What makes a meal a "superfood"? With type 2 diabetes, it's not just about eating foods that are high in nutrients. To have a diabetes-friendly diet, you also need to include foods that help keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels under control.
There is no single great food you can eat if you have type 2 diabetes. Instead, the best diet for type 2 diabetes is based on whole foods and is rich in fiber, protein, and a moderate amount of healthy carbohydrates.
It's true that people with type 2 diabetes need to watch their carbohydrate intake, but they don't have to follow a low-carb fad diet either. Rather, the best diet for people with type 2 diabetes is a well-balanced diet that has a healthy amount of carbohydrates, healthy proteins and fats, and vegetables per meal.
While changing your diet will not cure diabetes, it can reduce the risk of complications from type 2 diabetes, such as heart disease and neuropathy (nerve damage). Prioritizing a healthy eating plan is even more crucial today, with the pandemic situation.
This is because people with diabetes are among the groups most at risk for complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keeping your blood glucose under control has never been more important, and food can play a role in that regard.
In fact, your diet can affect type 2 diabetes in several ways, including glucose regulation, heart health, weight maintenance, and mood.
Vitamin-rich foods for people with type 2 diabetes
How can you tell a good meal from a bad one when it comes to managing diabetes?
Try to find products that contain healthy fats and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It's also crucial to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you're getting a healthy mix of macronutrients, phytochemicals, and essential fatty acids.
Researchers are also finding increasing evidence of links between diet and the development of type 2 diabetes. An article published in November studied the impact of nutrition on more than 64,000 women over 15 years.
Researchers found that eating foods rich in antioxidants significantly reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. Increasingly, these antioxidant-rich foods are called superfoods.
"Superfoods" is a term used to describe nutrient-packed foods that may have more health benefits than other foods, however, it is not a medical term.
Also, as you may realize, when it comes to diabetes, superfoods are all whole foods, unwrapped, which means they are not processed with added sugars, fats, or preservatives.
Not sure where to start? Check out these tips for adding more superfoods to your diabetes diet!
1. Replace meat with beans and lentils to reduce your fat intake and increase fiber intake
Beans, which are high in fiber and protein, are slowly digested in your body, making them great for controlling blood glucose levels on a type 2 diabetes diet.
Just ¼ cup of any type of beans will provide as much protein as 25 grams of a meat protein equivalent.
No matter what type of bean you choose, you'll also get a significant amount of your daily fiber needs in just one 1-cup serving. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, 1 cup of baked beans offers 10 grams of fiber, while 1 cup of black beans has 15 g.
Women need an average of 21 to 25 g of fiber per day, while men need 30 to 38 g. A high fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of various diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, and even some types of cancer.
Just be sure to increase your fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water to reduce diarrhea, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other legumes offer similar health benefits that are key in managing diabetes.
In one study, Canadian researchers found that eating beans, chickpeas, and lentils was associated with better blood glucose control, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (fats found in the blood) in people with type 2 diabetes.
Those qualities are important, as people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart problems than the general population, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Also, beans are good sources of magnesium and potassium. Diabetes is associated with magnesium deficiency, and potassium plays a role in further boosting heart health by helping regulate blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
2. Eat salmon for omega-3 fatty acids
Many types of shellfish are good for people with diabetes. According to the NIH, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health by helping to reduce blood fats called triglycerides.
Just be sure to avoid or limit your consumption of fish with high levels of mercury, such as bluefin, swordfish, marlin, and horse mackerel, as outlined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Eating fish twice a week has other high-impact benefits: One study found that fish can protect people with diabetes from kidney problems. Fish is considered a suitable food during diabetes as part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.
3. Consider nuts as other sources of healthy fats
Nuts, which are full of fiber and protein, are filling foods and contain high levels of unsaturated fats, the kind that contribute to HDL or "good" cholesterol, making them a very beneficial food for your heart health.
But when it comes to stabilizing blood sugar, the polyunsaturated fats in nuts, like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios, are especially beneficial. (As a note, peanuts are not tree nuts; they are legumes.)
In a review and meta-analysis published, Canadian researchers analyzed data from 12 clinical trials and found that eating two servings of nuts a day reduced and stabilized blood sugar levels and unhealthy cholesterol (dyslipidemia) in people with type 2 diabetes and stabilized the metabolic syndrome.
Healthy plant-based fats can improve lipid levels. It's best to include foods high in polyunsaturated fats to help lower the high cholesterol associated with high blood glucose. However, although these foods are healthy, they have a higher amount of calories, so it would be recommended to limit them to one serving per day.
A serving is commonly defined as 28 grams or 35 peanuts, 24 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or 18 cashews.
4. Eat a handful of fresh blueberries for disease-fighting antioxidants
While all berries contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, blueberries can be one of the most beneficial for people who have or are at risk for type 2 diabetes.
"Antioxidants" are a broad term used to describe a food that can help protect the body from damage. Antioxidants can be found in the vitamins in foods themselves, or even in their coloring. In general, the deeper the color, the higher the antioxidant content.
In one study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that for every three servings of blueberries (as well as grapes and apples) eaten per week, people reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 percent compared to those who who ate less than one serving per month.
The authors based their conclusions on longitudinal studies from previous clinical trials.
High-fiber berries also have the added benefit of satisfying your sweet food craving without the need for added sugars.
5. Help yourself to broccoli side dishes to increase your intake of vitamins A and C
A review of clinical studies found that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli can help reduce the risk of cancer.
Broccoli, which is packed with antioxidants, is a good source of vitamin A and rich in vitamin C, two essential nutrients for anyone, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis of diabetes.
1 cup of cooked, pre-frozen broccoli (without added fat) supplies 93.8 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A, or about 10 percent of the daily value (DV), and 73.4 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, or about 82 percent of DV.
Plus, containing 5.52 g of fiber (22 percent of the DV), broccoli is filling, making it a good choice for people trying to lose weight and manage type 2 diabetes.
6. If you have a potato craving, eat high-fiber sweet potatoes
When it comes to foods for type 2 diabetes, not all potatoes are created equal. To keep your blood sugar levels under control, it's best to consume sweet potatoes, which are rich in fiber (eat the skin for more fiber), as well as a host of other vitamins.
A medium-size boiled sweet potato (with no added fat during cooking) offers 3.75 g of fiber, or 15 percent of the DV.
On the other hand, it is also important that you and your healthcare team determine how much starchy vegetables you can consume. Other starchy vegetables that you can eat in moderation are peas and corn.
Another important thing to keep in mind is the cooking process. When boiled, sweet potatoes are a low-glycemic (GI) food, which means they won't spike your blood sugar as much as regular potatoes.
7. Include spinach and kale in your pasta and salads
According to one review, eating 1 ½ cup of dark leafy greens, including spinach and kale, each day can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent. Although the reason for this is not clear, it may be that green leafy vegetables have a protective effect, as they contain antioxidants such as vitamins A and C
One cup of fresh, cooked kale (with no added fat) offers 879 mcg of vitamin A, or about 98 percent of the DV, and 52.9 mg of vitamin C, or about 58 percent of the DV.
Leafy greens are also low in calories and carbohydrates (the same serving of kale has 36 calories and only 7.3 g of carbohydrates), which is great for people with type 2 diabetes.
8. Eat tomato to receive lycopene which is good for the heart
There's nothing better than biting into a juicy ripe tomato, and luckily, people with diabetes don't have to forget about them. In fact, tomatoes are ideal for a diabetic diet.
Foods like blueberries and tomatoes are rich in colorants and can be even richer in antioxidants, so they should be consumed regularly by people with diabetes.
This superfood can help lower blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol, which can lower your risk of heart disease. A report on a 10-year study suggested that lycopene, a key nutrient in tomatoes, may help reduce the risk of heart disease by 26 percent.
Keep in mind that your body will be able to absorb more lycopene from cooked tomatoes than from raw ones.
9. Try Greek yogurt for more protein and other nutrients
The creamy and delicious yogurt is a rich source of calcium, protein and magnesium. It can also provide valuable probiotics that, according to a study, can help reduce the risk of weight gain and obesity, as well as cardiovascular disease.
Opt for Greek yogurt; It is slightly higher in protein than plain yogurt, which will keep you feeling full for longer. 1 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt offers 23g of protein, while the same serving of nonfat plain yogurt contains 14g of protein.
Read nutrition labels carefully and avoid any Greek yogurt products that have added sugars. Your best bet is to choose plain, fat-free versions and add some berry sweetness to it.
10. Get your monounsaturated fats from heart-healthy avocados
Known for their heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados top the charts in terms of health benefits. According to one review, avocados can help lower cholesterol, promote blood pressure control, and reduce inflammation, thanks to their high fiber, potassium, and lutein content.
One serving of avocado (one-third of a medium-size avocado, or 50 g) has 80 calories, 6 g of healthy fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
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