Best Foods for Diabetes

By: Lindsay Margolis

Learn more about healthy foods to eat for diabetes including cinnamon, nuts, oatmeal and more.

chicken burrito bowls

Pictured recipe: Chicken Burrito Bowls

If you have diabetes, it can be hard to figure out how to eat to feel your best and keep your blood sugar under control. But there are lots of diabetic diet-friendly foods you can enjoy. And rather than keeping the focus on what foods to avoid with diabetes, it's refreshing to focus on the foods you can and should be eating more of. These top foods to eat with diabetes are nutrient-packed powerhouses that can help you control your blood sugar and stay healthy.

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1. Cinnamon

Pictured Recipe: Turkish Spice Mix

This fragrant spice has been shown to lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar more stable. Just 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon per day improved fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels in one study published in the journal Diabetes Care, and other studies have shown similar effects. Get your cinnamon fix by sprinkling it into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or even your coffee. Another plus for cinnamon? It adds flavor to your food without adding sugar or salt.

2. Nuts

Toasted Almonds with Rosemary and Cayenne

Pictured Recipe: Toasted Almonds with Rosemary and Cayenne

Walnuts in particular have been shown to help fight heart disease and can improve blood sugar levels, all thanks to walnuts' high levels of polyunsaturated fats. These healthy fats have been shown to help prevent and slow the progression of conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Almonds, pistachios and pecans also contain these beneficial fats. Nuts are low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat, which makes them good for stabilizing blood sugar. Just be sure to watch your serving size. A 1/4-cup portion of shelled walnuts clocks in at 164 calories.

3. Oatmeal

Spiced Apple Berry Oatmeal

Pictured Recipe: Spiced Apple Berry Oatmeal

Whole grains, such as oats, are better for your blood sugar (the fiber helps minimize spiking) and may actually help improve insulin sensitivity. Oats contain fiber in the form of beta-glucans, which are the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid. Soluble fiber regulates blood sugar by slowing down the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates from other foods you eat. Studies have also shown oats can help improve blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting insulin levels.
Try it out: Healthy Breakfasts for Diabetes

4. Dairy

Pictured Recipe: Strawberry & Yogurt Parfait

In addition to providing calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones, dairy foods are an excellent source of protein to keep hunger at bay. Milk, cheese and yogurt have all been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels, and eating plenty of these dairy products may reduce the risk of developing diabetes. New research suggests you don't necessarily have to stick to fat-free dairy. A large analysis from researchers at Harvard and Tufts found that eating more full-fat (or whole) dairy was associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. It might be that the higher fat content keeps you feeling full, so you'll be less likely to reach for a sugary, high-carb snack later on. But, keep in mind that full-fat dairy is higher in calories than fat-free. Whether you choose fat-free or full-fat dairy, it's most important to watch for added sugars in flavored yogurts and milks, which can add significant calories in the form of simple carbs.

5. Beans

Pictured Recipe: Chicken Chili with Sweet Potatoes

Beans are loaded with fiber and protein to keep you feeling full. Beans are also a source of carbohydrates, with about 20 grams of carbs per half-cup serving. One Canadian study showed that people who added a cup or more of beans to their diets every day had better control of their blood sugar and lowered their blood pressure. Beans are inexpensive and incredibly versatile. Mix things up by adding different varieties, such as black, pinto, garbanzo or cannellini beans, to veggie-packed salads and soups.
Related: Healthy Bean Salad Recipes

6. Broccoli

Pictured Recipe: Lentil & Roasted Vegetable Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Broccoli—and other cruciferous foods, such as kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts—all contain a compound called sulforaphane. This anti-inflammatory compound helps control blood sugar and protects blood vessels from damage associated with diabetes. Broccoli is not only low in calories and carbs—1 cup of cooked chopped florets has just 55 calories and 11 grams of carbohydates—but it also packs a lot of nutrients, including vitamin C and iron. You can feel free to fill half your plate with this good-for-you green veggie.
Related: Recipes to Help You Love Broccoli

7. Quinoa

Pictured Reicpe: Spicy Tomatillo Quinoa

This protein-rich whole grain is a great substitute for white pasta or white rice. It contains 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per 1/2-cup serving of cooked quinoa. The boost of fiber and protein means quinoa gets digested slowly, which keeps you full and stops your blood sugar from spiking. Quinoa is also considered a complete protein, because it contains all nine essential amino acids, needed to build muscle, which is rare for plant-based protein sources. Plus, it's rich in minerals, such as iron and magnesium.
Related: 31 Amazing Recipes for Quinoa

8. Spinach

Pictured Recipe: Apricot-Rosemary Chicken with Roasted Carrot Salad

Spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium, which helps your body use insulin to absorb the sugars in your blood and manage blood sugar more efficiently. This leafy green is also high in vitamin K and folate, among other key nutrients. Plus, a 2-cup serving of raw spinach delivers only 2 grams of carbohydrates and 14 calories. Munch on raw baby spinach in salads, add it to your morning smoothie or sauté it with garlic and olive oil for a healthy side dish.
Try it: Easy Mediterranean Tuna-Spinach Salad

9. Olive Oil

Pictured Recipe: Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

This Mediterranean-diet staple packs a punch when it comes to managing diabetes, mostly due to its high monounsaturated fatty acid, or MUFA, content. Several studies have shown that a diet high in MUFAs helps keep blood sugar in check by lowering insulin resistance, helping cells better respond to your body's insulin. There's no need to fear the fat from olive oil. While fat has more calories than carbohydrates, gram for gram, it helps keep you full, minimizes blood sugar spikes and allows your body to absorb key nutrients, such as vitamins A and E.

10. Salmon

Pictured Recipe: Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts

Not only is salmon high in protein, it's also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help keep your heart healthy by lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels. Other types of fatty fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, mackerel and sardines, can also provide these protective effects, which are especially important for people with diabetes, who are also at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
Related: Easy and Healthy Salmon Recipes

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