Are you worried about your blood sugar levels? A slight rise in blood sugar is a normal physiological response to consuming certain foods in healthy people. If you have diabetes, however, you may experience hyperglycemia or blood sugar that gets too high.
Healthy people without diabetes generally do not have to worry about small elevations from a blood sugar that may result from eating. The body’s response to a particular food varies by individual, whether they have diabetes or not. Foods that result in a sharp rise in blood sugar in some may have a lesser impact on others.
If you have diabetes, taking advantage of technology to track your blood glucose is a smart move. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you see how your body responds to specific types of food. With some self-experimentation, the CGM’s information can aid you in developing a diet that allows you to manage your blood sugar.
In general, foods that are high in carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar. The body can also create glucose with specific non-carbohydrate substrates through gluconeogenesis. However, meals that are primarily protein and fat will have a lesser impact overall on blood sugar.
With a CGM, you may find that certain types of fruit (for example) raise your blood sugar more than others. Instead of completely giving up fruit, modify your diet to include the fruits that have a lower blood sugar impact more often. This same technique can apply to the foods in the other food groups.
Some foods have a lower impact on blood sugar when you use them in place of other foods. Keep reading to learn about some food and drinks that will help you to manage your blood sugar.
Diet sodas and other drinks with non-nutritive sweeteners may help
Giving up soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is a wonderful way to improve the quality of your diet. This is true whether you struggle to manage hyperglycemia or not. Most sugar-sweetened beverages are sources of empty calories that can impede a weight loss goal.
If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) strongly discourages the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda. The simple sugars in these drinks can cause a significant spike in your blood sugar. If you need a stepping stone to help you give up sweet drinks, try diet sodas and other beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners.
The ADA considers the moderate consumption of beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) to be an “acceptable substitute” to sugar-sweetened drinks. This is more because NNS beverages may help with a weight loss goal, not necessarily overall glycemic control. If NNS beverages make you crave (and eat) more sweet foods, they may not be an appropriate dietary tool for you.
According to the ADA, the use of beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners is meant to be a short-term dietary strategy only. For an even better option for hydration, check out the next item on this list.
Water infused with fruits, vegetables, herbs, or spices will never get boring
For most people, water is the best choice for hydration, and the ADA says it should be emphasized. This zero-calorie and zero-carbohydrate drink will not spike your blood sugar. Staying well-hydrated may help you to feel full, making healthy weight management easier as well.
It can be boring to drink plain water all of the time. To help prevent taste fatigue, I recommend infusing your water with different flavor combinations. Let different fruits, herbs, and spices sit in your water overnight to add flavor with negligible calories and carbs.
When making infused water, do not squeeze the fruit into your drink. Drinking juice can spike your blood sugar, as it provides a significant amount of carbohydrates. Instead, fill a pitcher with water and drop one of the following in for a soak (without squeezing or crushing):
- A few slices of lemon and a few slices of fresh ginger
- A few slices of cucumber and a few mint leaves
- A few slices of lime and a few slices of strawberries
The combinations that you can create are endless, so don’t let these options limit you. There are countless types of infused water that you can create. You’ll never be stuck with plain water again.
If you travel a lot, consider investing in a few water bottles that have an infuser compartment. They easily fit in a hotel refrigerator and make it simple to stay hydrated when you are on the go.
Cheese, if you please, will help dress your carbs
If you have diabetes and would like to enjoy a high-carbohydrate snack, I have two recommendations. First, choose a food that is rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain crackers. Second, pair your carbohydrate snack with a food that provides the other macronutrients, such as cheese.
Complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to digest than simple sugars. This means that you may not get as much of a rapid rise in blood sugar from complex carbs.
Avoiding the consumption of “naked carbs” is another strategy that can help to prevent blood sugar spikes. By “naked carbs,” I mean carbohydrates that are consumed alone, without other macronutrients. Cheese provides the protein and fat that pairs perfectly with your whole-grain crackers.
Don’t forget to add some cheese to your other carbohydrate-rich snacks as well, such as apples and pears. If you have limited lactose tolerance, you may still be able to eat aged hard cheeses without discomfort.
Unsweetened whole milk Greek yogurt will fill you up
Fat is a macronutrient that slows digestion and may help you to feel full and satisfied. Unlike carbohydrates, fat does not promote a rise in blood sugar, so do not fear including some healthy fats in your diet. Full-fat Greek yogurt is a great choice that provides calcium, riboflavin, and other essential nutrients.
Low-fat and non-fat yogurt has a higher ratio of carbohydrates since the fat has been skimmed out of the product. This process also removes some of the fat-soluble vitamins from the yogurt.
Are you worried about the link between saturated fat, including in dairy products, and heart disease? Full-fat yogurt and milk have largely been exonerated in their possible connection to elevated cardiovascular risk.
Aside from the fat, the high protein content of Greek yogurt may also provide a satiating dining experience. Enjoying meals with nutrient-dense filling foods such as unsweetened yogurt may help you to achieve a weight loss goal as well. Creating a calorie deficit without having to rely on willpower to fight hunger is an easier way to lose weight.
Peanut butter is a dairy-free way to dress your carbs
If you are avoiding dairy products because of allergy, intolerance, or self-imposed diet restrictions, you have other options! Consider adding some peanut butter to your fruit or crackers to prevent your carbs from going naked. Peanut butter is a rich source of fat that slows digestion, and it adds a little protein too.
Raspberries are the fiber-filled fruit you need
As mentioned earlier, even if you struggle with high blood sugar, you do not have to give up fruit. Many of the low-carbohydrate salad vegetables, such as cucumbers, count botanically as fruits. In addition, there are some other low-carb fruit options available, including raspberries.
Fruits like raspberries and strawberries should be a part of most diets. They are rich in fiber that supports a healthy digestive tract and are delicious low-calorie and low-carb options. Berries are rich in anthocyanidins, phytochemicals that support the health of your blood vessels. What’s not to love?
The downside to raspberries is that they tend to be expensive and are in season for only a short time. Choose frozen berries to save money and because they may be the freshest option at certain times of the year. They are a great addition to smoothies and yogurt parfaits.
Leafy greens can help to satiate you without a blood sugar spike
Like raspberries, leafy greens should be a part of almost everyone’s plate. Though they are not zero calories, if you don’t add oil, they come close! Also, they are often rich in certain nutrients, such as folate and vitamin K.
Green leafy vegetables contain very few carbohydrates and will have a minimal impact on your blood sugar. Don’t think you have to limit yourself to iceberg lettuce and spinach, either!
Branch out and sample the wide variety of available leafy greens. They are all very low in carbohydrates. Have you tried all of the following types of leafy greens?
- Mustard greens
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Green leaf lettuce
- Red leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Turnip greens
- Swiss chard
- Rainbow chard
- Beet greens
- Dandelion greens
And there are many more! You can enjoy a different type every day of the week, and perhaps even every day of the month. Check your local international food market for varieties that you cannot find in your typical grocery store.
Leafy greens are one of the many non-starchy vegetables that are an excellent choice for people with diabetes. If you have diabetes or are looking to lose weight, aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. This may help you keep your carbs and calories in check, making it easier to reach your goals.
Are you wondering which vegetables count as non-starchy vegetables? The American Diabetes Association keeps a list of common non-starchy veggies on their website. Most people can benefit from eating more of these delicious low-carbohydrate foods.
Salmon and other fatty fish are not to be missed
The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least two servings of seafood per week if you are on a 2,000-calorie diet. Salmon and other fatty fish are a great choice because they are rich in the omega-3s DHA and EPA. This beneficial omega-3s are challenging to obtain in the diet from other foods without using fortified foods or supplements.
Are you wondering how foods like salmon may benefit your blood sugar? If you are counting your carbohydrates, animal-based protein can help you to feel satisfied without going over your carbohydrate allowance. This is because meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are zero (or extremely minimal) carb options.
The consumption of more plant foods may benefit your long-term health. However, it may not be the best choice to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet if you are struggling with hyperglycemia. Taking meat and fish out of your meal plan may make it more challenging to manage your blood sugar.
Base your meals around the non-starchy plant foods mentioned above, plus some animal-based protein. This will give you an excellent foundation for the better management of your blood sugar. You may also find that it’s easier to maintain a healthy weight when you choose mostly nutrient-dense whole foods.
If you don’t like fatty fish, it is fine to choose other types of seafood. The downside is that you will not get as much omega-3 fat. Don’t forget to mix up your seafood intake with other animal protein sources like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, and eggs.
All of the food suggestions above are general information that may or may not be appropriate for your individual needs. As always, speak with a registered dietitian or your physician if you are planning on making significant diet changes. This is particularly important if you have a medical condition like diabetes, since your medications may need to be changed.
Final thoughts on Foods to Control Blood Sugar
For healthy people, small rises in blood sugar are not an inherently bad thing. If you have diabetes, however, it is essential to make diet and lifestyle choices that help you to manage glycemia. Wearing a CGM and adopting the general tips above may aid you in preventing blood sugar highs and lows.
The food and drinks mentioned here are not just good for people with diabetes, though. Consuming a balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods and staying hydrated is an excellent choice for everyone. How many of the foods above do you eat regularly?
If you need additional meal and snack ideas, our recipe pages are chock-full of nutrient-dense foods. Check them out, and your carbs will never go undressed again!
Summer is a registered dietitian located in Avon, Connecticut where she specializes in weight management, special diets, general nutrition, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). She is the developer and content creator behind the Summer Yule Nutrition website, where she shares evidence-based information on hot topics in food and nutrition.