is a disease in which blood sugar levels are not controlled well because the body either doesn’t have enough insulin or does not use the insulin it does have as well as it should. This causes excess sugar in the bloodstream, which can lead to health problems over time. There are three main types of diabetes: , , and .
Part of diabetes management is keeping your blood sugar levels in the right range. This means that food choices—specifically those with high simple carbohydrate content—play a major role because the types of foods you eat have different effects on blood sugar.
This article talks about the importance of food choices in diabetes management. It also provides a list of 10 foods that won’t spike blood sugar and adds how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Much of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (), which gets released into the bloodstream. When blood sugar increases, the , an organ responsible for digestion and blood sugar regulation, releases the hormone . Insulin then helps cells absorb the sugar to be used for energy or stored.
In diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin to enable the cells to absorb enough sugar from the blood. Or the body might have enough insulin, but the cells do not respond to it. In both cases, this leads to there being too much sugar in the blood, which, over time can lead to, such as , , and .
Reducing sugar and other simple carbohydrates in your diet plays an important role in keeping blood sugar levels down, which can slow the progression of the disease and stave off such complications.
Carbohydrates are simply chains of sugar. Anytime you eat foods that contain carbohydrates, blood sugar increases. However, not all carbohydrates affect blood sugar the same. The are:
For people with diabetes, choosing foods with complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates will make managing blood sugar levels easier.
When it comes to assessing foods based on how they increase your blood sugar, there is a tool for that called the. The glycemic index assigns a number value to foods based on how quickly and how high they raise your blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index increase blood sugar quickly.
Glycemic load accounts for both the glycemic index and the quantity of carbohydrates in a serving. While it is generally best to eat low-glycemic foods to manage blood sugar, glycemic load might be a better indicator when making food choices. For example, while watermelon is considered a high-glycemic food, it is low on glycemic load.
When it comes to carb counting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The amount of carbs you should eat each day depends on factors like your age, weight, and physical activity level. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes should aim to get about half of their calories from carbohydrates.
This requires a bit of math and considers the average number of calories you consume each day and that there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. For example, if you need about 800 calories from carbs, then you would aim to eat about 200 grams of carbs each day.
One tip to bear in mind is that having approximately the same amount of carbs at each meal may help keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day. Carb counting tools can make this all a bit easier.
When making food choices while managing blood sugar levels, it is important to select ones that won’t cause your blood sugar to increase quickly and significantly. Look for whether foods have complex or simple carbohydrates and opt for complex carbohydrates when possible.
Below are 10 foods that won’t spike your blood sugar levels and some ideas for incorporating them into your meals.
You have likely heard that dark leafy greens are good for you. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K as well as minerals like iron and calcium. They are also low in carbs and high in fiber, which aids blood sugar control. Try mixing kale into a bean and veggie-full salad or to soups. Spinach or arugula can add a fresh crunch to savory sandwiches (watercress makes an excellent topping to avocado toast).
Some spices have hypoglycemic effects—that is, they help lower blood sugar. Thus, adding some of these spices to foods may help control blood sugar at mealtimes. Some hypoglycemic spices include cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger.
Like dark leafy greens, are rich in fiber, low in carbs, and blood-sugar friendly. Because they aren’t starchy and have lots of fiber, they won’t cause a blood sugar spike. Some examples of non-starchy veggies are onions, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, celery, and brussels sprouts. Here’s a good sauteed veggie combination to mix into a pasta dish: onion, garlic, broccoli, and zucchini.
Low-glycemic fruits are sweet without causing a blood sugar spike. Most fruits naturally have a low glycemic index because of the fructose and fiber they contain.
Whole grains are low glycemic index foods. Unlike processed, refined grains (like white flour), whole grains are unrefined and, therefore, contain the germ and bran part of the grain. These parts provider fiber, which helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Some common whole-grain foods are brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, oats, and whole-grain bread. Oats are whole grains that have been shown to improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, which, in turn, help keep blood sugar levels low.
Fat helps slow digestion, which delays the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood. Adding healthy fats to your meals not only helps you stay fuller longer but also keeps blood sugar from spiking.
Some examples of healthy fats include:
Try making your own salad dressings with olive oil at the base or making avocado your bread spread instead of butter.
Protein, like fat, helps slow digestion, which delays the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood. And because protein takes longer to break down, it helps keep you fuller longer.
Examples of high-protein foods include:
Try quinoa and bean burgers as a protein-rich dinner or a hardboiled egg with paprika for a snack.
While it is becoming increasingly known that sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy, they are particularly unhealthful for people trying to manage blood sugar. Unlike the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, the sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages is refined sugar, which causes immediate blood sugar spikes.
Instead, focus on drinking plenty of water. For fun flavors without the sugar, try adding fruit to water to make a naturally sweetened, refreshing beverage. Carbonated waters with no added sugar are also a better option for satisfying that craving for a carbonated beverage without the excess sugar.
Legumes are nutrient dense and have a low glycemic index, making them a great addition to diabetic-conscious meals. Some common legumes are lentils, beans, peas, and chickpeas. Legumes are also high in fiber, which helps keep blood sugar from spiking since the fiber slows the breakdown of the foods. Try making a hearty lentil soup or having a chickpea hummus to dip veggies into.
Nuts are full of unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), which are generally considered healthy fats. Research has shown that unsaturated fatty acids may play a part in blood sugar control through reduced insulin resistance.
Nuts high in unsaturated fats include walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, and peanuts. Try peanut butter on celery for a fresh and satisfying snack or add walnuts or pecans to your oatmeal or granola mix.
The foods you eat directly impact blood sugar, which means that food choices play an important role in blood sugar regulation. Choosing low-glycemic foods, such as those with whole grains and fiber, helps keep blood sugar under control.
For people with diabetes, being aware of how food will impact blood sugar is an everyday feat. Yet, it is worth it. Managing blood sugar has both short-term and long-term benefits, including lowering the risk of diabetes-related complications.
While the importance of making food choices that will keep blood sugar levels in check can’t be understated, it is also important to note that finding what works is an individual choice. We share these ideas on foods that won’t spike your blood sugar as a guide and inspiration when everyday food choices are made.
Food can be fun, even when thinking about how it’s going to affect your blood sugar. We hope this article helps you find new ideas that work for you.