Keeping blood sugar within a healthy range is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your current and future health. Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic levels in Western countries, and the tsunami of blood sugar control problems shows no sign of slowing down. Fortunately, lifestyle plays a key role in blood sugar control and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, including the foods you eat.
The best way to control your blood sugar is to eat a healthy, whole-food diet and move your body more. When you eliminate ultra-processed foods from your diet, it improves insulin sensitivity, and that helps with weight control. Plus, it lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. So, focus on the “big picture” when planning your diet. Choose a diversity of whole, unprocessed, high-fiber foods, and enjoy them in moderation. However, some foods may help control your blood sugar, based on science. Here are a few to know about if you’re at high risk for type 2 diabetes.
That cup of coffee that wakes you up in the morning may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes too. Studies show people who drink coffee regularly have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It’s not clear what ingredient in coffee explains the benefits, though. One possible player is the polyphenol antioxidants in coffee. There’s some evidence that polyphenols improve insulin sensitivity, possibly by reigning in inflammation.
One study found a 60% lower risk of type 2 diabetes over 8 years among those who drank coffee or had drunk coffee relative to people who didn’t drink coffee at all. If you already have diabetes, the results may be different. Some people experience a short-term rise in blood sugar when they consume caffeinated coffee, but longer-term, drinking coffee may lower the risk in people who don’t yet have type 2 diabetes. However, everyone has a slightly different response to caffeine, based on how they metabolize it, and coffee isn’t for everyone.
Watch the type of coffee beverages you consume too. Black coffee is your best bet. You destroy some of the health benefits if you add sugar, and the sugar can cause a blood sugar spike too. Avoid the souped-up drinks you get at coffee shops too. Many are deceptively high in calories and sugar.
Who doesn’t love pistachios? They’re crunchy and lower in carbohydrates than potato chips. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that people who enjoyed at least 2 ounces of pistachios per day experienced improvements in blood sugar control and insulin levels. Other nuts may have similar benefits since they reduce inflammatory markers, and inflammation is linked with insulin resistance. Nuts are nutrient-dense but high in calories. However, research shows we don’t absorb all the fat from nuts. Because of this, nuts have around 15% fewer calories because of reduced fat and calorie absorption.
Cinnamon adds an earthy, slightly sweet taste to desserts, but cinnamon buns aren’t the healthiest way to enjoy this vibrant spice. Instead, sprinkle a pinch on a bowl of oatmeal or in your next cup of coffee. Doing so has other benefits too. Several studies show adding a pinch of cinnamon to cereal or other food reduces the rise in blood glucose in response to that meal. However, studies are conflicting; not all show that cinnamon has a significant impact on blood sugar control. Still, with its bright flavor, you can also enjoy it for its antioxidant anti-inflammatory benefits too.
Oatmeal is a filling way to begin the morning and starting the day with a bowl may help with blood sugar control too. A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that people who consumed oats enjoyed better blood sugar control. As a bonus, consuming oatmeal helps lower blood lipid levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The beta-glucan in oatmeal may explain these benefits, or it could be the high-fiber content of oatmeal. Choose wisely, though! Skip the instant oatmeal since it has a higher glycemic index relative to old-fashioned oats. The lowest on the glycemic scale is steel-cut oats since they’re the least processed. Buy raw steel-cut oats and cook them in a slow cooker and you’ll have the backbone of a healthy, blood-sugar friendly breakfast.
Yogurt is one source of probiotics, healthy gut bacteria that have benefits to the host. It’s also an excellent source of calcium and dairy-based protein. Using data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, part of the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study 2, Harvard Health researchers discovered that enjoying a serving of yogurt every day was linked to an 18% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
What’s the “secret ingredient” in yogurt that helps with blood glucose control? Researchers believe the probiotics in yogurt may explain this finding. Probiotics effect your gut microbiome. When choosing yogurt, look for one that contains active cultures and no added sugar. Greek yogurt is an option too, although it’s lower in calcium but contains more protein than regular yogurt. If you’re lactose intolerant or eat a vegan diet, there are plant-based alternatives such as coconut, oat, soy, and almond milk-based yogurt.
The Bottom Line
Whether you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or are at high risk, diet, and lifestyle matter. Make sure you’re making smart dietary choices and moving your body. Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy; it’s the type of carb you eat. Some studies show that consuming more refined grains and ultra-processed carbs increases the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, whereas a higher intake of whole grains lowers the risk. Focus on the overall quality of your diet, but when you get the chance, enjoy these blood-sugar friendly foods too.
- Diabetes Care 2006 Nov; 29(11): 2385-2390.https://doi.org/10.2337/dc06-1084.
- Diabetes Care 2014 Nov; 37(11): 3098-3105.https://doi.org/10.2337/dc14-1431.
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