7 Foods to Help Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
If you’re trying to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range, you may be wondering which foods are best. Short answer: There aren’t any foods that lower blood sugar.
That’s because the food we eat from carbohydrates (and sometimes proteins) is converted into glucose, which acts as the body’s main source of energy. So most foods will cause at least a slight increase in blood sugar immediately after you eat.
The good news? “Food can definitely help support healthy blood sugar levels,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD.
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Here are 7 foods that can have a low impact on blood sugar.
Studies suggest that frequent nut consumption can have a favorable effect on blood sugar levels. “They’re higher in healthier fats and may potentially increase sensitivity to insulin,” Giancoli says. (Of course, nuts are still high in calories, so you still need to eat them in moderation.)
2. Water-Based Vegetables
Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes are rich in nutrients, but they can bump up blood sugar levels relatively quickly. Their water-based counterparts — like asparagus, broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes — are great choices when you’re trying to help support healthy blood sugar levels. “They’re not causing a spike in your blood sugar, they’re lower in carbohydrates, and they add a lot to your meal,” Giancoli says.
3. Whole Fruit
Yes, fruit has a lot of natural sugar in it, but don’t let that deter you. “We shouldn’t be worried about eating fruit and it spiking our blood sugar,” Giancoli says. “You’re not going to get that same spike as sugar on its own.” Plus, all that fruit sugar comes in a tidy package complete with fiber, water, and micronutrients. And research suggests a diet rich in whole fruits — especially blueberries, grapes, and apples — may be associated with healthy blood sugar.
If you’re looking for foods with a lower impact on blood sugar, whole fruits also tend to be a better choice than fruit juice, which lacks the fiber found in whole fruits.
4. Whole Grains
While refined carbohydrates (think sugary breakfast cereals and white bread) can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, whole grains don’t have the same effects. That’s likely because whole grains like quinoa and oats are a source of fiber and have a slower rate of digestion compared to simple carbs. (Bonus: Sprinkle some cinnamon on your morning oats. Studies suggest consuming 3 to 6 grams of cinnamon per day may help to support healthy blood sugar levels.)
Research has shown that black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes can help support healthy blood sugar levels. One possible reason: Legumes are a great source of fiber — particularly soluble fiber, which is known for helping to support healthy blood sugar levels. Two thirds of a cup of green peas , for example, has 6 grams of fiber, while a cup of cooked lentils has a whopping 16 grams.
Research has linked the consumption of lean fish with better health. (However, researchers noted it’s still unclear if there’s a direct link, or if people who eat lean fish frequently tend to have healthier lifestyles overall.) Not only is fish a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, it also provides some magnesium — especially salmon, mackerel, and halibut — an important micronutrient for supporting our health, Giancoli says.
Research suggests acidic foods may help to lower the glycemic response to certain starchy foods. More specifically, studies suggest vinegar may be a promising food to help manage glycemic response, so go ahead and add some to your salad dressings and marinades.
How to Find Foods that Support Healthy Blood Sugar
Want to fill your grocery cart with foods that help support healthy blood sugar levels? Giancoli offers these simple tips:
- Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. “The less processed, the better,” Giancoli says.
- Include plenty of high-fiber foods, especially those high in soluble fiber.
- Stock up on fruit and veggies. “Plant-based foods may help because they naturally come with fiber,” Giancoli says.
- For the most part, steer clear of refined carbohydrates and foods with added sugar. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have a treat,” Giancoli says. “You certainly can, but it has to be a part of a healthy balanced diet.”
When you’re planning your meals, try to include all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. We need carbohydrates to function, and adding healthy fats and lean protein to the mix will help slow the rate of digestion, which in turn slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, Giancoli explains.
How often you eat can also play a role. “If you have one large meal, you’re more likely to have a spike in blood sugar, and uptick in the insulin response,” Giancoli says. Eating smaller meals, and eating more often — for example, three square meals a day with a one or two of healthy snacks — will likely be more beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.