If you've recently been told that you have elevated blood sugar (or hyperglycemia), you're in good company. One in three adults have pre-diabetes and many don't even know it! On top of that, according to the CDC, 34 million American adults have diabetes.
You probably already know that avoiding sugary foods and refined carbohydrates will help improve your blood sugar levels naturally, but that's not a prescription for a joyless diet plan for the rest of your life. There are many delicious foods you can look forward to eating that will help you stabilize your blood sugar and maintain glycemic control.
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Keep reading for our list of foods that lower blood sugar.
What's a Glycemic Index (GI)?
The Glycemic Index is a measure of how each food affects your blood sugar level, on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the larger the glucose spike.
Those looking to lower their blood glucose level should choose primarily foods with low GI levels, but one "hack" to allow you to consume all foods in moderation is to carefully pair your foods, for a combined low GI way of eating.
An example of this would be to pair blueberries, a higher GI food, with some full-fat Greek yogurt. Your body takes longer to digest the fatty, protein-rich Greek yogurt which will extend the digestion time of the blueberries as well, leading to an overall lower glucose spike.
Foods that Lower Blood Sugar
While there's no food that can immediately lower blood sugar, especially in a diabetes-related emergency, there are foods that will help optimize blood sugar control and lead to overall better health.
Mothers really do know best: you need to eat your broccoli.
Of course, it's not just broccoli that can help when it comes to blood sugar. All vegetables in the cruciferous family, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, have been linked to a lower risk of diabetes. (1)
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts in particular carry the added magic of a compound called sulforaphane. This plant chemical is produced when broccoli is chopped or chewed.
Sulforaphane has been shown in studies to have strong antidiabetic effects: it helps improve insulin sensitivity and it reduces both blood glucose and markers of oxidative stress. (2,3)
Broccoli sprouts are especially concentrated sources of glucosinolates (compounds that reacts with an enzyme called myrosinase, also found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, to form sulfoaphane). They've been shown to reduce blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity in those with type 2 diabetes. (4)
The best way to consume broccoli and broccoli sprouts and maximize the sulforaphane's bioavailability (the percentage your body can use) is to eat them raw, lightly steamed, or with the addition of the enzyme myrosinase which is naturally occuring in high amounts in mustard powder. (5)
Kale is another cruciferous veggie that's especially good for lowering blood sugar because it contains a type of antioxidants called flavonoids, such as quercetin and kaempfero.
In one study of 42 adults, foods that contained either 7 or 14 grams of kale were consumed along with a high-carbohydrate meal. Both the lower and higher doses of kale resulted in lower blood sugar levels after the meal compared with the placebo. (6)
Try steaming some broccoli and sprinkling on some mustard seed powder, or adding kale to your meals that contain carbohydrates!
Fatty Fish and Seafood
Fish are rich in protein, which is an essential component of blood sugar management. Consuming protein with every meal (and snacks!) helps reduce blood sugar spikes by slowing digestions, and also improves satiety so you're less likely to reach for that carbohydrate-rich snack between meals.
In addition to the protein content, the healthy fats in fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines for example, help improve blood sugar levels.
One study of healthy overweight adults showed that those who consumed 26 ounces of fatty fish per week (a sizeable amount - a standard 4 ounce serving every other day) had a considerable improvement in post-meal blood sugar levels compared with the group eating less-fatty fish. (7)
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi are rich in fiber and antioxidants (like all vegetables), and they also contain microbiome-promoting probiotics. Those who consume them have been shown to have improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. (8)
One study of 21 prediabetic adults showed that eating fermented kimchi for 8 weeks improved both glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity in 33% of participants. (9)
Another study with 41 diabetic participants showed that following a traditional Korean diet including kimchi for 12 weeks had greater reductions in HbA1c compared with the control group. (10)
Research has also shown that fermented dairy products like kefir and yogurt can improve blood sugar control.
One 8-week study of 60 people with type 2 diabetes showed that those who drank 20 ounces (600 mL) of kefir per day reduced fasting blood sugar and HbA1c compared with the control group. (11)
Yogurt may also be helpful: one 4-week study of 32 non-diabetic adults also showed that eating 5 ounces (150 grams) per day improved their insulin and blood sugar levels after meals. (12)
Legumes (Beans and Lentils)
All legumes are considered low GI (even baked beans, a less desirable option, have a medium GI). They're rich in complex carbohydrates including resistant starch, soluble fiber, and protein, along with magnesium - all of which are great for blood sugar regulation and slowing digestion after meals. (13)
Numerous studies have demonstrates that consumption of beans and lentils helps with blood sugar management, but not only that; eating legumes can actually protect against diabetes. (14)
One small study also showed that the addition of black beans or chickpeas to rice significantly lowered post-meal blood sugar, compared with rice alone. (15)
While fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars, it doesn't mean you should abstain from eating them: certain types are actually beneficial for blood sugar.
Berries are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Studies on raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries have all shown that they can improve insulin sensitivity and accelerate glucose clearance from the blood, and even reduce post-meal blood sugar when combined with a high-carb meal. (16, 17, 18)
Citrus fruits are another type of fruit that's beneficial for blood sugar. They're considered low GI, packed with fiber, and they also contain a plant compound called naringenin, a diabetes-fighting polyphenol. (19)
Citrus fruits lower HbA1c, improve insulin sensitivity, and can protect against diabetes. (20)
Even apples have been associated with improved blood sugar outcomes, as they are rich in soluble fiber and diabetes-fighting plant phytochemicals including quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and gallic acid. (21) Three studies covering over 187,000 people showed that consuming more fruits including apples, blueberries, and grapes, led to reduced type 2 diabetes risk. (22)
Fresh fruit consumption, especially lower-glycemic fruits like berries, citrus, and apples, is always a good idea when it comes to lowering blood sugar. (23)
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in fat and protein, both necessary for satiety, but their benefits specifically for blood sugar go beyond that.
A review of studies on tree nuts found that eating 2 ounces (56 grams) per day lowered fasting blood sugar and HbA1c in people with type 2 diabetes. (24)
Flax seeds are another blood sugar powerhouse. One review of 25 studies showed that their consumption significantly improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity. (25)
Chia seeds are another type of seed that may benefit blood sugar. In addition to numerous animal studies showing the benefits for blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, one small human study showed eating 1 ounce (28 grams) of ground chia seeds with 2 ounces (57 grams) of a sugar solution reduced blood sugar levels by 39% compared with consuming only the sugar solution. (26)
Pumpkin seeds are another seed rich in fat and protein and have been studied for their blood sugar benefits. A study of 40 people showed that eating 2 ounces (57 grams) of pumpkin seeds with a meal reduced blood sugar by 35% compared with the control group. (27)
It's important to note that not all nuts and seeds are equally beneficial when it comes to blood sugar: cashews, macadamia nuts, and roasted, salted, and candied nuts are all considered high-GI foods that should be eaten in moderation. Most other nuts, nut butters, and seeds are lower GI.
While technically a fruit, avocados deserve their own category. They're known for being rich in healthy fats, but they also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that benefit blood sugar control.
There have been countless studies showing that avocados reduce blood sugar and protect against metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes a number of symptoms (including high blood sugar) and can lead to chronic disease. (28)
It's worth a note that it's difficult to find research on avocados and blood sugar that isn't funded by the Hass Avocado Board, so take it with a grain of salt but also rest assured that avocados are still generally considered a low-GI, heart-healthy food.
Oatmeal and Oat Bran
Oats and oat bran are rich in blood sugar-friendly soluble fiber.
One review of 16 studies found that consumption of oats reduced HbA1c and fasting blood sugar. (29) Another small study found that drinking 7 ounces of water with 1 ounce of oat bran reduced blood sugar after eating, compared with just drinking water. (30)
Eggs provide protein and fat, along with vitamins and minerals which are great for blood sugar.
One 14-year study on 7002 Korean adults showed that 2-3 servings of eggs per week lowered the risk of diabetes by 40%, compared to one serving or less per week - this was only true for men, however. (31) Other studies have shown that eggs can reduce fasting blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
There's a handful of herbs and vitamins that have been proven to stabilize your blood sugar and improve your insulin resistance, naturally. These include Ceylon cinnamon (not to be confused with the more common, cheap Cassia cinnamon), turmeric (taking with black pepper extract improves absorption by 2000%), garlic, and of course- berberine. (32,
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Yes, you can take control of your blood sugar! In addition to listening to your doctor's recommendations, try incorporating more of the foods above and less high-GI choices, like sugary treats. If you need extra support and want to get your blood sugar under control faster, try the Why Not Natural blood sugar and inflammation capsules, found here.
(1) Relation of Fruits and Vegetables with Major Cardiometabolic Risk Factors, Markers of Oxidation, and Inflammation
(2) Sulforaphane Prevents Hepatic Insulin Resistance by Blocking Serine Palmitoyltransferase 3-Mediated Ceramide Biosynthesis
(3) Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease
(4) Effect of broccoli sprouts on insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized double-blind clinical trial