diet high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can improve blood sugar control and blood lipids in people with diabetes.
The ideal healthy fats are animal fats from grass-fed organic meat, avocados, nuts, canola, olive oils.
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Foods to Avoid for Diabetes
- Sweetened drinks: Sweetened beverages like canned juice, carbonated drinks, and many energy drinks are high in added sugar. A 2015 meta-analysis found that a higher intake of sweetened beverages was positively associated with a 30% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Trans fats: The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have made recommendations that Americans aim for a total fat intake of no more than 30% of calories and choose foods low in saturated fat. You want to avoid trans fats and saturated fat. They increase the bad LDL cholesterol levels and can lead to blood vessel damage and heart disease.
- Artificial sweeteners: Even alternating to artificially sweetened or ‘diet’ soda containing sugar alternatives may not reduce the risk of diabetes. While research on these has reached more varied conclusions, this 2018 investigation suggests that artificially sweetened beverage consumption cannot be ruled out as a risk factor for diabetes.
- Sweetened cereals: While cereal can be a convenient option when you’re on the go, many are laden with sugar. This might give you a quick boost of energy in the morning, but you will soon find yourself hungry and lacking energy later in the day.
What are the risks of a poor diet if you have diabetes?
The risks of a poor diet are very real for everyone. But if you have diabetes or are prediabetic, the risks are greater.
For people with diabetes, it is essential to limit sugars and fats found in junk foods.
A poor diet high in fat, sugar, and processed foods, will contribute to weight gain. And this can result in high blood sugar levels.
Continuous spikes in blood sugar, which go unmanaged, can result in many diabetic health complications over time. If type 2 diabetes goes untreated, the high blood sugar can affect various cells and organs in the body. Potential complications include:
- Neuropathy (nerve damage).
- Kidney damage (nephropathy).
- Gastroparesis (issues with stomach emptying).
- Eye damage (retinopathy).
Diet’s for Diabetes
In recent years, the DASH diet has become increasingly popular for people with diabetes.
In addition to promoting blood pressure control, this eating pattern has been shown to improve insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and even overweight/obesity.
Another diet revered for its health benefits is the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, fish, and olive oil, could be of benefit to a diabetic.
A randomized clinical trial, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that compared with a low-fat diet, a MedDiet allowed better glycemic control and delayed the need for antidiabetes drug treatment in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes.
Research has suggested that low carb diets might be the way forward. In a small, five-week study, men with type 2 diabetes who consumed a high-protein, a high-fiber diet providing 20% of calories from carbs per day experienced a 29% reduction in fasting blood sugar, on average.
The ketogenic, in particular, has been shown to be especially beneficial. The Keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet shown to lower blood glucose levels effectively.
This encourages the body to break down fat, causing it to go into a state of ketosis.
As the diet restricts your carbohydrate intake, swapping carbs for healthy fats, your blood sugar levels may decrease, as carbohydrates are usually converted into sugar, which can cause a spike in sugar levels.
A further advantage of this diet is weight loss. For those who are prediabetic or at risk of Type 2 diabetes, this might be the diabetic diet for you.
Although it might seem strange to recommend a high-fat diet for weight loss, it should be noted that you are swapping carbohydrates for healthy fats, and as such your body will convert the fat into energy.
This does not include unhealthy, saturated fats but fats from food such as avocados, nuts, and fish rich in omega 3.
Overall, studies have indicated that a daily carb intake between 20–150 grams, or 5–35% of calories, may effectively manage diabetes and prediabetes.
How many carbs can you eat if you have diabetes?
Determining how many carbs you can eat a day can be challenging and confusing. Meal plans created by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) provide about 45% of calories from carbs.
This includes 45–60 grams per meal and 10–25 grams per snack, totaling about 135–230 grams of carbs per day.
However, it is thought this is an overestimation, and in reality, your carb intake should be significantly less.
As discussed, your body breaks carbs down into sugar, which enters the bloodstream, causing a rise in blood glucose levels.
In people with diabetes, consuming large amounts of carbs will often require high doses of insulin to combat rising blood sugar levels.
How can the right diabetic diet have a positive effect on your diabetes?
Being overweight is one of the greatest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. In fact, research shows that losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can lower your risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.
One study of more than 1,000 people with prediabetes found that for every kilogram (2.2 lbs) of weight participants lost, their risk of diabetes was reduced by 16%, up to a maximum reduction of 96%.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for weight management, and if you are seeking to lose weight, restricting calorie intake and exercising regularly is vital.
You have probably come across the saying ‘You are what you eat,’ and while it can be easy to dismiss, it really is true.
Research has found that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet promotes weight and fat loss and has been associated with decreases in fasting triglycerides and free fatty acids in healthy subjects and with the normalization of fasting insulin levels.
Blood sugar levels
For those with diabetes, one of the most important factors to monitor is blood sugar levels. This can be stressful at the best of times, but the right diet can make it easier.
The ‘right’ diabetic diet will vary according to the individual, but for many people with diabetes, the Glycemic Index can be useful.
The GI classifies carbohydrates by the effect they have on blood sugar response and can be helpful for people with diabetes to understand which form of carbohydrates can help control blood sugar.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials reviewed all the studies that looked at the effects of GI on blood sugar control.
The review found that people with type 2 diabetes that followed a low-GI diet had greater reductions in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar levels compared to those that followed a higher-GI diet or control in type 2 diabetes.
Unmanaged blood sugar levels can result in a large number of health complications.
These include eye problems, foot problems, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney damage (nephropathy), and nerve damage (neuropathy).
However, the good news is that you can successfully manage blood glucose levels by implementing the right diet. And in doing so, you can reduce your risk of developing complications of diabetes.
Research suggests that metabolic control can be considered as the cornerstone of diabetes management and its complications.
Reaching your HbA1c target minimizes the risk of developing microvascular complications and may also protect you from cardiovascular disease. This is particularly true in newly diagnosed patients.
In addition, an individual’s food choices have an effect on body weight, blood pressure, and lipid levels directly.
Through mutual efforts, healthcare professionals can help their patients in achieving health goals by individualizing their nutritional needs and offering dietary and lifestyle advice.
Reversal of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes was once thought to be irreversible and progressive after diagnosis. But much interest has arisen in the potential for remission.
A study published in 2014 by the Second University of Naples showed that a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet was able to achieve significant rates of remission in people with type 2 diabetes.
After one year of following the diet, 15% of participants achieved remission. And, after six years, 5% had achieved remission on the diet – a stunning achievement.
A further study by researchers at Newcastle University showed drastically reducing calorie intake could also put type 2 diabetes into remission.
Participants followed an 800 calorie diet a day for eight weeks. Seven of the eleven participants achieved remission.
The type 2 diabetic diet included around 600 kcal from meal shakes and around 200 kcal from non-starchy vegetables.
The study used MRI scans and showed reversal of diabetes appeared to correlate with significant reductions in fat storage within the liver and pancreas.
How can you effectively plan a diet to keep your blood sugar balanced if you are diabetic?
When you are making a diabetes self-management plan, it is easier to do with others.
Work with your health care provider to develop a management plan that is best for you. Whether it is a Medical Doctor, a Naturopathic Doctor, a dietician, certified diabetes educator, or a nutritionist.
Carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate dramatically; therefore, counting your carb intake throughout the day is important.
This includes carbohydrates in drinks. Start by counting carbohydrates at home using a scale and an app such as MyFitnessPal. Then, gradually you’ll become familiar with what the correct portion size looks like.
Learn what portion size is appropriate for each type of food. Simplify your meal planning by writing down portions for the foods you eat often. Use measuring cups or a scale to ensure proper portion size.
Avoid sweetened beverages
Recently, evidence suggested a link between the intake of soft drinks with obesity and diabetes, resulting from large amounts of high fructose corn syrup used in the manufacturing of soft drinks, which raises blood glucose levels and BMI to dangerous levels.
Safety and effectiveness of the diabetic diet
Any significant change to your diet can have an impact, and this is true of a low carb diabetic diet.
For many people, opting for a diet, such as a keto diet that cuts out many of your usual food groups, can be difficult. However, the benefits are worth it.
People that significantly reduce their carbohydrate intake may experience the following:
- Brain fog
These side effects sometimes, referred to as ‘low-carb flu,’ are usually the result of the body passing out fluid and salts from the body in the initial weeks of the diet.
What effects can you expect to see and feel if you stick to your diabetic diet?
A diet consisting of high fiber, low carbohydrates, lean meats, and polyunsaturated fat (as found in walnuts and sunflower seeds), and monounsaturated fats (like olive oil and avocados) helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and can even bring blood sugar levels into healthy ranges.
Here’s how… When you eat high-fiber with a meal, it acts as a buffer for the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Instead of having your blood sugar levels spike after a meal, there is a slow release of sugar and insulin over the next couple of hours as the food you ate is digested.
A slow release of sugar and insulin prevents the pancreas from becoming exhausted and regulates blood sugar stability.
Fiber also retains your body’s ability to utilize insulin. Insulin sensitivity is vital for keeping your blood sugar levels in healthy ranges.
Natural dietary supplements to treat diabetes
Treatment options for diabetes are constantly expanding, and natural supplements have been receiving increasing attention.
In past decades, public interest in natural therapies and the use of herbal medicines has also increased in industrialized countries, with 40% of adults in the U.S. reporting to use them.
A number of plant and herbal products have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and have been described in scientific and popular literature as having anti-diabetic activity.
We will discuss some of the best natural remedies for diabetes below.
Aloe vera had been revered for thousands of years in herbal medicine for its soothing healing properties.
As well as helping to heal skin ailments, research also suggests that consuming aloe vera juice can help to improve blood sugar levels, proving it of benefit for people with diabetes.
Research shows that bitter melon contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties.
This includes a substance called charantin, which has a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine, and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.
A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of cinnamon supplementation on people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome was carried out for 16 weeks.
The participants were encouraged to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Half the participants took 6 grams of cinnamon, and the rest took 6 grams of a placebo.
There was a reduction in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar in the cinnamon group compared to placebo by week 16. There was also a greater reduction in waist circumference and BMI compared to placebo.
Research has shown that Fenugreek works to lower blood sugar levels and improves glucose tolerance.
Additionally, Fenugreek is full of fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar. Overall it is one of the best nutrients you can take to help regulate your blood sugar levels.
Ginger is a versatile cooking ingredient, which is renowned for its range of health benefits.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, found that extracts from Buderim Ginger rich in gingerols can increase the uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin. As a result, it could help manage high blood sugar levels.
Bilberries are a dark blue fruit, similar in appearance and name to blueberries.
Research has shown that people with retinopathy who took bilberry extract during the study showed signs of strengthening blood vessels in the retina and reducing hemorrhaging.
Quercetin is in fruits and vegetables and works to restore healthy blood pressure levels, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Berberine, also known as Phellodendron Bark, reverses diabetes by restoring healthy insulin production, reducing blood lipids (fats), and balances cholesterol levels.
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What role does exercise play in diabetes treatment?
Physical activity is an important component when it comes to diabetes management.
It offers a wealth of benefits, including improving blood glucose control, reducing cardiovascular risk factors, contributing to weight loss, and improving overall well being.
One of the most extensive randomized trials, known as the Look AHEAD trial, evaluated a lifestyle intervention in adults with type 2 diabetes, in comparison to diabetes support and education group.
The intensive lifestyle intervention group targeted a weight loss of at least 7% through a modest dietary energy deficit and at least 175 min/week of unsupervised exercise.
Major cardiovascular events were the same in both groups, possibly in part due to greater use of cardioprotective medications in the diabetes support and education group.
However, the results showed that the intensive lifestyle intervention group achieved significantly higher sustained improvements including:
- weight loss
- cardiorespiratory fitness
- blood glucose control, blood pressure, and lipids with fewer medications
- less sleep apnea, severe diabetic kidney disease and retinopathy, depression, sexual dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and knee pain
- better physical mobility maintenance and quality of life, with lower overall health care costs.
This trial provided substantial evidence of profound health benefits from intensive lifestyle intervention.
Controlling your blood sugar is key to living a long and healthy life with type 2 diabetes. While medication is helpful, the easiest way to control your blood sugar is through a diabetic diet and meal plan.
It can be difficult to switch from eating convenient, processed foods. But the extra time in the kitchen is worth it!