For people with prediabetes, diabetes, or other conditions that affect blood sugar, diet is a major part of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
Although factors like body weight, activity, stress, and genetics also play a role in blood sugar maintenance, following a healthy diet is critical for blood sugar control.
While some foods, including items high in added sugar and refined carbs, can contribute to blood sugar fluctuations, others can optimize blood sugar control while promoting overall health.
Here is a list of foods that may help regulate your blood sugar.
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
Sulforaphane is a type of isothiocyanate that has blood-sugar-reducing properties.
This plant chemical is produced when broccoli is chopped or chewed due to a reaction between a glucosinolate compound called glucoraphanin and the enzyme myrosinase, both of which are concentrated in broccoli (5).
Test-tube, animal, and human studies have shown that sulforaphane-rich broccoli extract has powerful anti-diabetic effects, helping enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar and markers of oxidative stress.
Broccoli sprouts are concentrated sources of glucosinolates like glucoraphanin, and they’ve been shown to help promote insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes when supplemented as a powder or extract.
Additionally, eating cruciferous vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Keep in mind that the best way to enhance the availability of sulforaphane is to enjoy broccoli and broccoli sprouts raw or lightly steamed, or to add active sources of myrosinase like mustard seed powder to cooked broccoli.
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds
Brightly colored and packed with fiber and antioxidants, pumpkin is a great choice for blood sugar regulation. Pumpkin is used as a traditional diabetic remedy in many countries like Mexico and Iran.
Pumpkin is high in carbs called polysaccharides, which have been studied for their blood-sugar-regulating potential. Treatments with pumpkin extracts and powders have been shown to significantly decrease blood sugar levels in both human and animal studies.
However, more research is needed to determine how pumpkin, when it’s eaten roasted or steamed, may benefit blood sugar.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with healthy fats and proteins, making them an excellent choice for blood sugar control as well.
A 2018 study in 40 people found that consuming 2 ounces (65 grams) of pumpkin seeds reduced post-meal blood sugar by up to 35%, compared with a control group.
Nuts and nut butter
Research has shown that eating nuts may be an effective way to help regulate blood sugar levels.
A study in 25 people with type 2 diabetes demonstrated that consuming both peanuts and almonds throughout the day as part of a low-carb diet reduced both fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels.
Also, a review found diets emphasizing tree nuts at an average daily intake of 2 ounces (56 grams) significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of long-term blood sugar control, compared with a control diet, in people with type 2 diabetes.
Okra is a fruit that’s commonly utilized like a vegetable. It’s a rich source of blood-sugar-lowering compounds like polysaccharides and flavonoid antioxidants.
In Turkey, okra seeds have long been used as a natural remedy to treat diabetes due to their potent blood-sugar-lowering properties.
Rhamnogalacturonan, the main polysaccharide in okra, has been identified as a powerful anti-diabetic compound. Plus, okra contains the flavonoids isoquercitrin and quercetin 3-O-gentiobioside, which help reduce blood sugar by inhibiting certain enzymes.
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Although animal studies suggest that okra has powerful anti-diabetic properties, human research studies are needed.
Flax seeds are rich in fiber and healthy fats and are well known for their health benefits. Specifically, flax seeds may help reduce blood sugar levels.
In an 8-week study in 57 people with type 2 diabetes, those who consumed 7 ounces (200 grams) of 2.5% fat yogurt containing 1 ounce (30 grams) of flax seeds per day experienced significant reductions in HbA1c, compared with those who consumed plain yogurt.
What’s more, a review of 25 controlled studies found that eating whole flax seeds led to significant improvements in blood sugar control.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are rich in nutrients, such as magnesium, fiber, and protein, that can help lower blood sugar. They’re particularly high in soluble fiber and resistant starch, which help slow digestion and may improve blood sugar response after meals.
For example, a study in 12 women demonstrated that adding black beans or chickpeas to a rice meal significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar levels, compared with eating rice alone.
Many other studies have shown that eating beans and lentils can not only benefit blood sugar regulation but also possibly help protect against the development of diabetes.
Kimchi and sauerkraut
Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are packed with health-promoting compounds, including probiotics, minerals, and antioxidants, and eating them has been associated with improved blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
A study in 21 people with prediabetes found that eating fermented kimchi for 8 weeks improved glucose tolerance in 33% of the participants, while only 9.5% of participants who consumed fresh kimchi showed improved glucose tolerance.
Another study in 41 people with diabetes demonstrated that following a traditional Korean diet rich in fermented foods like kimchi for 12 weeks led to greater reductions in HbA1c than a control diet.
Suggested read: Diabetes diet: Foods for diabetics
Eating chia seeds may help benefit blood sugar control. Studies have linked chia seed consumption to reductions in blood sugar levels and improvements in insulin sensitivity.
A 2020 review of 17 animal studies concluded that chia seeds may help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, as well as potentially reduce disease risk, including the risk of diabetes.
Also, a study in 15 healthy adults showed that participants who received 1 ounce (25 grams) of ground chia seeds alongside 2 ounces (50 grams) of a sugar solution had a 39% reduction in blood sugar levels, compared with those who consumed the sugar solution alone.
Kale is often described as a “superfood” — and for good reason. It’s packed with compounds that may help decrease blood sugar levels, including fiber and flavonoid antioxidants.
A study that included 42 Japanese adults demonstrated that consuming either 7 or 14 grams of kale-containing foods with a high carb meal significantly decreased post-meal blood sugar levels, compared with a placebo.
Research has shown that the flavonoid antioxidants found in kale, including quercetin and kaempferol, have potent blood sugar-lowering and insulin-sensitizing effects.
Numerous studies have linked berry intake with improved blood sugar control. Berries are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and they make an excellent choice for people with blood sugar management issues.
A 2019 study found that eating 2 cups (250 grams) of red raspberries with a high carb meal significantly reduced post-meal insulin and blood sugar in adults with prediabetes, compared with a control group.
In addition to raspberries, studies have shown that strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries may benefit blood sugar management by enhancing insulin sensitivity and improving glucose clearance from the blood.
In addition to being creamy and delicious, avocados may offer significant benefits for blood sugar regulation. They’re rich in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and adding them to meals has been shown to improve blood sugar levels.
Numerous studies have found that avocados may help reduce blood sugar levels and protect against the development of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions, including high blood pressure and high blood sugar, that increases chronic disease risk.
However, keep in mind that many studies that have investigated the effects of avocado intake on blood sugar levels were funded by the Hass Avocado Board, which could have influenced aspects of the studies.
Oats and oat bran
Including oats and oat bran in your diet may help improve your blood sugar levels due to their high content of soluble fiber, which has been shown to have significant blood-sugar-reducing properties.
An analysis of 16 studies found that oat intake significantly reduced HbA1c and fasting blood sugar levels, compared with control meals.
What’s more, a small study in 10 people found that drinking 7 ounces (200 mL) of water mixed with 1 ounce (27.3 grams) of oat bran before eating white bread significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar, compared with drinking plain water.
Although many citrus fruits are sweet, research shows that they may help reduce blood sugar levels. Citrus fruits are considered low glycemic fruits because they don’t affect blood sugar as much as other types of fruits like watermelon and pineapple.
Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit are packed with fiber and contain plant compounds like naringenin, a polyphenol that has powerful anti-diabetic properties.
Eating whole citrus fruits may help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce HbA1c, and protect against the development of diabetes.
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Apples contain soluble fiber and plant compounds, including quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and gallic acid, all of which may help reduce blood sugar and protect against diabetes.
Although total fruit consumption has been shown to decrease diabetes risk, eating specific fruits, including apples, may be particularly beneficial for lowering blood sugar and reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
A study that included data from over 187,000 people found that a higher intake of specific fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, was associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, a study in 18 women found that eating apples 30 minutes before a rice meal significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar, compared with eating rice alone.
Following a healthy dietary pattern is essential for optimal blood sugar control.
Whether you have prediabetes, diabetes, or want to lower your risk of developing these conditions, including the foods listed above as part of a nutritious diet may help reduce your blood sugar levels.
However, keep in mind that your overall dietary intake, as well as factors like your activity level and body weight, are most important when it comes to optimizing blood sugar control and protecting against chronic disease.