Diabetes causes elevated blood sugar, or glucose, and is very sensitive to diet. Although no food has been proved to lower blood sugar fast, certain foods can lower blood sugar over time. Foods high in fiber, such as beans and nonstarchy vegetables, may improve glucose control for those with diabetes. Eating a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids from fish and olive oil may also help balance blood sugar. The Mediterranean diet includes these nutritious foods. While there is no specific diet or eating plan recommended for diabetes, incorporating these foods into your diet may improve your blood glucose control.
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Multiple studies have examined the effect of fiber on blood sugar control. An October 2000 study in “Diabetes Care” reported that increasing the amount of high-fiber foods in the diet of those with type 1 diabetes (T1DM) resulted in improved glucose control over 6 months. People with T1DM don't make enough of the hormone insulin, which allows the body to use glucose in the blood for energy. Participants in this study were given increased fiber in the form of vegetables, such as artichokes, green peas and broccoli; fruits, such as raspberries, pears and apples; and legumes, such as split peas, lentils and black beans. The effect of fiber on blood sugar may extend to type 2 diabetes (T2DM), in which the body doesn't use insulin properly. However, according to the January 2014 "Diabetes Care," studies have shown that the amount of fiber needed to lower blood sugar levels may be more than 50 grams a day -- too much to expect the average person to consume. For now, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes eat the same amount of fiber as is recommended for the general public.
The Mediterranean diet includes legumes, fruits, vegetables, unrefined cereal, olive oil and fish. In addition to preventing cardiovascular disease, a Mediterranean diet leads to improved glucose control in type 2 diabetics, the ADA has concluded. Foods in the Mediterranean diet such as fish and olive oil are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which help control blood glucose levels. A March 2013 review in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” stated that when compared to a conventional diet, the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved blood sugar control and weight loss in those with diabetes. However, for the participants in these studies who lost weight, it is difficult for researchers to tell whether their blood sugars improved because of weight loss or because they adhered to the Mediterranean diet.
Vegan and vegetarian diets have been linked to improved glucose control and weight loss. The vegan diet, which excludes all meat, dairy and fish, has been linked to improved hemoglobin A1C levels -- a marker for a person's average blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months. Further research is needed, though, as the improved blood sugar control in vegan diets was only seen when calories were restricted and people also lost weight.
Because a high blood sugar level can cause serious health problems, it is important to know what symptoms to look for. Having high blood sugar causes you to feel very thirsty, tired and need to urinate more often. You may also experience increased hunger, tingling in the hands and feet or notice frequent infections. If you begin to feel nauseated, extremely tired or notice fruity-smelling breath, seek immediate medical attention. These are signs of diabetic ketoacidosis. If left untreated, the condition could lead to difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and even death.
- Diabetes Care: Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes
- Diabetes Care: Long-Term Dietary Treatment With Increased Amounts of Fiber-Rich Low–Glycemic Index Natural Foods Improves Blood Glucose Control and Reduces the Number of Hypoglycemic Events in Type 1 Diabetic Patients
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Foods List
- Diabetes Care: Nutrition Recommendations and Interventions for Diabetes -- A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Different Dietary Approaches to the Management of Type 2 Diabetes
- Pediatric Diabetics: Diabetic Ketoacidosis and Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar State