Vegetables add bright colors, flavors and textures to your diet. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, water, dietary fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants and contribute to a healthy diet. Vegetables are generally low in calories and carbohydrates, making them an excellent option for diabetics. Vegetables fall into two groups: starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and raise blood glucose levels more easily. Non-starchy vegetables are the best choice for a diabetic meal plan.
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Dark Leafy Greens
Rich in calcium, vitamins A, B, C and K, magnesium, iron, protein, potassium and dietary fiber, dark leafy greens are perfect for a diabetic diet. Leafy greens include spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, arugula, mustard or collard greens, romaine lettuce and chard. Each of these vegetables contains approximately 5 g of carbohydrates per serving, with a serving equal to 1 cup raw or a ½ cup cooked vegetables. Eating a mixed green salad before or with your meal is a good way to incorporate leafy greens into your diabetic meal plan.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a potent antioxidant known to help fight disease. Tomatoes are also rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin A, C and K, folate and dietary fiber. A ½ cup serving of tomatoes is equivalent to 4 g of carbohydrates. Eat them raw, pureed, stewed, juiced or in a sauce; all tomato-based products are low in carbohydrates. When purchasing tomato-based products, be sure to choose "no sugar added" or "low sodium" varieties.
Bell peppers are available in a rainbow of colors, including yellow, red, orange, green and purple. Containing only 3 g of carbohydrates per ½ cup serving, peppers are sweet, juicy and bursting with flavor. Bell peppers are packed with vitamin A and C, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and dietary fiber. Add them to a stir fry, flavor your favorite food with them, grill for a colorful side dish or simply munch on crisp peppers for a low-carb snack.
Calciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds that make them pungent and bitter. Sulfur compounds confer potential carcinogen-fighting effects in the body. Calciferous vegetables include red or green cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke and Brussels sprouts. Calciferous vegetables provide 5 g of carbohydrates per serving and are rich sources of vitamin C and K, iron, potassium, folate, calcium, dietary fiber and phytochemicals. Eat them raw or lightly steamed.
Although not brightly colored, members of the allium family are pungent and flavorful. Garlic, onion, leeks, chives, scallions and shallots are allium vegetables known for their antibacterial properties. Containing only 5 g of carbohydrates per serving, these vegetables reduce inflammation, boost immunity and fight off disease. Allium vegetables are best used to add flavor to other foods when cooking.
Rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, vitamin A, B, C and K, magnesium, folate, and dietary fiber, carrots are bright in color and provide a sweet taste. Carrots are a good choice if you have diabetes as their carotenoid and vitamin A content helps protect your eyes from diabetic retinopathy or damage to the blood vessels in the eye from long-term diabetes. Carrots are a great low-carb, crunchy snack.
Squash contains vitamin A, B and C, iron, calcium, dietary fiber, potassium and magnesium. While some varieties of winter squash tend to be higher in carbohydrates, summer squash and zucchini contain just 5 g of carbohydrates per serving. Add color to your stir fry, steam or grill for a low-carb side dish.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Diabetes Association: Non-Starchy Vegetables
- Glycemic Research Institute; The Diabetic Exchange List; American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association
- The Diet Channel; Vegetables Lower A Diabetic’s Risk for Heart Disease; Megan Porter, R.D., L.D.; October 4, 2006.
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse; Eating and Diabetes; October 2007
- Healthy Weight Forum: Diabetic Diet