There’s a lot of information available about the best food for diabetics - so much so it can all get a little confusing.
In this blog, we'll tell you what you really need to know.
Because healthy food choices can actually help to manage, or even reverse pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Let's take a look at the best food for diabetics.
Here’s a summary of what this guide will cover:
- You can eat anything when you have diabetes, but you should be wary of some foods and minimise them.
- A healthy balanced diet will support heart health, as well as help to manage your blood sugar.
- Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes have strong links to diet, overweight and obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Eating healthy food for diabetics can help to manage the condition.
A quick word on food for type 1 diabetics
Type 1 diabetes is very different to type 2.
Type 1 diabetics are likely to take insulin regularly.
This means they can, in principle, eat whatever they want without too much risk of high blood sugar levels.
However, this doesn’t mean it is a good idea to eat foods not considered healthy.
Type 1 diabetics have an interest in supporting their health in general, as the condition cannot be reversed or put into remission, only managed.
Eating a healthy balanced diet and getting plenty of good exercise will help to do this.
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How often should a diabetic eat?
There are strong links between being overweight/obesity and developing type 2 diabetes.
Because of this, weight management is an important part of managing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
It’s a misconception that skipping meals is good for weight management.
For diabetics in particular, eating regularly is very important to avoid blood sugar peaks and troughs.
Eating regularly throughout the day, either three meals plus healthy snacks, or smaller, more frequent meals will help this.
It will also stop you from getting too hungry and making poor food choices.
For example, if you don’t eat breakfast or lunch it will likely lead to increased hunger in the afternoon.
You may find yourself reaching for high-sugar, fat and processed foods as a result.
This feast or famine will lead to the body struggling to regulate its blood sugar levels. It also won’t help your motivation to eat healthily.
A healthy choice
Current thinking is that a Mediterranean diet is a healthy choice for most of us.
This is particularly true for those seeking a balanced diet to help manage health conditions.
The Mediterranean diet is based on what countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea would typically eat. This gives a great deal of variety to choose from.
Countries like Lebanon or Israel rely heavily on beans and pulses as their protein sources.
In Greece, salads and light cheeses are very popular. Moving along to Italy and Spain, the cuisine is heavily influenced by vegetables such as tomatoes and olives.
This means you are unlikely to be bored while eating a Mediterranean diet. Choose from salads, pasta dishes, falafels, tabbouleh, fresh fish and occasional lean meats.
Variety is the key
Snacks of nuts, seeds and dips like hummus with crudites are great for balancing blood sugar.
Desserts of fruits and yoghurt are a delicious yet healthy way to end a meal on a sweet note.
The diet is generally full of fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
Protein sources include sparing use of fish and lean meats, and plenty of beans and pulses. Carbohydrates also feature in the form of pasta, bulgur wheat, millet, and oats.
All of these ingredients, in the right combinations, will fill you full of fibre and slow-release nutrients. Fibre is essential for many functions in the body. It is particularly useful for diabetics.
Here are some great Mediterranean recipes for diabetics.
And don’t forget there is also diabetic chocolate!
Diets that are high in fibre
High fibre foods generally take a little longer to digest, meaning blood sugar levels are slow to rise.
This avoids a ‘sugar rush’ and the associated damage to the body that causes.
For diabetics, the benefits of a Mediterranean diet are more wide ranging than helping to manage blood sugar levels.
Those with diabetes have a correspondingly higher risk of heart disease than those without.
It makes sense to eat to protect your heart from disease, as well as to manage your blood sugar.
On a Mediterranean diet, processed foods and refined sugar are minimal, if not completely avoided.
All of the following delicious foods feature in the Mediterranean diet and have a place in a balanced diet for diabetics
Foods recommended for diabetics
Fresh vegetables, lightly cooked, steamed or raw are dream food for diabetics.
This includes green leafy veg such as kale and spinach, salad vegetables, squashes and pumpkins, and high protein peas.
Most vegetables have lots of fibre and nutrients, making them great for slow-release fuel. You are unlikely to experience blood sugar spikes from vegetables.
Aim for a rainbow of colours to get the maximum amount of antioxidants from them to support general health.
Garlic is also a tiny hero in the vegetable world. Not only does it add flavour, but some studies indicate it might be helpful in managing blood sugar.
Whole grains are full of nutrients and fibre that will keep you fuller for longer than their processed white counterparts. Taking longer to digest means fewer blood sugar spikes.
Have you tried these food for diabetics?
- Brown or wholemeal bread, crackers and pasta
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, or amaranth
- Bulgur wheat and wild rice are also good options
Fruit should not be eaten to excess by diabetics thanks to its high proportion of sugar.
However, fruit in moderation is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, and more of that extremely helpful fibre.
Strawberries and other brightly coloured fruits in moderation are good for diabetics, as they contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Healthy oils as a food for diabetics
Olive oil contains a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. This acid has antioxidant properties, and may also be helpful for blood sugar management.
Walnut oil and flaxseed oil also contain plenty of nutrients to help manage inflammation level, supporting all-round health.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for heart health.
Diabetes and heart health are closely related. Diabetics have an increased risk of heart disease, so omega 3s are really important.
Anchovies, mackerel, herring and salmon all contain lots of Omega 3s.
Oily fish is also a great way to get lean protein into your diet. Lean protein helps you to feel fuller for longer, as a slow-release fuel.
This also helps regulate how much glucose is released into the blood after eating. Adding lean protein to your diet can also be a great way to help manage your weight.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts contain a lot of fibre, healthy fats and plenty of minerals. They add to a feeling of fullness, helping with weight management.
Chia seeds are full of fibre and low in carbs, a win for diabetic food.
Useful in achieving a healthy weight as the fibre in them keeps you fuller for longer.
Like chia seeds, flaxseeds have something called ‘viscous fibre’. You can see this when the seeds are soaked in water. They become swollen and pudding-like in their consistency.
Both flax and chia contain omega 3 fats and other minerals as well as this helpful fibre.
Beans and pulses as a food for diabetics
Beans are affordable, nutritious, and healthy.
They also have a low glycemic index. This means that they will cause your blood sugar to rise very slowly, great for managing blood sugar.
There are a huge amount of beans and pulses to choose from, and myriad ways to use them. Eating beans a few times a week is a great idea for a diabetic diet.
Food for diabetics to avoid or limit
There’s nothing you cannot eat with type 2 diabetes, but it’s likely you will want to limit some foods.
Your main goal is to manage your blood glucose levels.
To do this it’s best to eat a good amount of vegetables, lean protein, and wholegrain sources of carbohydrate.
Snacks of nuts, fruit, dairy or beans are a good idea to maintain blood sugar levels.
So, there are a few foods that diabetics should avoid or certainly limit in their diet.
Low GI is the goal
These are foods that have a low glycemic index, meaning they release sugars quickly into the bloodstream.
Some obvious ones are sweets and chocolates – high in sugar they of course will send your blood sugar high quickly.
A less obvious item might be alcohol, which is also high in sugar even if it tastes bitter.
Largely, processed foods have lost a lot of their nutrients during processing.
They often have had fat, sugar and salt added to them to improve the taste. Processed foods are thus something to consider minimising in your diabetes diet.
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Foods for diabetics to minimise
- White bread, rolls, crumpets, muffins and other white flour bakery goods
- Sweetened breakfast cereals
- White rice, couscous, white pasta
- Fruit canned in syrup
- Fruit jam or marmalade.
- Juice and fruit smoothies
- Fizzy drinks
- Energy drinks
- Sweets, desserts, chocolate and ice cream
And if you want to know more about diabetes read our other guides on what causes diabetes or how to spot the early signs of diabetes.
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