Healthy eating is one of the best ways to manage type 2 diabetes. Because this type of diabetes is strongly linked to excess weight, cutting calories and following the right kind of diabetes diet will go a long way toward improving your health.
One of the most important aspects of good nutrition when you have type 2 diabetes is eating meals with the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to keep blood sugars as normal as possible throughout the day. The next step is choosing among the foods and beverages that can give you an extra edge in managing type 2 diabetes, says dietitian Beth Reardon, MS, RD, an integrative nutritionist and food researcher at Duke University Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C.
Eat Pre-Germinated Brown Rice and Fiber
White rice has long been known to be a bad food for diabetes. Like most “white” foods, it causes blood sugar spikes. However, adding healthy whole grains and fiber to a diabetes diet may reduce the risk of complications, such as diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage resulting from high blood sugars. Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia found that a diet rich in pre-germinated brown rice protected animals with diabetes from this common complication. To make pre-germinated rice, you soak the rice in warm water overnight before cooking. This stimulates the rice to germinate, producing tiny shoots that are invisible, but contain chemical complexes that appear to be protective against neuropathy.
This rice is also packed with fiber, an important component for diabetes management. “Because fiber takes a long time to digest, sugars are released slowly,” Reardon says. “That helps keep blood sugar levels steady and prevents glucose spikes.”
Another way to add fiber to your diet is through beans. A recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that beans and rice eaten together prevent the blood sugar spikes caused by white rice alone.
Add Oranges and Spinach to Your Diabetes Diet
In a recent study of men and women ages 40 to 75, those with the most vitamin C in their bodies had the lowest incidence of type 2 diabetes. Oranges and orange juice are one of the best sources of vitamin C, Reardon says. Other foods with generous amounts of vitamin C are grapefruit, strawberries, and tomatoes. (If you are on a statin drug for high cholesterol, check with your doctor or pharmacist before eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice, as it can cause dangerously increased levels of atorvastatin, lovastatin, and simvastatin.)
When it comes to leafy greens, just one cup of spinach contains 40 percent of your daily value of magnesium, a mineral that can help regulate blood sugar levels — important because people with type 2 diabetes frequently have low levels of magnesium. To get more of this magnesium-rich green veggie into your diet, substitute spinach for lettuce on sandwiches and in salads, Reardon suggests. Not a big fan of spinach? Nuts, beans, and low-fat diary products are also good sources of magnesium.
Drink Low-Fat Milk
Milk is loaded with calcium and vitamin D. This double whammy of essential nutrients may help in your quest to keep type 2 diabetes under control. In a 20-year study of almost 84,000 women, those who consumed the most calcium and vitamin D gained the most protection from type 2 diabetes. Just be sure it’s low- or nonfat — skim or 1 percent milk will control your intake of saturated fats and help prevent weight gain.
Spice Up Your Diabetes Diet
Several studies have documented that cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels. But for an even bigger punch of diabetes protection, sprinkle cinnamon in your morning coffee. Coffee consumption has been associated better type 2 diabetes management, possibly due to its antioxidant properties. Having both cinnamon and coffee can give you double the ammunition to fight type 2 diabetes.
A hearty bowl of curry could also help control your type 2 diabetes. That’s because turmeric, a spice used in curry, can help prevent the inflammation associated with type 2 diabetes. “Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as some anti-inflammatory drugs,” Reardon says. Curry typically contains a heaping helping of turmeric, but you can spice up other dishes with turmeric as well.
Diabetes Diet: Foods to Avoid
It’s just as important to steer clear of foods that can make managing type 2 diabetes more difficult, or at least eat them sparingly. First and foremost, don’t feast on foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which is a system that ranks foods by how they affect blood sugar. High GI foods, such as white rice, doughnuts, soda, and white bread, can cause glucose levels to skyrocket. The same goes for sweets and desserts. “Because these foods are high in carbohydrates, they can cause blood sugar levels to go up considerably,” Reardon says.
That doesn’t mean you can never have a slice of pie or a few cookies. Just be smart about eating foods that can make controlling your type 2 diabetes more challenging. Having a piece of cake with a low-carb meal (such as baked chicken and broccoli) won’t raise glucose levels as much as cake after a big pasta meal.
It’s also wise to watch your saturated fat intake when you are living with diabetes. Fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy raise cholesterol and promote inflammation throughout the body in both healthy people and people with type 2 diabetes. But recent research found that the effects of this inflammation may be more damaging for people with the disease. And because diabetics already have an increased risk of heart disease, consuming saturated fat in moderation is especially important. Studies have also shown that fatty foods may increase insulin resistance in women with diabetes.
Managing type 2 diabetes involves paying careful attention to what you eat. If you start with a base of good-for-you foods, building a healthy diet will be that much easier.