So you’re a healthy person who ate a big pasta dinner, and your blood sugar spiked. That’s not such a big deal. What’s much more worrisome is when high blood sugar becomes a chronic issue — which is essentially the definition of diabetes, a condition that affects more than 11% of people in the U.S., totaling 37.3 million Americans.
Whenever you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) and triggers your pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin helps get glucose from your blood into cells that use it for energy. If you have too much glucose in your bloodstream, insulin sends a message to your body to store it in your liver, and it will be released when you need it for energy.
The trouble starts when your blood sugar remains too high for too long, a condition called hyperglycemia, which is common in people with prediabetes and diabetes. This can happen when your body doesn’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or you become insulin resistant (type 2 diabetes). Hyperglycemia may lead to a buildup of toxic acids in your blood and urine that cause you to enter a diabetic coma. It can also lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage.
If you have chronic high blood sugar and need to lower it, the food you eat can be a major help. Here are 10 common foods to eat to help manage and lower your blood sugar levels.
1. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like romaine lettuce and kale are packed with nutrients and are low in calories and carbohydrates. They have practically no sugar and, as such, have a low glycemic load, which indicates how much food impacts your blood sugar levels.
Research published in Lipids in Health and Disease showed that adding romaine lettuce to a meal actually lowers your blood sugar levels, and research in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation found that eating more leafy vegetables in general can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. One reason for this is that the fiber in these foods helps increase insulin sensitivity and slow down the absorption of carbohydrates. Slower carbohydrate absorption means a slower release of sugar into your bloodstream.
Similarly to leafy greens, berries are high in fiber and nutrients and contain plenty of antioxidants, such as carotenoids, vitamin C, and Vitamin E. These nutrients act like defenders for your cells, protecting them from oxidative stress, according to a study in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation. Oxidative stress can make it harder for your cells to take in glucose, leading to higher blood sugar levels. So, adding berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries to your meals, or snacking on them throughout the day, is like hiring a defense team for your cells that helps lower your blood sugar levels.
3. Brown Rice
Another fiber hero, brown rice, slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream by adding bulk to your stomach contents, making your digestive system work a bit harder to access the sugars inside. Unlike white rice, brown rice has its bran intact, which is where almost all of a grain’s fiber is located, along with nutrients like iron, protein, and B-vitamins.
Research published in the journal BMC Medicine shows that eating more whole grains like brown rice lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and decreases the risk of death from any cause. Studies also show that getting around 1.5 servings of whole grains every day helps lower your blood sugar levels, partly due to fiber but also because they contain nutrients like magnesium and chromium, which help regulate blood sugar and insulin metabolism.
Continuing on the whole grain train is a staple breakfast food: oatmeal. Oats contain 30 g of carbohydrates in a cooked cup and 4 g of fiber (including the insoluble fiber beta-glucan, which may lower heart disease risk) with no sugar. This makes them much better than sugary boxed cereals, which are sure to spike your blood sugar levels.
A review of 16 studies published in the journal Nutrients found that eating oats can help manage type 2 diabetes. The researchers found a link between eating oats and a reduction in hemoglobin A1C values (an average of your blood sugar levels over the past three months).
5. Black Beans
Beans and legumes are fiber all-stars with a healthy dose of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Black beans, for example, contain resistant starch and no sugar, which means it’s a slowpoke going through the digestive tract, lowering blood sugar levels, according to research published in Nutrients. The starch they contain may even improve insulin sensitivity, helping your body lower blood sugar levels naturally and keep them balanced.
Almonds are a tasty, nutrient-dense, and highly versatile snack — one of the only non-dairy foods that can be milked and made into butter and still taste great. High in fiber, vitamin E, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, almonds are also packed with antioxidants to improve cell health and reduce blood sugar.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition randomly assigned some teens and young adults who were showing signs of insulin resistance and were at risk of developing diabetes to eat almonds every day and a second group that would eat an equivalent amount of calories and macronutrients as a grain- and pulse-based snack (pulses are part of the legume family). The researchers found that the group that consumed 56 grams of almonds each day had reduced HbA1c (average blood sugar over three months), LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels after 90 days, significantly more than the control group.
So what does that mean? Simply, almonds are a great way to help prevent diabetes.
Eggs have gone for a rocky ride through the health media landscape, from breakfast superstars to cholesterol-packed bad guys and back to nutrient-dense flavor bombs. So where does the science really stand on eggs?
Eggs are chock full of nutrients like Vitamins D, B, and A, choline, phosphorus, protein, and healthy fats, and eating them in moderation is encouraged. Studies show that eggs are excellent for lowering blood sugar, and people who eat them regularly have better glucose metabolism, meaning they can process and use sugar better to avoid blood sugar spikes and have less of a chance of developing diabetes.
Salmon contains a ton of filling protein, a slowly digesting nutrient similar to fiber. It takes more energy to digest protein than carbs or fats, and protein moves more slowly through your digestive system. Salmon is also rich in poly and monounsaturated fats, including omega-3s, which are known to improve glucose control and prevent insulin resistance. The American Diabetes Association recommends that fatty fish like salmon be included in a blood sugar-lowering diet at least twice a week.
9. Chicken Breast
Chicken and other poultry are protein powerhouses that keep you full and satisfied for longer. Adding protein sources such as chicken breast to your meals, especially as a replacement for carb-based foods, will keep your blood sugar levels from spiking as your body works to digest and use the proteins. Research shows that eating plenty of protein and keeping carbs to a moderate level (compared to the standard American diet packed with refined carbs) will lower your blood sugar levels and help treat diabetes.
10. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is having a moment, and for good reason. It’s a complete source of protein without much in the way of carbs and fats, and it’s also considered low on the glycemic index, making it an ideal food for anyone with high blood sugar. Cottage cheese also helps reduce inflammation for better cell glucose uptake.