While eating a diet of nutrient-dense foods is best for everyone, consuming the ideal foods is especially important for the more than 34 million Americans with diabetes1. The proper diet, including fresh, organic produce and grass-fed or wild-caught proteins in the correct quantities at the right time, can help keep you from developing Type II diabetes and prediabetes. If you already have diabetes, your diet is a critical tool in helping control diabetes over the long term.
No matter which type of diabetes you have, maintaining your ideal weight and a steady blood glucose level is essential. Foods that combine healthy fats and proteins are great choices to help you avoid the sugar spikes that these six foods can cause.
The Top 6 Foods Diabetics Should Avoid
Health isn’t only about what you eat and the positive habits you practice. It’s also about what you don’t eat, drink, and do. These dietary choices can work against you.
Alcohol is toxic to all of us; it can damage both your liver and your gut. Even a sip of alcohol can lead to blood sugar spikes. Excess alcohol actually causes blood sugar to drop to dangerous levels. It also increases blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Plus, alcohol contains a lot of empty calories – calories that don’t provide any nutritive value. If you drink beer or liquor distilled from wheat, barley, or rye, it also contains gluten.
Gluten can cause leaky gut and worsen symptoms of autoimmunity and diabetes. When your gut is leaky, particles that were never meant to pass through your gut cell wall can escape into your bloodstream. This causes inflammation nearly anywhere in the body. The peptides in gluten can also enter your pancreas, where they affect how the organ functions. They might also cause beta-cell stress by enhancing glucose and palmitate-stimulated insulin secretion.2
Baked goods, candy, and ice cream are all obvious sources of sugars that spike your blood glucose levels. They also increase the likelihood of weight gain as well as the amount of insulin you need to take to get your blood sugar back to normal. Yet foods we don’t often think of as being “sugar” are quickly converted to glucose in your body.
In theory, foods such as dried fruit, rice, and gluten-free granolas, pastas, and breads should be part of a healthy meal plan for diabetics. Yet, the truth is that serving sizes are very small (think ¼ cup raisins), so it’s easy to over-consume them, leading to a blood sugar spike. Sugar is also a major component of many condiments and salad dressings, as well as such canned goods as soups or baked beans.
You might be surprised to learn that high dairy intake is a significant predictor of insulin resistance in middle-aged, nondiabetic women3. Lactose is the sugar that’s particular to milk, and it can definitely raise your blood glucose level. An enzyme called lactase splits lactose up into glucose and galactose. Because this process takes time, nutritionists once thought dairy had a low impact on blood sugar. However, there is some evidence that the combination of lactose and the whey proteins that are another component of milk can actually cause blood sugar levels to rise sharply.
Further, dairy is highly inflammatory. Many people who react poorly to milk are responding to the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey. Casein is a protein with a very similar molecular structure to gluten, and 50% of people who are gluten intolerant are casein intolerant as well.
5. Highly Processed Foods
Highly processed packaged foods usually have a high glycemic index. This can drastically alter risk levels and the course of diabetes4. You may think that gluten-free or dairy-free products should have a place on your menu. However, you need to be careful with these, as they often replace ingredients with sugar and sugar substitutes. They’re also highly inflammatory because they contain ingredients that aren’t actually food, such as preservatives and flavor enhancers. Opt for fresh foods around the perimeter of the grocery store instead.
6. “Healthy” Beverages
Many people are aware that soda, energy drinks, and those fancy coffee drinks and teas all contain a huge amount of carbohydrates and sugar. Yet even options you think are healthy, including green juices, kombucha, and even freshly-squeezed fruit juice, all pack in the sugar. The average 8-oz glass of orange juice contains 27g of carbohydrates and 20g of sugar.5 Excessive amounts of corn syrup, refined salts, and caffeine in sodas and energy drinks contribute to high blood pressure and obesity. You’re always safe with water–you can add a slice of lime or a squeeze of lemon juice for added flavor. Herbal teas are a great option, as well.
Good Choices for Diabetics: Beyond Sugar and Carbohydrates
The importance of diet is far more than the sugar, calories, and carbs that spring to mind when discussing foods for diabetics. Certain foods called functional foods provide extensive health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value.
These foods can contain polyphenols, terpenoids, flavonoids, alkaloids, sterols, and unsaturated fatty acids, all of which play an important role in maintaining wellness. They not only help prevent type II diabetes,6
Work with your healthcare professional to establish your ideal weight and how to achieve it. You may find you need to lose weight and change your diet to incorporate the best foods for diabetes control. Once you’re ready to make adjustments, you can incorporate items from this list of functional foods for diabetics to enjoy.
The 6 Best Diet Solutions for Diabetics
Organic blueberries are the number one berry of choice. Other organic berries, including raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are also excellent options. Blueberries are bursting with a variety of phytonutrients, including anthocyanins, hydroxycinnamic acids, hydroxybenzoic acids, flavonols, and resveratrol. These provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, making blueberries a true superstar. They make a great breakfast food for diabetics!
Eating just one cup of blueberries a day can lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, and help lower blood pressure. The antioxidants in blueberries may protect nerve cells from oxidative damage, preserve memory, and even slow down the decline in other cognitive functions. Their low glycemic index means they’re unlikely to cause blood sugar spikes. Crepes with Coconut Cream and Berry Compote are a great way to incorporate berries into your diet.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Not only is extra virgin olive oil rich in vitamins such as vitamins K and the free radical -scavenging E, it also contains high levels of polyphenols. These boost pancreatic beta-cell health even at low concentrations.7 Polyphenols (which are also potent free radical fighters) may inhibit α-amylase and α-glucosidase, the enzymes which help your body turn carbohydrates into blood sugar. They also prevent glucose from being absorbed into your intestines and reduce the amount of glucose your liver releases.8
In addition, olive oil contains the powerful antioxidants hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, which help prevent inflammation. They also protect against oxidative damage, reduce carbohydrate absorption, and increase insulin sensitivity.9 Of course, salad dressings are one way to get more olive oil in your diet; this Dairy-free and Nut-Free Pesto is another tasty option.
3. Leafy Greens
These vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals, and they’re low in calories. Spinach even offers protein and fiber. Leafy greens should be your body’s main source of carbohydrates. One good way to get some extra greens in your diet is with my Organic Greens powder, which won’t cause the sugar spike that many prepared green juices do.
An important nutrient in leafy greens is vitamin C, which has been found to reduce inflammatory markers and fasting blood sugar levels in people with type II diabetes.10 One study even showed that people who added more green leafy vegetables to their diet reduced their risk of developing type II diabetes by 14%.11 Try this Organic Green Salad with Ginger Garlic Asparagus for a creative way to get more greens.
A diabetic diet doesn’t have to be bland! Spices such as cinnamon and turmeric and herbs such as basil are ideal replacements for the salt that diabetics should minimize in their diet. They taste great too.
Cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce fasting blood sugars. Turmeric can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood sugar levels, and fight inflammation. Because two of three people with diabetes have high blood pressure, adding basil to your diet is a good idea because it’s been shown to help control blood pressure. Start your day off with a dash of spice with this Cinnamon Sweet Potato and Chicken Breakfast Scramble.
5. Wild-Caught Fatty Fish
Wild-caught fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. These reduce the inflammation in blood vessels characteristic of diabetes and boost “good” HDL cholesterol. Further, they are a lean source of protein that doesn’t raise blood glucose levels.
Farm-raised fish has been associated with high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which actually increase inflammation. Farmed fish may even have dangerous levels of PCBs. These are linked with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and Type II Diabetes. One of my favorite fish recipes is this simple Maple Dijon Salmon.
6. Paleo Protein Powders
My sugar-free Paleo Protein powders come in a wide range of flavors from Vanilla Bean and Double Chocolate to Mocha Latte, Cookies and Cream, and Salted Caramel, with new flavors on the horizon! These powders are a delicious and satisfying way to boost your protein intake for a slow release of energy that keeps you satiated without a blood glucose spike. Each flavor comes with a free ebook with dozens of delicious recipes.
You Can Take Back Your Health
With just a few changes to your diet, you can make some surprising, positive changes to your insulin levels and overall health. Check out my cookbook for delicious, nutrient-dense recipes. Avoiding problem foods and including diabetes-friendly foods in the right quantities for your activity levels can go a long way in reversing symptoms of diabetes and avoiding complications such as nerve damage and heart disease.
Including probiotics in your diet can support your body’s immune and inflammatory response. They also encourage fat burning and an ideal body weight and can support healthy glucose and insulin levels. I offer Probiotic Capsules 30 Billion for maintaining your gut and 100 Billion to restore good bacteria that may be missing due to infections, stress, or medications.