March 29, 2020

Foods to Help Manage Diabetes


According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), approximately 9.4% of Americans have diabetes. Additionally, 1.5 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in 2015 alone. Those with diabetes are not alone; this condition is a very manageable disease that comes complete with excellent quality of life. Along with exercise, medications, and social support, diet is integral to the management of this condition. Individuals with diabetes are also at elevated risk for heart disease. The foods we eat can truly impact our blood glucose control, weight, blood pressure, and other aspects of our health. Eating a healthful diet is one of the major ways to take control of diabetes. Nutrients we want to include in our diets include fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats.


Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not broken down by the body. Fiber is a major powerhouse in managing blood glucose control and promoting healthy weight for 3 major reasons. First of all, fiber won’t raise blood sugar because it is not broken down into simple sugars like normal carbohydrates. Fiber also takes longer to digest and move through our bodies, which increases fullness and allows for carbohydrates to be absorbed more slowly (and a slow increase in blood sugar rather than a rapid spike). The feeling of fullness can help us eat less, which can aid in weight loss in people trying to reduce their weight. Additionally, fiber is able to pull cholesterol out of our blood, reducing our risk for heart disease. Fiber does more than just keeping us feeling “regular”. This humble molecule really packs a healthy punch!


 Protein is imperative to maintaining many parts of our bodies, as we use them to repair, build, improve, and heal. Also, protein promotes fullness, which may aid in weight loss or maintenance. Protein does not increase our blood glucose. While foods like bread and vegetables have small amounts of protein in them, the main sources of protein include meat, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, and tofu. We must be detectives, however; many animal proteins (especially whole milk, red meat, poultry with skin, and high fat cheeses) are high in saturated fats, which can increase risk of heart disease. It is best to choose lean cuts of meat, plant protein foods, and reasonable portions (which would be about 3-5 oz of meat, the size of a deck of playing cards).

Heart healthy fats

 Fats are essential to the structural membrane of our cells and provide many important biochemical functions. Fat is not bad! However, certain types of fats are better than others. Unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are integral to heart health. These fats are able to decrease bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, effectively reducing heart disease risk. Sources of these fats include vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Saturated fats and trans fats are notorious for increasing cholesterol in our blood, which can lead to congested blood vessels and heart attacks. Saturated fats are found in animal products (whole milk, butter, fatty meats), while trans fats are mainly found in commercial stick margarine, baked goods, and frostings. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats as much as possible, while replacing them with heart healthy unsaturated fats. Be mindful of eating too much fat; fat has over 2 times the calories of protein and carbohydrates. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain.

 Additional tips

Sodium is a mineral found naturally in many foods. Unfortunately, sodium is very common in the modern diet due to the high amount of processed foods that find their way onto the shelves of grocery stores. Sodium is a preservative and flavoring agent. This sneaky mineral lurks in many processed foods (frozen dinners, canned foods, chips, popcorns, sauces, etc.). The issue with sodium comes back to heart health: sodium increases blood pressure, which makes the heart work harder than it has to. Try and limit sodium to under 2,300 mg daily. This can be done by staying away from as many processed foods as possible, while limiting eating out (as restaurant foods are typically very high in salt). If you use a salt shaker at the table, consider jazzing up foods with no-salt seasonings or vinegars.

Utilize these easy foods to help take control of your health and minimize the occurrence of negative complications associated with heart disease and diabetes. A balanced diet, weight management, portion control, exercise, and adherence to medications are all different parts that work toward the synergy of health and wellness. While this guide provides many useful tools, it is always best to meet with a registered dietitian to make sure that you are following a path to optimal health.


How does fiber affect blood glucose levels? Joslin Diabetes Center. Accessed September 27, 2017.

National diabetes statistics report, 2017. American Diabetes Association. Accessed September 27, 2017.

Protein. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed September 27, 2017.

Sodium and salt. American Heart Association. Accessed September 27, 2017.

The facts on fat. American Heart Association. Accessed September 27, 2017.


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