Is Radish Good for Diabetes?
Adequate fruit and vegetable intake is a cornerstone of a healthy diet—and can even help you live longer. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), females need 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day and males need 3 to 4 cups a day. And if you're managing diabetes, getting plenty of nutrient-rich, high-fiber vegetables can help with both blood sugar management and long-term diabetes management.
"Though we often talk about diabetes like it's a blood sugar problem, it's really more than that," says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, CDE, a Virginia-based dietitian and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. "Type 2 diabetes is connected to insulin resistance, which is associated with fatty liver, heart disease, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer. So when we think about eating for diabetes, we also have to think about eating for heart disease prevention and cancer prevention."
Weisenberger points out that different vegetables have different nutrients and different types of fiber, and that all are important for diabetes management and overall health. Here are Weisenberger's top 10 vegetables for diabetes management.
10 Best Vegetables for Diabetes
The fiber in non-starchy vegetables helps us feel full and satisfied. Weisenberger recommends carrots as an especially filling, high-fiber vegetable. Carrots are also high in vitamin A, which helps with immunity and healthy eyes. Try them in our Balsamic Roasted Carrots.
In addition to helping with satiety, the fiber in vegetables acts as a prebiotic. "Prebiotic fibers are fermented by our gut bacteria, helping them to thrive," says Weisenberger. "In some cases, this helps with glucose and cholesterol metabolism." Broccoli is a great choice for this, as are other cruciferous vegetables.
According to a 2017 review in Nutrients, zucchini is particularly high in carotenoids, compounds that support heart health and might protect against certain cancers. It is also low in calories and high in fiber, Weisenberger points out.
If you have diabetes, there is a time and a place for orange juice, but chugging it in hopes of an immunity boost might not be the best choice. Enter cabbage. Like OJ, it, too, is high in vitamin C, which may positively affect heart health, according to a 2020 review in the journal Antioxidants. It's also got tons of fiber to slow the digestion of whatever you're eating alongside it, which can help prevent blood sugar spikes. For a delicious twist on cabbage, try our Roasted Cabbage with Chive-Mustard Vinaigrette.
Like all leafy green vegetables, spinach is nutrient-dense and very low in calories. It's also rich in iron, which is key to healthy blood flow. According to a 2020 study published in Nutrition Journal, spinach also contains membranes called thylakoids, which house substances that may help with insulin sensitivity. You can add spinach to soups or stews, throw a handful into your eggs in the morning or sauté it for a simple side dish.
Weisenberger suggests stuffing extra tomatoes into a whole-grain sandwich. In addition to adding color to your sandwich and dishes, tomatoes are high in lycopene. Lycopene is a compound that has been linked to a host of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as aiding blood glucose levels, according to a 2020 review in the journal Antioxidants. Tomatoes are tasty as is or try roasting them to bring out their natural sweetness.
Another of Weisenberger's favorite sandwich fillings, cucumber is a high-water vegetable that can help keep you hydrated, as well as feeling full. A 2022 review in the journal Molecules found that members of the Cucurbitaceae family of produce, including cucumbers, may lower and control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Try our simple Cucumber & Avocado Salad.
Different types of lettuce contain different nutrients, but all are high in fiber and water. In particular, just one cup of red-leaf lettuce packs in 33% of your daily vitamin K needs, per the USDA. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health. Serving other foods over a bed of lettuce can also help slow their absorption, further contributing to blood sugar control. Using lettuce in place of pizza crust or tortillas is a great way to help prevent a blood sugar spike but still get all the flavor when you're craving your favorite foods.
While mushrooms aren't the magic superfood they're sometimes made out to be, there is some evidence that shows they may help counteract metformin-related B-vitamin deficiency, according to a 2020 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. This is thought to occur, at least in part, because mushrooms are high in B vitamins. Bonus: Adequate B vitamins can also protect against cognitive decline. Mushrooms add a meaty texture and flavor and can be added to everything from omelets and sandwiches to soups and stews. Or make them the star of the show as a simple, tasty side dish, like in our Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms with Parmesan.
10. Green beans
Whether it's the holiday season or another time of year, a green bean casserole can be a warm, comforting addition to dinner. Green beans contain vitamin C and vitamin A and are high in fiber. Weisenberger recommends adding chopped green beans to pasta sauce for an extra veggie hit. If you prefer canned green beans, opt for a low-sodium option if possible.
While we've given you some top vegetable choices for blood sugar control, there really are no bad choices when it comes to vegetables for diabetes. In general, non-starchy vegetables are lower in carbohydrates and calories than starchy vegetables, and their high-fiber content can help steady blood sugar and slow the absorption of other carbs you may be eating with them.
That said, Weisenberger stresses that there's no reason to avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn—they're packed with fiber and nutrients too! Just be sure to count starchy vegetables as carb servings when calculating insulin and medication. The best way to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need is to eat a wide variety of foods. "That's why we're best off when we don't omit any food group," stresses Weisenberger.