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The bodies of people with diabetes do not produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly, causing glucose to accumulate in the blood. Choosing low glycemic index (GI) foods is one way to help manage the condition.
For people with diabetes, foods and beverages that the body absorbs slowly are best because they do not cause spikes and dips in blood sugar.
The GI measures the effects of specific foods on blood sugar levels. People who are looking to control their blood sugar levels should pick foods with low or medium GI scores.
People can also pair foods with low and high GI scores to ensure that a meal is balanced. Researchers suggest that low GI patterns of eating
However, there is no evidence to suggest that eating a certain type of food can lower a person’s blood sugar levels in a diabetes-related emergency.
Below are some of the best foods for people who are looking to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Many kinds of bread have high GI scores and can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. So, for people with diabetes, many are worth avoiding.
However, the consumption of whole grain foods has been associated with a
Pumpernickel bread and 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread have low GI scores, at 55 or below on the GI scale. They have lower GI scores than regular whole wheat bread because the ingredients go through less processing. Processing removes the fibrous outer shells of grains and cereals. Fiber slows digestion and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
The researchers behind a
A separate 2020 study involving people with type 2 diabetes also found that the particle size of the whole grains in bread had an impact on blood sugar levels. This reflects their level of processing.
A 2021 review looked at the effect of millets, which have a low GI score. The researchers found that the regular consumption of millets, including sorghum, reduced average fasting blood sugar levels by
Breads to eat
- whole wheat, especially stone-ground whole wheat bread
- bread made with ancient grains, such as emmer and einkorn
- bread made from less-processed grains
Breads to avoid
- white bread
- other breads made from refined or highly milled grains
- breads with added sugar
- fruit breads and raisin toast
Except for pineapples and melons, most fruits have low GI scores of 55 or below. This is because most fresh fruits contain lots of water and fiber to balance out their naturally occurring sugar, which is called fructose.
However, as fruits ripen, their GI scores increase. Fruit juices also have very high GI scores because juicing removes the fibrous skins and seeds. So, fresh fruit is best.
Also, a large
Fruits to eat
Fruits to enjoy in moderation
- dried fruit
- fruit juice
- overripe bananas
Regular potatoes have a high GI score, but sweet potatoes and yams have low scores and are very nutritious.
Some research indicates that the flesh of the sweet potato contains more fiber than the skin, indicating that the whole vegetable could be beneficial for those with diabetes.
Reporting the findings of an animal study, the researchers also note that sweet potato consumption may lower some markers of diabetes.
Although there is still no conclusive evidence to suggest that sweet potatoes can help stabilize or lower blood sugar levels in humans, they are undoubtedly a nutritious food with a low GI score.
People can substitute sweet potatoes or yams for potatoes in a variety of dishes, from fries to casseroles.
Potatoes to eat
Potatoes to avoid
- white potatoes
- French fries
- mashed potatoes
Oats have a GI score of 55 or lower, making them less likely to cause spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
Oats also contain β-glucan, which can:
- reduce glucose and insulin responses after meals
- improve insulin sensitivity
- help maintain glycemic control
- reduce blood lipids (fats)
The authors of a
One serving is equal to half a cup.
Good ways to enjoy oats
- stone-ground oats
- rolled oats
Oat products to limit
- processed oats
- instant oats
- cereal bars
Nuts are very rich in dietary fiber and have GI scores of 55 or below.
Nuts also contain high levels of plant proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, and other nutrients, including:
As with other foods in this article, it is best to eat nuts that are as whole and as unprocessed as possible. Nuts with coatings or flavorings have higher GI scores than plain nuts.
One serving is equal to one-quarter of a cup.
Nut products to eat
- raw almonds
- raw cashews
- raw walnuts
- raw pecans
- other tree nuts
- raw peanuts
- peanut butter
- sunflower seeds
Nuts with higher GI scores
- macadamia nuts
- roasted or salted nuts
- candied nuts
Legumes — such as beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils — have very low GI scores. Even baked beans, which are not as preferable, still have a medium GI score.
Legumes are also good sources of nutrients that can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. These nutrients include:
- complex carbohydrates
People with diabetes may wish to avoid legume products that contain added sugars and simple starches, such as those in syrups, sauces, or marinades. These additions can significantly increase a product’s GI score.
Legume products to eat
- black beans
- pinto beans
- green beans
- lima beans
- navy beans
- black-eyed peas
- snow peas
Legumes to limit
- any beans with added sugar
Garlic is a popular ingredient in traditional medicines for diabetes and a wide variety of other conditions.
The compounds in garlic may help reduce blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity and secretion.
The authors of one
Ways to add garlic to the diet
- eating it raw
- chopping it and adding to dips, savory spreads, and salad dressings
- sauteing it with vegetables
- adding it to cooked meals
- taking garlic capsules
Fish and other meats do not have GI scores because they do not contain carbohydrates.
However, consuming fish containing the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid may help manage or prevent diabetes better than other types of meat.
The researchers behind a 2021 study found that people who consumed oily fish developed type 2 diabetes at lower rates than those who did not.
Also, participants who ate plenty of fatty fish in a
However, the researchers were unsure if the reduction in risk was a direct result of eating the fish or if other healthy lifestyle factors, such as exercise, could have influenced the findings.
Researchers have not found evidence of a link between mercury and diabetes. However, experts
Fish products to eat
- fish oil capsules
Fish to limit
- bigeye tuna
- king mackerel
Eating plain yogurt daily may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The authors of a
Researchers are still unsure why yogurt helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, plain yogurt is generally a low GI food. Most unsweetened yogurts have a GI score of 50 or below.
It is best to avoid sweetened or flavored yogurts, which often contain too much sugar for a person who is looking to lower their blood sugar levels. Greek-style yogurt can be a healthy alternative.
Yogurt to eat
- Greek yogurt
- unsweetened yogurt
Yogurt to avoid
- sweetened yogurt
- flavored yogurt
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is key. Some additional strategies to help lower or manage blood sugar levels include:
- staying hydrated by drinking plenty of clear liquids
- staying active throughout the day
- eating small portions more frequently
- not skipping meals
- managing or reducing stress
- maintaining a moderate body weight or
losing weight, if appropriate
People with diabetes may also need to take medications and measure their blood sugar regularly to reduce the risk of experiencing potentially dangerous symptoms and complications.
Speak with a doctor about how to incorporate a healthy diet into a diabetes care plan.
SHOP FOR FOODS TO MAINTAIN HEALTHY BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
The foods listed in this article are available in most grocery or health food stores and online: