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Diabetes Issues Author: Laurel Shonerd, RD, Fit4D CDE Last Updated: Nov 6, 2017 - 2:36:37 PM

Foods That Improve Blood Sugar Control

By Laurel Shonerd, RD, Fit4D CDE
Nov 6, 2017 - 2:32:36 PM

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( - A healthy eating plan for helping to control type 2 diabetes often starts with what we call the “plate method” or “myplate”. You may have seen it before: half your plate is full of non-starchy vegetables, one quarter of your plate has lean protein, and the last quarter on your plate is for your starchy carbohydrate rich foods. It also includes a fruit or milk for a snack or dessert.  The plate method keeps things simple and focused on the big picture: fill up on vegetables, choose low fat protein without added saturated fats, and get some nutritious carbohydrates in limited portions.  But maybe you want to do even more to control your diabetes with nutrition, and you are ready to start adding specific foods that have been proven to reduce blood sugars.  Here is a guide to foods that lower the glycemic load of any given meal, improve fasting blood sugar, or help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Remember that none of these are a replacement for your doctor recommended diet, exercise or medication, and when trying any of these foods please consider checking your blood sugar more often to prevent low blood sugar.


Prickly Pear Cactus (also known as Nopales):

In November 2014, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study that demonstrated that eating cactus with a meal significantly reduced post-prandial blood sugars in people with Type 2 diabetes. The lead author of the study reported, “After the consumption of a high-carbohydrate breakfast with a high glycemic index, the addition of nopal significantly decreased the postprandial blood glucose peaks by approximately 20%. For example, if a subject with type 2 diabetes has a blood glucose concentration of 180 mg/dL after 60 minutes of consuming a high-carbohydrate breakfast, the addition of nopal can decrease blood glucose concentration to approximately 144 mg/dL," (Today’s Dietitian). These effects are thought to be caused by the high levels of fibrous polysaccharide and pectin content of the cactus.  You can find cactus already prepared in a can, or fresh at your local Mexican grocery.



There have been many studies done on the effectiveness of cinnamon to lower blood sugars in people with Type 2 diabetes. While results have varied, some studies have shown a modest improvement of 3-5% in fasting blood sugar, while others have shown no improvement at all.  It is important to note that there are different types of cinnamon and that Cassia cinnamon can cause liver toxicity in certain people who are sensitive to it. If you are going to take cinnamon as a supplement or add it to your meals, choose Ceylon cinnamon or limit yourself to a teaspoon or less of Cassia cinnamon per day.



Legumes have many health promoting properties including reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and lowering the glycemic response in people with Type 2 diabetes.  Beans are made up of mostly carbohydrate, protein, and fiber. This makes them a perfect combination for slowing the digestion process, which results in lower post-meal blood glucose.  The soluble fiber slows digestion and keeps blood sugar from “spiking”, while the insoluble fiber gives the feeling of fullness and satisfaction after a meal which reduces overeating.



Vinegar has historically been used to treat many health conditions, and recent studies have shown that when vinegar is taken before a high carbohydrate meal, it reduces the glycemic load of the meal by 20-30%.  Vinegar has very little effect on a lower carbohydrate meal.  It is important to use caution when taking vinegar as a supplement as it can cause tooth enamel erosion and irritation to the stomach. Limit intake to 1-2 tablespoons twice a day, consider watering it down and drinking through a straw, and rinsing with water to reduce damage to teeth. Don’t want to drink your vinegar? Try adding it to meals in the form of salad dressing or as part of a sauce.


Green Tea:

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in the form of catechin in green tea has been shown to reduce weight gain and the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.  While there has been no verifiable evidence of a positive effect on blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes, green tea has been shown to reduce blood pressure, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation, which are all are all risk factors for people with Type 2 diabetes.  Use caution with green tea extract supplements as they have been known to cause liver toxicity.

The Plate Method should continue to be our guide for healthy eating. If you want to add one or two foods that have been scientifically proven to control blood sugar to you diet, you may get even better results.



About Laurel

Laurel Shonerd is a Registered Dietitian, and Certified Diabetes Educator at Fit4D.  She has worked in a diabetes outpatient clinic, a pediatric outpatient clinic, and a wellness center with a focus on disease management and weight loss. Laurel is a Certified Health and Wellness Coach, as well as a Certified Personal Trainer.  She has completed specialized training in physical fitness routines for people with diabetes and heart disease.


When working with people with diabetes, Laurel strives to make nutrition education personal and applicable to each individual’s real-life experience and needs. She supports people in reaching their diabetes management goals one step at a time by giving them the tools they need to succeed.  She believes that diabetes education should be interesting and useful, and support lasting change.





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