Editor’s note: This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you think you have diabetes or any health concern, consult a licensed health care professional in person.
The number of adults with diabetes in the United States has increased 4-fold over the last 3 decades.
During this time, the rate of men diagnosed spiked by a whopping 175%.
While a low carb diet appears most useful for diabetes management, there are also many foods shown to help, either by lowering blood sugars and/or improving insulin sensitivity.
This article looks at 10 of the best foods and supplements for lowering blood sugar, based on current research.
Just know they should never be used in place of your diabetes medication, but rather alongside.
1. Resistant Starch Lowers Sugars After Meals
Starches are long chains of glucose (sugar) found in oats, grains, bananas, potatoes and various other foods. Some varieties pass through digestion unchanged and are not absorbed as sugar into the blood. These are known as resistant starch.
Many studies show resistant starch can greatly improve insulin sensitivity. That is, how well the body can move sugar out of the blood and into cells for energy. This is why it’s so useful for lowering blood sugar levels after meals (1, 2).
The effect is so great that having resistant starch at lunch will reduce blood sugar spikes at dinner, known as the “second meal effect” (3).
The problem is many foods high in resistant starch, such as potatoes, are also high in digestible carbs that can spike blood sugar. Therefore resistant starch in supplement form – without the extra carbs – is recommended.
Summary: Supplemental resistant starch is a fantastic option for those struggling to control sugars or have hit a plateau.
2. Ceylon Cinnamon
Cinnamon has been used for its medicinal properties since Ancient Egypt and China.
In a recent clinical trial, 25 poorly-controlled type 2 diabetics received either 1 gram per day of cinnamon or placebo (dummy supplement) for 12 weeks. Fasting blood sugar levels in the cinnamon group dropped by 10% after 6 weeks and 17% after 12 weeks compared to placebo (6).
Note that not all clinical trials have found cinnamon to be effective, so it’s by no means a “miracle” treatment (7).
The recommended dose is 1-6 grams daily, from ceylon rather than cassia.
Summary: Cinnamon may slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Ceylon cinnamon is much safer than cassia.
3. Raspberries and Strawberries
Berries technically don’t lower blood sugar, but they help if you are eating them instead of other common fruits.
This is because berries tend to be very low-sugar fruits.
There is only 5-7 grams (about one teaspoon) of sugar in one cup of raspberries or strawberries, compared to 13 grams in one cup of apples and 24 grams in one cup of mango (8).
Berries are also rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which is why they are such bright red or blue colours.
Summary: Berries are very low in sugar compared to other fruits. They are also rich in anthocyanins, which is beneficial for metabolic health.
4. Cashews and Almonds
The mechanism of action is unclear, but low magnesium levels is strongly associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It seems to influence insulin secretion, which may be why 25-38% of type 2 diabetics have low magnesium (13).
Alongside spinach, cashews and almonds are one of the best sources of magnesium in the human diet. The fact they are convenient, low carb and delicious is just a bonus.
Top 3 Food Sources of Magnesium
Note that in the case of a magnesium deficiency, magnesium supplementation is recommended.
Summary: Cashews and almonds are very rich in magnesium, a mineral involved in blood sugar regulation. Up to 38% of type 2 diabetics are thought to be low in magnesium.
5. Green Tea
In a review of 7 observational studies totaling 286,701 people, green tea drinkers had an 18% lower risk of becoming diabetic (16). One Japanese study found that reduced risk blew out to a massive 42% for the real green tea enthusiasts (17).
Normally I don’t make conclusions from observational studies (which don’t prove cause and effect), but it’s evident that green tea is beneficial for metabolic health.
If you’re already a tea drinker, then it’s time to include some green tea. If you aren’t, it’s time to start.
Summary: It’s clear the compounds in green tea are beneficial for metabolic health. Observational studies suggest regular green tea drinkers are 18-42% less likely to become diabetic.
6. Fenugreek May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Fenugreek is a popular herb in Arabic and Indian cultures. It’s a good source of soluble fiber and has several compounds thought to improve blood sugar control.
Studies in both type 2 diabetics and non-diabetics have shown decreases in blood sugar levels by up to 13% after meals (18, 19). The weight of evidence seems to support these findings too (20). The effective dosage is 2-5 grams per day.
Eating the seeds whole or in supplement form appears the most useful, but is not safe if pregnant.
Summary: Fenugreek appears to greatly improve blood sugar control in diabetics.
7. Shirataki Noodles
Reducing the amount of bread, noodles and other high carbohydrate foods is beneficial for diabetes management.
However, it’s important to enjoy your favourites once in a while.
Enter the Japanese shiritaki noodle, which is tremendously low in carbs and high in fibre. A 3.5 oz (100 gram) serving contains less than one gram of digestible carbs and only two calories.
Bottom Line: Shirataki noodles are incredibly low in carbs and calories. The fibre in them may also help with blood sugar control and other aspects of metabolic health.
8. Cocoa in Dark chocolate
The cocoa in chocolate comes from the cocoa plant.
However, whether dark chocolate itself is beneficial is debatable, because it does still contain a small amount of sugar. I view it as a somewhat neutral treat (regarding health effects) and great alternative for diabetics.
But the chocolate must be really dark, typically 85% cocoa or more. Anything less is too high in sugar.
The studies that found benefits used either dark chocolate or a cocoa extract equivalent to 500-1000 mg of flavanols per day. This is roughly 25-40 grams of 85% dark chocolate.
Summary: Those who regularly eat chocolate must swap to 85% dark chocolate or more. This will be neutral for health at worst, and beneficial for blood sugar control at best.
9. Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar is an ancient folk remedy long used for numerous health problems.
In a study of eleven type 2 diabetics, those who consumed vinegar before a meal had an increased uptake of sugar into the cells (tested in the forearm) and reduced blood sugar levels, insulin levels and triglycerides (27).
Apple cider vinegar is the most popular type of vinegar among the natural health community, but not the only beneficial variety.
Summary: There is strong evidence that vinegar consumption before or during meals can improve glucose metabolism. Apple cider vinegar is just the most popular type.
10. Stevia as a Sugar Alternative
Stevia is a popular sugar alternative that originates from South America.
It’s beneficial for diabetics because it contains zero sugar or calories, and is used as a direct swap for sugar.
In fact, stevia was found to lower both blood sugar and insulin levels more than aspartame (an artificial sweetener) after meals (30).
Honey is marginally better than sugar for diabetics, but if you really must sweeten your drink then use stevia.
A version of this post was originally published on the author’s website Diet vs. Disease and is republished here with his permission.
Photo credit: Pixabay