What are the best foods for lowering blood sugar?
By Michelle Katz, MS, RD, certified diabetes care and education specialist Apr 20, 2023 • 6 min
How diet affects blood sugar
How different foods impact blood sugar levels varies. Some foods, like starchy vegetables and sugary sweets, can cause glucose levels to rise to a high level rather quickly. Other foods have a much more modest effect. The glycemic index rating of a food is one way to compare the carbohydrate-containing foods you eat.
The glycemic index ranges from 1 to 100. The higher the glycemic rating of a food, the faster it can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. High glycemic-index foods are not considered ideal for a diabetic diet while low- to medium-index options are generally considered better choices for blood sugar control.
Over time, eating more low-glycemic foods may help lower your average blood sugar levels, which reduces the chance of developing complications from diabetes. However, portion control is also important. Eating too many servings of low-glycemic index foods can contribute to weight gain, which can make it more difficult to control your blood sugar.
Keep in mind that the glycemic index is just one tool you can use to help manage your blood sugar levels. Paying attention to the amount of carbohydrate that you eat along with choosing healthy foods are important parts of meal planning when you have diabetes.
Foods that may assist with blood sugar control
There is no single best diet for people with diabetes. Each person has unique nutritional needs, so what works for one individual with diabetes may not be effective for another. A registered dietitian can develop a customized eating plan based on your age, sex, health history, lifestyle and blood sugar levels.
Some of the foods that may be included in an eating plan for someone with diabetes include:
Various beans such as garbanzo, kidney, pinto and black beans may benefit people with diabetes in a few ways. They’re a good source of dietary fiber, which has been shown to help regulate blood glucose. As low-glycemic foods, they don’t typically cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar. Plus, beans are filling, so they can help curb hunger and aid in portion control.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts (such as almonds) and seeds (such as sunflower seeds) are generally considered healthy snacks for people with diabetes when enjoyed in moderation. Many nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, a mineral that assists with blood glucose control. They’re also rich in fiber and contain heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsalted varieties are generally best because they contain less sodium. Limit portions to one or two handfuls per day. You can also add seeds and nuts to your yogurt, salads or smoothies.
Kale, spinach and other leafy greens provide plenty of fiber and magnesium. They’re low in calories and carbohydrates, and they contain other essential nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and K. You can add raw leafy greens to salads. You can also add them to soups and stews.
There are low-glycemic fruits such as oranges, apples and berries that are packed with dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that protect the body from free radical damage. Stick with whole fruits rather than juices since juice contains less fiber and may contain added sugar.
Healthy whole grains provide dietary fiber, magnesium, B-complex vitamins and other essential nutrients. They include whole wheat, whole oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice. The glycemic index of whole grains is generally lower than that of refined grains, like white or wheat flour, so they have less of an impact on blood sugar levels. Pairing whole grains with a serving of protein like chicken, eggs or fish—or a healthy fat, like avocados or nuts—can reduce the glycemic response and lower the overall glycemic index.
Shakes and bars for diabetes
People with diabetes who struggle to eat regular meals due to a busy lifestyle, lack of appetite or mobility issues may be able to supplement their diet with shakes and bars. Specially made for people who have diabetes, shakes and bars act as meal replacements, providing an ideal balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Choosing shakes and bars over other highly processed, ready-to-eat foods may help control blood sugar levels. It’s important to read the ingredients and the nutritional label. Be sure to look for high fiber and low sugar content.
A diabetes diet is an important part of your treatment plan
Diet is important for controlling blood sugar but it’s usually just one part of a treatment plan. Exercise and weight management are also key to lowering and regulating blood sugar levels, and some people may require insulin or diabetes medications. Your healthcare provider can design the right treatment plan for you and update as needed based on your progress.
Published April 2023.