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8 foods that help regulate blood sugar

Daniel Couglin / 03 November 2016

Certain whole foods help control blood sugar better than others. Here are eight of them.

Chickpeas boast an extremely low GI index.
Chickpeas boast an extremely low GI index.

If you're living with type 2 diabetes or your doctor has told you that you're prediabetic, trying to figure out what you can and can't eat can be tricky.

Luckily, it's a lot simpler than you might think.  You needn't deprive yourself of refined carbs and sweet treats, as long as you're careful and indulge in moderation of course, and you don't have to bother stocking up on special 'diabetic foods' either – research shows they have no benefit.

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Getting your weight down to a healthy range is key. According to Diabetes UK clinical adviser Douglas Twenefour, you ideally want to aim for a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and rich in fruit and vegetables.

Type 2 diabetes: what you need to know

1. Wholemeal bread

Replacing some of the starchy refined carbs such as white bread and corn flakes in your diet with wholegrains is the way forward. Wholegrains tend to have a lower glycaemic index (GI) than refined carbs, which means they're less likely to spike your blood sugar levels, and they're better for you all round.

High fibre wholegrains also keep you fuller for longer, so they're handy for weight loss. Think about eating more wholemeal seeded breads and fewer white loaves for instance.

How much fibre do we really need?

2. Oats

Sticking with grains, oats are another fantastic food for diabetics. Low GI, they are digested nice and slowly, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable. Oats contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which forms a binding gel in the digestive tract, which delays the absorption of food.

Oats are also a good source of magnesium, which supports insulin regulation in the body. If hot porridge isn't your thing, you may prefer overnight oats, oatmeal granola or a low sugar oatmeal apple crumble.

How to make the perfect porridge

3. Chickpeas

This nourishing legume features on the American Diabetes Association's list of superfoods for very good reason. Chickpeas boast an extremely low GI index, the lowest of all the beans. Unsurprisingly, research indicates that a diet rich in legumes can help control blood sugar.

On top of that, chickpeas are high in satiating protein and fibre – exactly what you need to keep your appetite at bay when you're losing weight. Enjoy them blitzed in hummus or added to casseroles, curries and salads.

Curried chickpeas with cauliflower rice

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4. Apple

An apple a day really does keep the (diabetes) doctor away if the latest research is anything to go by. Apples are low GI, packed with insoluble fibre to fill you up and bursting with flavonoid phytonutrients that break down simple sugars and help regulate blood sugar. They also contain pectin, a soluble fibre that slows down the absorption of food.

In fact, a major study of 200,000 people by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US found that participants who ate more than five apples a week had a 23% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Visit our apple recipe hub

5. Sweet potato

Try replacing high GI potatoes in some of your meals with low GI sweet potatoes – your blood sugar levels should be healthier as a result.

Consider 'sequencing' your meals, too. A small study conducted last year by Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City reported that participants who ate protein and veggies 15 minutes before starchy carbs had much healthier insulin and blood sugar levels than those who ate the food groups together.

How to cook sweet potatoes

6. Avocado

The trendy food of the moment, avocados contain so few carbs their GI is zero, and they're loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, which according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, help balance blood sugar and insulin levels in the body – no wonder they're so fashionable right now.

Give them a go on toast, mashed up with chilli and lime guacamole-style, or drizzled with herb vinaigrette.

Avocado on toast – simple and delicious comfort food

7. Kale

Like avocado, kale may be 'in' right now but it's certainly no faddy food and really does live up to the hype. Bursting with goodness, the nutrient-packed leafy green may help protect against type 2 diabetes and regulate blood sugar levels in people living with the condition.

Research suggests a diet that includes plenty of leafy greens can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%. Plus, kale is rich in beta-carotene, which a recent study found is linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in people who have a genetic predisposition.

The pros and cons of kale

8. Blackberries

If you fancy something sweet-ish that won't spike your blood sugar, look no further than berries. Blackberries for example are low in calories, high in fibre, low in sugar and low GI. The yummy fruits are also an excellent source of anthocyanin antioxidants, which give them their characteristic dark hue.

Several studies suggest that these antioxidant pigments can lower excess blood sugar and help improve blood lipid levels in diabetics.

10 healthiest berries

If you're still unsure about what you can and can't eat, ask your GP to refer you to a registered dietitian, who can answer any questions you may have and devise a healthy meal plan based on your needs.

How a dietitian can help

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.