You can’t go wrong with vegetables, but these choices are especially helpful for blood sugar management and overall health.
This should go without saying, but adequate fruit and vegetable intake—at least five servings a day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—is a cornerstone of a healthy diet. And if you’re managing diabetes, getting plenty of nutrient-rich, high-fiber vegetables can help with both blood sugar management and long-term condition management. Here’s our complete list of foods to eat to help you eat healthy when you have diabetes.
“Though we often talk about diabetes like it’s a blood sugar problem, it’s really more than that,” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, CDE, a Virginia-based dietitian and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. “Type 2 diabetes is connected to insulin resistance, which is associated with fatty liver, heart disease, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer. So when we think about eating for diabetes, we also have to think about eating for heart disease prevention and cancer prevention.”
Weisenberger points out that different vegetables have different nutrients and different types of fiber, and that all are important for diabetes management and overall health. Here are 10 vegetables that Weisenberger recommends for diabetes management.
The fiber in nonstarchy vegetables helps us feel full and satisfied. Weisenberger recommends carrots as an especially filling, high-fiber vegetable. Carrots are also high in vitamin A, which helps with immunity and healthy eyes. Try them in our Balsamic Roasted Carrots (pictured above).
In addition to helping with satiety, the fiber in vegetables acts as a prebiotic. “Prebiotic fibers are fermented by our gut bacteria, helping them to thrive,” Weisenberger says. “In some cases, this helps with glucose and cholesterol metabolism.” Broccoli is a great choice for this, as are other cruciferous vegetables.
Zucchini is particularly high in carotenoids, compounds that support heart health and might protect against certain cancers. It is also low in calories and high in fiber, Weisenberger points out.
Forget about chugging orange juice in hopes of an immunity boost. Cabbage is also high in vitamin C, which positively affects heart health. It’s also got tons of fiber to slow the digestion of whatever you’re eating alongside of it, which will help prevent blood sugar spikes. Try our Roasted Cabbage with Chive-Mustard Vinaigrette.
Like all leafy green vegetables, spinach is nutrient-dense and very low in calories. It’s also rich in iron, which is key to healthy blood flow. You can add it to soups or stews, or throw a handful into your eggs in the morning.
Weisenberger suggests stuffing extra tomatoes into a whole-grain sandwich. In addition to adding sweetness, tomatoes are high in lycopene, a compound that has been linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Another of Weisenberger’s favorite sandwich fillings, cucumber is a high-water vegetable that can actually help keep you hydrated as well as feeling full. And, one study found that cucumbers might help reduce and control blood sugar levels. Try our simple Cucumber & Avocado Salad.
Different types of lettuce contain different nutrients, but all are high in fiber and water. In particular, a serving of red-leaf lettuce packs more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health. Serving other foods over a bed of lettuce can also help slow their absorption, which contributes to blood sugar control.
Mushrooms aren’t the magic superfood that they’re sometimes made out to be—no food is! But there’s evidence that links the diabetes drug metformin to B-vitamin deficiency, and eating mushrooms (which are rich in B vitamins) can help counteract this. Great news, especially because adequate B vitamins can protect against cognitive decline.
10. Green beans
Green bean casserole may not be the most nutritious dish around, but green beans themselves are packed with health benefits. They contain vitamin C and vitamin A, and are high in fiber. Weisenberger recommends adding chopped green beans to pasta sauce for an extra veggie hit. Just avoid canned green beans, which can be loaded with sodium.
Remember, there are no bad choices when it comes to vegetables and diabetes.
In general, nonstarchy vegetables are lower in carbohydrates and calories than starchy vegetables, and their high fiber content can help steady blood sugar and slow the absorption of other carbs you may be eating with them. That said, Weisenberger stresses that there’s no reason to avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn—they’re packed with fiber and nutrients too!
Just be sure to count starchy vegetables as carb servings when calculating insulin and medication. The best way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need is to eat a wide variety of foods, Weisenberger says: “That’s why we’re best off when we don’t omit any food group.”