The best eating plan for people with diabetes has two goals: control blood sugar and protect your heart. It should fuel you with key nutrients and plenty of fiber — 30-38 grams for men and 21-25 grams for women. Build your meals with whole foods — all colors of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins, and unsaturated fats. This approach can help you lose weight, too, which is often a must to manage diabetes. Here are standout choices to keep meals tasty and heart healthy.
Fiber lowers blood sugar, and legumes are a great way to get it in your diet. Besides black, white, kidney, navy, and other beans, try lentils and dry split peas, which cook without a pre-soak. A cup of cooked legumes every day can lower your A1c and cut your risk of heart disease by easing your blood pressure, resting heart rate, and levels of the blood fats called triglycerides. They can also lower your risk for stroke.
Fiber comes in two forms: the insoluble fiber in whole grains and the soluble fiber in legumes and oats. Soluble fiber helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol to protect your heart. The less processed the oats, the more nutrients they have, so choose rolled or steel cut oats over instant.
Many berries are chock full of nutrients, but raspberries are superstars for blood sugar control. They have just 5 grams of sugar per cup and plenty of fiber. Along with fiber, they’re good for heart health because they have nutrients that fight inflammation and high LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Nuts supply protein, healthy fats, and carbs plus some fiber and important nutrients. Almonds in particular help steady blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood fats. They also satisfy hunger. Not an almond fan? A handful of pecans can improve insulin resistance and is linked to lower risk of heart disease.
Carbs aren’t off the table when it comes to blood sugar control. But the kind  you eat matters. When you want to have bread or pasta, go for whole grain varieties. Unlike the refined and processed kind, whole grains have their bran and germ layers intact, and that helps lower your risk of heart disease. Besides their fiber, they are rich in nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium. Whole grains slow the usual after-meal rise in blood sugar and help you feel full longer.
For their tiny size, flaxseeds pack quite a punch against high blood sugar and cholesterol. They help fight the plaque buildup on artery walls that leads to heart disease, thanks to a nutrient called secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG). It can lower total cholesterol, especially the “bad” kind, LDL, while boosting the “good” kind, HDL. Try processing flaxseeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkling them on oatmeal and yogurt. You can also use them in place of some flour in recipes.
A tasty base for healthy soups and side dishes, barley belongs to the whole-grain family. It’s rich in a type of fiber called beta-glucan that lowers both cholesterol and blood sugar levels to support heart health and manage diabetes. Choose hulled barley, not pearl, which loses its whole-grain status when it gets processed.
Fish like salmon, herring, rainbow trout, and sardines are rich in unsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids, good for heart health. A regular dose of these nutrients can help ward off a dangerous diabetes-related threat to vision, diabetic retinopathy. A 3-ounce fatty fish serving twice a week gets you what you need.
Low in calories, leafy greens like spinach and lettuce are more than a filling base for salads. They’re packed with nutrients to support good health. Eat one or two servings every day for a lower risk of heart disease. They’re rich in vitamins C and E, which offer protection against inflammation, and fiber, which helps lower blood sugar.
This vegetable is at the top of almost every superfood list, and it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to better blood sugar control. With every bite, you get a phytochemical called sulforaphane that works to lower blood sugar. What’s more, just a ¼ cup a day can help lower calcium buildup in arteries. Other members of the cruciferous vegetable family can give similar benefits. Try Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Skip the croutons in favor of pumpkin seeds on your salad to get a handle on diabetes. They help lower blood sugar levels after a meal, plus their magnesium supports heart and bone health. Buy them as unsalted pepitas or roast your own — it’s perfectly fine to eat the shell, which toasts up nicely in the oven and gives you extra fiber.
Although fats don’t raise blood sugar levels, they can affect cardiovascular health. Animal-based saturated fat poses the greatest risk to your heart. Among plant-based fats, extra-virgin olive oil is a standout and may even protect the heart, thanks to compounds called polyphenolics. A key part of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil can help your body better use insulin, lower blood pressure, and cut the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It’s a fermented, milk-based drink rich in probiotics. One study found that drinking 2.5 cups of kefir every day for 8 weeks lowered the A1c results in people with diabetes. The kefir they drank had a few types of bacteria: Lactobacillus caseiLactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacteria. Kefir also helps lower blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease.
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Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Blood Sugar Regulation for Cardiovascular Health Promotion and Disease Prevention,” “Cardiovascular Disease Prevention by Diet Modification.”
American College of Cardiology: “High Fiber Diet Associated with Reduced Cardiovascular Risk in Hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes Patients,” “Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”
Mayo Clinic: “Diabetes Diet: Create Your Healthy-Eating Plan,” “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.”
Journal of Education and Health Promotion: “The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern.”
Nutrients: “Exploring Health-Promoting Attributes of Plant Proteins as a Functional Ingredient for the Food Sector: A Systematic Review of Human Interventional Studies,” “Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Specific Vegetable Types: A Narrative Review,” “The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” “Almonds and Cardiovascular Health: A Review,” “A Pecan-Rich Diet Improves Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” “Sulforaphane Prevents Hepatic Insulin Resistance by Blocking Serine Palmitoyltransferase 3-Mediated Ceramide Biosynthesis,” “The Fluid Aspect of the Mediterranean Diet in the Prevention and Management of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes: The Role of Polyphenol Content in Moderate Consumption of Wine and Olive Oil.”
Harvard Health: “Healthy eating for blood sugar control.”
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health: “Oats.”
Obesity: “Attenuation of Postmeal Metabolic Indices with Red Raspberries in Individuals at Risk for Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”
Hopkins Medicine: “Berry Good for Your Heart.”
Hackensack Meridian Health: “Raspberries: A PreDiabetic Friendly Fruit.”
Nutrition Reviews: “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health,” “Flaxseed supplementation on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 randomized, placebo-controlled trials.”
Current Pharmaceutical Design: “Prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis with flaxseed-derived compound secoisolariciresinol diglucoside.”
Frontiers in Genetics: “Secoisolariciresinol Diglucoside of Flaxseed and Its Metabolites: Biosynthesis and Potential for Nutraceuticals.”
National Institute of Public Health (Poland): “Nutraceutical functions of beta-glucans in human nutrition.”
University of Florida: “Barley: Skip the Pearl and Choose Hulled or Hulless for Whole Grain Goodness.”
American Diabetes Association: “Go Heart-Healthy.”
JAMA Ophthalmology: “Dietary Marine ω-3 Fatty Acids and Incident Sight-Threatening Retinopathy in Middle-Aged and Older Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes.”
National Institutes of Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”
Journal of Nutritional Therapeutics: “Vegetables Consumption and its Benefits on Diabetes.”
British Journal of Nutrition: “Cruciferous vegetable intake is inversely associated with extensive abdominal aortic calcification in elderly women: a cross-sectional study.”
Nutrition Research: “Addition of pooled pumpkin seed to mixed meals reduced postprandial glycemia: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial.”
American Heart Association: “Pumpkin Seeds Pack a Healthy Punch.”
Iranian Journal of Public Health: “Effect of Probiotic Fermented Milk (Kefir) on Glycemic Control and Lipid Profile In Type 2 Diabetic Patients: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”
Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: “Probiotics as Beneficial Dietary Supplements to Prevent and Treat Cardiovascular Diseases: Uncovering Their Impact on Oxidative Stress.”
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