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6 Blood-Sugar Friendly Foods to Eat During Diabetes Awareness Month


November is National Diabetes Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10.5% of the United States population has diabetes.1 The condition can take several forms, but the three most common types are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. 

While all types of diabetes are associated with elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels, each condition differs in origin, the population that is affected by it, and other factors. However, there are some commonalities when it comes to management—particularly with diet and lifestyle choices.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting between 90% to 95% of people with diabetes.2 When a person is diagnosed with type 2, the body's cells do not respond to the hormone (insulin) that helps the body utilize the sugar (glucose) in the blood for energy. As a result, a person can have a high level of sugar in their blood (hyperglycemia).

Over time, having high blood sugar can lead to nerve damage and vision issues. People with type 2 diabetes are also at an increased risk for heart disease and metabolic syndrome3 and are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or have a stroke than people who do not have diabetes.3

Diet and Type 2 Diabetes

When a person with type 2 diabetes is considering foods to include in their diet to best manage their diabetes, it helps to also choose foods that support heart health. While there are many foods that can be part of a diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy diet, there are some shining stars that offer unique benefits for people managing the condition.

Along with reducing your added sugar intake, opting for baked and broiled recipes instead of deep-fried versions, and limiting alcohol, eating these six foods may have a lasting effect on your overall health. 

The humble blueberry is one of the best foods to eat when you're managing diabetes, especially if you have a sweet tooth. Eating these berries can satisfy a sweet craving with no added sugars while providing essential nutrients like fiber and vitamin C.

In a 2020 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, the researchers investigated the effects of blueberry consumption on cardiometabolic parameters in 52 overweight men between the ages of 51 and 75 with type 2 diabetes.

Over eight weeks, the participants were randomly assigned to one of two interventions: either having 22g of freeze-dried blueberries (the equivalent of one cup per day of fresh blueberries) or 22 grams of a placebo powder that was matched in energy and carbohydrate content to the freeze-dried blueberries, along with their regular diet.

The results revealed that consuming blueberries for eight weeks appeared to benefit the heart health outcomes of men with type 2 diabetes, including by improving their hemoglobin A1c and triglyceride levels.4

Try sprinkling the berries on top of oatmeal, adding them to a salad, or simply enjoying a handful on their own.

Adding more walnuts to your diet is a simple way that you can support your cardiovascular health—an important part of managing your overall health if you have diabetes.

Eating walnuts has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, a 2021 study showed that people who ate five or more servings of walnuts per week had a 23% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to people who did not consume walnuts.5

In a 2010 study, participants were randomly assigned to follow an ad libitum diet enriched with 56 grams of walnuts per day (around 26 halves) or an ad libitum diet without walnuts.

The results showed that consuming a diet enriched with 2 ounces of walnuts per day for eight weeks significantly improved the function of the lining of the blood vessels (endothelial function) in adults with type 2 diabetes.6

Try topping toast with walnut butter, sprinkling some walnut halves on a salad, or coating fish with crushed walnuts before baking.

When choosing dried fruit—or any fruit for that matter—prunes are a healthful choice for people with diabetes because of their fiber and lower glycemic index.

Research has shown that snacking on prunes may help you feel fuller longer and reduce how much you eat later in the day.7 If you're thinking about blood sugar management, know that prunes do not cause a large rise in blood glucose and insulin.7

People with diabetes may have weaker bones and be more at risk for bone fractures compared to people who do not have the condition.8  Prunes are a natural source of nutrients needed for bone health, like boron and potassium. Eating 5 to 6 prunes a day has also been linked to helping prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.9

Try having prunes as a quick on-the-go snack or make homemade trail mix with them and some nuts.

Eating dairy foods, like milk, cheese, and yogurt, has a protective role on type 2 diabetes, which might be linked to the nutrients that these foods provide.

Milk proteins have been shown to increase post-meal insulin response and lower the post-meal blood glucose response in both healthy people and people with type 2 diabetes.10 

Try having unsweetened Greek yogurt with some fresh berries and sliced nuts or make smoothies using Greek yogurt or low-fat milk.

Salmon is one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well as other important nutrients.

Eating salmon or another non-fried fish twice a week is recommended by the American Heart Association for all people, including people with diabetes.12

A 2016 study that followed young adults for 25 years showed that eating oily, non-fried fish reduced the participants' risk of high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol measurements later in life.13

In women with diabetes, higher consumption of fish has been linked to less of a risk of sudden cardiac death.14

Try serving baked salmon with a side of veggies or tossing it all on the grill.

People with diabetes, as well as people at risk for diabetes, are encouraged to consume at least the same amount of dietary fiber that is recommended for all Americans: 25 grams of fiber per day.15

One of the many reasons for the recommended intake for people with diabetes is that dietary fiber promotes blood sugar management. Oats are a good source of soluble dietary fiber that is rich in β-glucan, a compound that is linked to reducing post-meal glucose and insulin responses.16 

According to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2015, oat intake significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) in people with diabetes compared to people who did not have the condition.16