By: Nora Minno, RD
Managing a healthy blood sugar level has been linked to a number of general health benefits, not just those that affect the 1 in 3 Americans that are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Maintaining a balanced blood sugar can also help with weight management, sleep patterns, mood, energy levels, and the prevention of chronic diseases.
If you’re sick of hearing what foods you “can’t” have or need to limit to avoid major blood sugar spikes – you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll take a look at the abundance of amazing food options that are available to help you manage your blood sugar.
By no means are the following 10 foods, the only foods that can help support healthy blood sugar levels, nor are any of them a silver bullet (don’t forget about your good friends, exercise, sleep, and stress management), but they’re a great start for using your food proactively to manage blood sugar.
1. Oatmeal & Oat Bran
Oatmeal and oat bran are great sources of Beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber, which has been shown to help reduce blood sugar including fasting blood sugar, HbA1c markers, and post-prandial blood sugar.
2. Broccoli & Broccoli Sprouts
Why didn’t we listen to our parents when they told us to “eat our trees?” Broccoli & broccoli sprouts are rich sources of sulforaphane, a compound that can help support healthy blood sugar levels & increase insulin sensitivity. To make the most of your broccoli – eat it raw or lightly steamed. This helps maintain the bioavailability of sulforaphane.
Not only is seafood, including shellfish, a great source of protein, which in and of itself supports blood sugar control, studies have also shown that fatty fish, rich in polyunsaturated fats (i.e. salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel) can help regulate blood sugar after a meal.
4. Nuts & Seeds
A large systematic study in 2016 found that eating healthy fats, like those found in nuts & seeds can help manage blood sugar & other markers of diabetes. Some of the most notable benefits were associated with eating polyunsaturated fats. Good sources include: Walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds.
5. Kefir & Plain Yogurt
Studies have looked at both the effect of Kefir, a probiotic fermented milk, and plain yogurt, and have found that both dairy products led to improved blood glucose levels and other markers of type II diabetes. Pro Tip: make sure you choose unsweetened versions of kefir & yogurt and add your own fruit to avoid too many added sugars.
Not only are eggs a great source of protein, low in carbohydrates, and packed with important nutrients like lutein and choline -- studies have also shown that eating just 1 egg per day significantly reduces fasting blood sugar for pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals.
Let’s bust the “I can’t have fruit because fruit contains carbs” myth right now. Not only are berries considered a low-glycemic fruit, they are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and have been shown to help lower post-meal blood sugar, improve glucose clearance from the blood, and can also support cardiovascular health.
If kale is starting to feel like the overachieving teacher’s pet of veggies, that’s because it is. Along with the “superfood” benefits you might already know it for, kale has also been shown to significantly decrease postprandial blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Garlic can do a lot more than just add flavor to foods. It has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years and recent studies have shown that garlic (and garlic supplements) can be effective in lowering fasting and post-meal blood sugar and can also help reduce insulin resistance.
10. Lentils, Beans, & Chickpeas
Last but certainly not least, lentils, beans, and chickpeas (oh my)! These little legumes pack in a powerful punch of nutrition with loads of fiber, protein, and micronutrients that can support a healthy blood sugar and other important metabolic markers.
While incorporating the foods above into a balanced diet can help lower or manage blood sugar levels, building a diet that consists solely of broccoli, beans, and kale isn’t always realistic. That’s why it helps to have some general rules of thumb for building healthy nutrition habits to support blood sugar management.
General Rules of Thumb
- Pick Complex Carbs Over Simple or Refined Carbs
This is an easy way to avoid major blood sugar spikes after eating and to ensure that you are getting other important nutrients, like fiber, in your diet. For example, choosing whole grain bread over white bread, a sweet potato side over chips, or oatmeal instead of processed cereal are all easy swaps to ensure your diet is rich in complex carbs instead of refined carbs.
- Pair Your Carbs with Protein or Fat
This can help slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal and can also help make your meals more satisfying, meaning you are more likely to stay fuller longer.
- Small Portions Are Smart Portions
Let’s be real, are you really going to pass up that birthday cupcake your friend bought you, or forego a scoop of gelato from your favorite Italian restaurant? Of course not! Nor should you! Food is meant to be enjoyed and being smart on your portions can help you enjoy the foods you love in moderation. To put it into context, a Starbucks grande (16 fl oz) Chai Tea Latte has 42g of sugar. Just by swapping to a short (8 fl oz), you can save 21g of sugar, but still get the delicious taste you love. Bonus: Make your own even lower sugar version at home by steeping a chai tea bag in 8 oz of water. Remove the bags and stir in 8 oz of steamed unsweetened soy or almond milk. Finish it off by stirring in your favorite sugar substitute like stevia or monk fruit extract. (To make it extra frothy, use a frother or immersion blender to combine.) Transfer to your favorite mug and top with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon and nutmeg!
- Don’t Be Afraid to Use the Tools You’ve Got!
While building a diet around the ideal foods for your blood sugar and eating everything in moderation sounds great on paper, in life, things can be a little more complicated. Tapping into tools to help stabilize your blood sugar and curb sugar cravings can help you break free of the stress of feeling like we need to be “perfect” 100% of the time.
For Stabilizing Blood Sugar: Stabilize
Taking Stabilize before meals can help block carb & sugar absorption by up to 40% and minimize post-meal blood sugar spikes & crashes by up to 42%. It also slows down the rate of digestion, keeping you fuller longer and having an overall lower impact on blood glucose.
To Keep Sugar Cravings & Portions in Check: Resist
Relying on willpower alone to keep portions in check can be, shall we say, daunting. We know how easily one cookie becomes two which then becomes three...you get it. Pop in a Resist strip when you feel like just “a little something sweet” won’t be enough. It helps to block sugar receptors for up to one hour and helps keep cravings at bay.
For All Day Support: Reduce
Taking two capsules at breakfast helps to block sugar absorption in the intestine & maintain a balanced blood sugar throughout the day.
Managing a healthy blood sugar isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Find the foods you like, build healthy habits that can last, and use the tools at your disposal to build a plan that works for you and your lifestyle.