Many people with diabetes avoid health-boosting foods because of the food’s perceived effect on blood glucose or because of long-held fears of carbohydrates, fats or cholesterol.
As type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease with effects reaching the liver, heart, brain and more, people with diabetes should be encouraged to avoid the myopic view that diabetes is merely a blood sugar problem. Thus, a diet for type 2 diabetes management must also consider overall health with emphasis on glucose control, reversing insulin resistance and preventing heart disease and stroke.
The following are several foods people with diabetes often have questions about.
Only 24% of the population eats the recommended amount of 1½ to 2 cups daily1. Fruits provide ample potassium, which is beneficial to blood pressure control. Some fruits have cholesterol-lowering fibers, and their numerous phytonutrients are likely protective against chronic health problems.
A source of magnesium, potassium, folate, dietary fiber and a host of phytonutrients, beans, peas and lentils are linked to lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease2. Studies show that diets rich in legumes also have beneficial effects on both short-term and long-term fasting blood glucose levels3.
Whole grain intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)4. In appropriate amounts, barley and oats are particularly beneficial to people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Both contain the fiber beta-glucan, which improves insulin action and lowers blood sugar levels, as well as removes cholesterol from the digestive tract.
Because of their high cholesterol intake, eggs have historically been linked to CVD risk. However, the American Heart Association finds that there isn’t enough evidence to confirm that dietary cholesterol increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and CVD risk. Recent studies suggest that egg consumption is safe for people with diabetes. Researchers in Australia compared the effects of a weight maintenance diet containing two eggs daily for six days per week to a low-egg weight maintenance diet of similar protein content5. All subjects consumed healthful unsaturated fats in favor of saturated fats. After three months, there were no between-group differences for total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose levels, waist circumference or blood pressure. The second 3-month phase of the study was changed only to cut calories and reduce weight. Researchers followed the subjects for an additional six months, for a total of one year, while the subjects continued their high egg or low egg consumption. Both groups experienced similar weight loss and no significant differences in markers of heart health.
Including nuts in the diet lowers both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in a dose response manner6. According to the American Diabetes Association, eating nuts is also associated type 2 diabetes prevention. It’s good to include a variety of nuts because each type has a unique array of health-shielding nutrients and phytonutrients.
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet for people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, three suitable eating patterns are DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Mediterranean-style and plant-based diets.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is the author of the newly-released Prediabetes: A Complete Guide and the best-selling Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week. Learn more at jillweisenberger.com and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Jill was compensated by Egg Nutrition Center for this post.