The Healthiest, Science-Backed Foods For Diabetics

Switching to a diabetic diet can be a real challenge. Diabetes and prediabetes require monitoring of their blood sugar, carbohydrates, and weight. Allowing blood sugar to rise may lead to kidney illness, heart disease, and even nerve damage.

Fortunately, people with diabetes can enjoy a yummy diet if they know what to eat. They can still enjoy flavor-enhancers such as garlic and cinnamon. And a trick as simple as drinking milk in the morning may regulate blood sugar. If you want to learn about the healthiest food options for diabetics, look no further.

Dark, Leafy Vegetables Are They Way To Go

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Dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are essential for diabetes. Their greatest strength is their high level of vitamin C. In 2015, researchers found that vitamin C reduces inflammatory markers and blood sugar. Published in Drug Design, Development, and Therapy, the study suggested that leafy greens may reduce symptoms in people with type 2 diabetes.

Leafy greens are packed with minerals while being low in calories and carbohydrates. Another study by the University of Lanchester concluded that eating more leafy greens reduces one’s risk of type 2 diabetes. Spinach, cabbage, and kale will work wonders in a diabetic diet.

Drink Milk In The Morning

Kyle Kaly adds milk to his cup of coffee at the Undergrounds Coffeehaus.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For a long time, experts have debated over milk’s effect on diabetes. But more and more studies are finding a positive link between the two. In the Journal of Dairy Science, a 2018 study found that eating breakfast with milk may help diabetic people throughout the day. The protein makes you feel fuller later, which regulates both blood sugar and appetite.

The researchers paired milk with a high-carbohydrate cereal and found promising results. In 2016, scientists at Tel Aviv University reported that dairy products control blood sugar more effectively than eggs and soy. The point is: feel free to eat a whole-wheat cereal.

A Few Berries Can Go A Long Way

A small wooden plate holds raspberries and blueberries.
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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Whether you prefer strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, all help to combat diabetes. In the journal Obesity, researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology stated that berries benefit insulin resistance. In particular, those who ate two cups of raspberries a day had lower glucose concentrations.

Even a small amount of berries can reduce the risk of diabetes. In a Chinese study, those who ate 17 grams of berries had a 5% drop in their risk of type 2 diabetes. That’s equal to 13 blueberries, nine raspberries, two blackberries, and one large strawberry.

Peanut Butter Prevents Blood Sugar Spikes Later On

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Pinterest

Natural peanut butter is a low glycemic food, and it’s quite filling. Registered dietitian Erin Spitzberg recommends peanut butter because it “will slow digestion and keep you full a little longer.” The gradual digestion will also prevent blood sugar spikes later in the morning.

During a pilot study in 2018, adults who ate two tablespoons of peanut butter with white bread and apple juice experienced a less extreme blood sugar spike. However, Spitzberg recommends spreading peanut butter over your favorite whole grain toast or oatmeal.

For Healthy Fats, Cook With Olive Oil

Woman pours out olive oil infused with a butter flavoring over a pan of cauliflower, brussels sprouts, red and yellow peppers and broccoli.
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Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Although olive oil has a lot of calories, it reduces cholesterol more effectively than other types of fats. Olive oil contains healthy fats that regulate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. During a 2015 study, researchers from Sapienza University in Rome discovered that olive oil reduces the harmful cholesterol, LDL.

Credit goes to olive oil’s antioxidants, called polyphenols. According to the journal Cardiovascular Diabetology, these antioxidants lower inflammation and protect your blood cells. This way, olive oil may help regulate blood pressure.

Enjoy Whole Grains Guilt-Free

Small loaves of homemade whole wheat bread are aligned on a burlap sack.
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Chapeaux Marc/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although some diabetic diets discourage bread, you don’t have to cut out grains. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating whole grains if you have diabetes. Scientists from Chalmers University say that “there hasn’t been a single study which has shown negative health effects” of whole grains on diabetes.

In 2018, these same researchers found that whole wheat reduces the risk of diabetes. Those who ate 50 grams a day (one bowl of cereal or one slice of bread had a 22% – 34% lower chance of developing diabetes. So don’t be afraid of whole-grain bread.

Don’t Worry About Sweet Potatoes

Girl eats a sweet potato at the Ming Dynasty Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China.
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Tim Graham/Getty Images

Unlike other starchy foods, sweet potatoes reduce diabetic symptoms. Registered dietitian Leah Kaufman says that sweet potatoes have lower GI than white potatoes, so eating a medium-sized potato can regulate your blood sugar. They also provide anti-diabetic minerals such as vitamin C, iron, and fiber.

However, sweet potatoes’ GI changes depending on how you cook them. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers report that boiled sweet potatoes have the lowest GI. Roasting increased sweet potato GI more than any other method, although frying was a close second.

Eggs Are Good For Cholesterol

An egg fries in a pan.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For years, eggs have been demonized for raising cholesterol. In reality, eggs reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) and raise HDL cholesterol (the heart-healthy kind). According to The British Journal of Nutrition, this cholesterol change can stabilize blood pressure and blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.

During the 2011 study, participants ate two eggs a day to receive the benefits. Since eggs have a lot of protein, they keep you fuller and regulate your blood glucose. If you eat eggs, include the yolk, since most of the egg’s nutrition comes from there.

Another Reason To Enjoy Garlic

Christopher Ranch Executive Vice President Ken Christopher poses for a photo after burying himself in a crate of garlic skins.
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JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

If you love garlic, you’re in luck. Several studies have reported that garlic regulates blood sugar, cholesterol, and inflammation. During 2011 research in Pakistan, people with type 2 diabetes consumed 900 mg of garlic daily over 24 weeks. In the end, participants experienced better cholesterol, glycemic control, and triglycerides.

According to the Journal of Ayub Medical College, garlic also decreases LDL cholesterol and raises beneficial HDL cholesterol. Although a small amount of garlic won’t transform your health, it’s still another reason to enjoy garlic.

A Handful Of Nuts May Prevent Heart Disease

A woman placed peeled almonds in a blender to create a crumble.
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DeAgostini/Getty Images

A handful of nuts every day may benefit people with diabetes. In 2019, a study in Circulation showed that nuts decrease the likelihood of heart disease in diabetic patients. After eating one-ounce servings of nuts five times a week, those with type 2 diabetes were 17% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

The researchers reported that the most effective nuts were walnuts, pistachios, and almonds. However, these aren’t the only nuts that work. Cashews and peanuts also improve blood pressure and cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes, according to the Journal of Nutrition.

A Little Bit Of Cinnamon Can Make A Big Difference

Cinnamon sticks are held in a mint-colored container.
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Chris Walton/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Several studies have suggested that cinnamon soothes diabetic symptoms. In 2012, a study in Nutrition Research found that cinnamon extract improved blood sugar in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes. The Journal of Diabetes Research noted the same result from cinnamon tea.

Chronic diabetes is determined by measuring hemoglobin A1c, which cinnamon directly affects. During a 2019 study, people with type 2 diabetes had lower A1c levels after consuming one gram of cinnamon every day for three months. You don’t need a lot to make a difference. Stick to less than one teaspoon per day, as more can create health problems.

Eat More Beans

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If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association advises that you eat beans a couple of times each week. During a 2012 study published in JAMA, people who ate more beans gained better glycemic control. Beans have a low glycemic index, and they digest slowly, which keeps your blood sugar stable for longer.

Beans also provide a lot of fiber. According to Mayo Clinic, fiber slows the absorption of sugar to improve blood glucose levels. A high-fiber diet can also prevent type 2 diabetes for those with high risk. For an easy source of fiber, eat more beans.

Don’t Forget Citrus Fruits

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Unsplash/@143premsai

The American Diabetes Association lists citrus fruits as diabetic superfoods. Although lemons and oranges are acidic, they still help diabetes. According to Harvard Health Publishing, eating citrus juice with a high GI food lowers the overall glycemic index. The acidity converts starch into sugar, which has a gentler effect on blood sugar.

Citrus fruits also prevent insulin resistance. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, grapefruit relieves insulin resistance. Participants who ate more grapefruit also lost weight. Eating oranges, mandarins, limes, or lemons will similarly improve your health.

Tomatoes, Raw Or Cooked, Improve Blood Sugar

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Unsplash/@ecasap

Whether raw or cooked, tomatoes alleviate diabetic symptoms. During a 2011 study, participants who ate 200 grams (less than one cup) of tomatoes per day experienced better blood sugar levels. Diabetic patients also recorded improved blood pressure after eating tomatoes daily.

Tomatoes are non-starchy, low GI fruits (yes, they’re fruits) with few carbohydrates. According to research, tomato’s high vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, and lycopene make them anti-diabetic and potentially anti-heart disease. It’s no wonder why the American Diabetes Association recommends tomatoes.

Why Nutritionists Recommend Greek Yogurt

Dairy manager stocks Greek yogurt at a grocery store.
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Pawel Dwulit/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Unlike other types of yogurt, Greek yogurt has low carbohydrates with high protein. Diabetes educator Tami Ross, RD, recommends Greek yogurt to all of her patients. Because it’s a low GI food, Ross explains, you can eat it in the morning to manage your blood sugar throughout the day.

In 2014, a study published in BMC Medicine noted that yogurt reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers examined three large studies, and according to them, people who eat a cup of yogurt a day are 18% less likely to develop diabetes. So yogurt is clearly doing something right.

The Promise Of Ginger

A chef minces fresh ginger for a sauce.
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Romulo Yanes/Condé Nast via Getty Images

Although research on ginger and diabetes is limited, the current studies seem promising. In 2018, scientists examined several clinical studies in the Archives of General Internal Medicine. They concluded that ginger lowers LDL cholesterol and raises heart-healthy HDL cholesterol. The root also regulates blood sugar in patients with diabetes.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe the arteries and blood vessels. Ginger powder supplements also help type 2 diabetes, according to a study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements.

Chia Seeds Are Great For Diabetes

A sqaure-shaped bowl of chia seeds rests on more chia seeds.
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Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

With high fiber and low carbs, chia seeds are the perfect diabetic food. They also supply omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for diabetes. During a 2017 controlled trial, diabetic patients who ate chia seeds experienced weight loss and more glycemic control. Over six months, chia seeds showed better results than an oat bran alternative.

Keep in mind that soaking chia seeds in water helps your body absorb their nutrients. You don’t have to soak them overnight; simply drop them in water for two to three minutes before adding the seeds to smoothies, oatmeal, or cereal.

Quinoa: Better Than Rice

Cookbook author Laura Wright pours dried quinoa into a pot.
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Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Quinoa is a seed that’s eaten as a grain, similar to rice. It offers more protein and fiber than most rice, and it won’t cause a blood sugar spike with its low glycemic index. Plus, one cup of cooked quinoa supplies only 40 carbohydrates. It’s an easy alternative to rice.

The research backs up quinoa’s health effects, too. According to a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food, Peruvian Andean grains like quinoa have powerful antioxidants. The researchers believe that quinoa can help manage type 2 diabetes.

Squash Provides Healthy Anitoxidants

Slices of butternut squash are being roasted.
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Derek Davis/Staff photographer

Like many vegetables, squash contains a healthy amount of antioxidants. That may be why squash has improved insulin levels in animal studies. During a 2005 study, pumpkin proteins were fed to diabetic rats. The proteins increased serum insulin, lowered blood sugar, and heightened rats’ tolerance to glucose.

More research needs to be done on squash’s effects on humans. One study, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, recorded that winter squash improved blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. If you monitor your carbs, squash may help a diabetic diet.

Fatty Fish Relieves Your Arteries

Chef So Kwai-fung demonstrates how to cook his fresh salmon.
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Oliver Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Fatty fish have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. Specifically, their fatty acids are DHA and EPA, which reduce inflammation in your arteries. In Food & Nutrition Research, a 2016 study says that DHA and EPA help your arteries function after eating. This regulates your metabolism.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes eat fatty fish twice a week. In 2019, researchers from Chalmers University of Technology discovered that pollutant-free fatty fish prevents type 2 diabetes. If you’re at high risk, consider eating fatty fish as well.

The Benefits Of Apple Cider Vinegar

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Twitter/@ciderkegmarket

Apple cider vinegar converts apples into fermented acetic acid, which lowers the carbs to one gram per tablespoon. During a 2015 study, scientists found that apple cider vinegar improves insulin sensitivity. Over time, this may lower blood glucose levels.

According to one study by the American Diabetes Association, taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed reduces fasting blood sugar by 6% in people with diabetes. Another study recorded that consuming apple cider vinegar with carbs decreases blood sugar response by 20%. Of course, apple cider vinegar doesn’t cure diabetes, but it may help blood glucose levels.

Broccoli Reduces Liver Damage

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Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While all cruciferous vegetables are healthy for diabetes, broccoli contains a special antioxidant called sulforaphane. In 2017, an animal study in Science Translational Medicine showed that sulforaphane regulates blood sugar. It after undoes signs of disease in the liver.

After the success of the animal study, researchers tested the compound on humans and found the same result. That’s not to say that eating broccoli will cure all signs of disease. Rather, it’s a natural source of sulforaphane that could help your blood sugar levels.

Blood Sugar Drops With Flaxseed

A wooden spoon is in a pile of flaxseeds.
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Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Like chia seeds, flaxseeds provide healthy fatty acids. During a 2016 study in Current Pharmaceutical Design, researchers revealed that flaxseed increases insulin sensitivity, which allows blood sugar to drop over time. However, the result was not repeated in other studies.

Even so, flaxseeds have high fiber and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Dr. Asquel Getaneh of Everyday Health, ALA is a fatty acid that may work to prevent heart disease, which diabetics are susceptible to. If you incorporate flaxseeds into your diet, make sure that your blood sugar doesn’t drop too much.

All The Reasons To Eat Avocado

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JOSE CASTANARES/AFP via Getty Images

Avocado are a yummy source of “healthy fats,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that stabilize healthy cholesterol levels. Registered dietitian Jackie Newgent says that avocado’s fats and fiber aid people with diabetes. “[Avocados] help slow carbohydrate digestion and absorption and prevent spikes in blood sugar,” she explains.

There’s also evidence that avocados help people manage weight. In 2013, a crossover study indicated that participants felt more satisfied and fewer cravings after eating avocados. This helped overweight participants lose some extra pounds. Even if weight isn’t an issue, avocados can still benefit diabetics.

Canned Tuna Makes Carbs Better

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JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Depending on the proteins and fats you eat with carbs, your body could digest the carbs much slower. Tuna fish is one of those proteins. In 2017, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined several protein-carb combinations. They noted that adding tuna to white bread produced a lower blood sugar spike.

As a fatty fish, tuna is also high in omega-3 fatty acids that stabilize glucose levels. Canned light tuna is low in mercury, unlike albacore tuna. So despite the added sodium, canned tuna could be a good choice in a diabetic diet.

Lentils Have a Minimal Impact On Your Blood Sugar Levels

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Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Lentils not only have a minimal impact on your blood sugar levels, but they’re also good for gut health, too. The carbs found in lentils are rich in resistant starch, which your body basically passes through without breaking down or digesting.

The legume is rich in iron and folate while also providing plenty of protein. Cook these up in 5-20 minutes for a healthy snack that’s beneficial for diabetics and people with a sensitive stomach.

Asparagus Tops the List

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Asparagus tops the list as one of the best foods for diabetics, so if you love it you’re in luck! The green sticks are rich in folate, containing 89 micrograms of it which is more than 20% of your daily recommended value of the stuff.

For people with Type 2 diabetes, a diet with folic acid lowers your risk for cardiovascular problems because it helps reduce homocysteine levels. That’s incredibly valuable to diabetics, as a high homocysteine level has been identified as an increased risk of mortality in diabetics.

Red Onion Can Help Lower Levels of Blood Sugar

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FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In case you needed another reason to add red onion to your dish, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that the oligofructose found in red onion increases levels of ghrelin. A hormone, ghrelin controls hunger and can lower blood sugar levels.

The study also found that due to bioactive sulfur-containing compounds found in red onions, they can also help lower cholesterol, making this food a two-for-one punch for diabetics. If you eat them raw, even better!

Zucchini Noodles Can Help You Cut Back On Carbs

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Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you enjoy the taste of zucchini, you might consider making zucchini noodles in place of carbohydrate-heavy pasta. “Zoodles” as they’re often called, have increased in popularity in recent years due to their similar texture and taste of pasta without all of the added carbs.

Use a countertop spiralizer or handheld spiralizer to make thin strips out of the zucchini that will form long spiral strands. Who knows, it might just change the way you look at pasta forever.

Green Tea, The Metabolism Booster

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Unsplash/@moniqa

Tasty and hydrating, green tea is a sugar-free alternative to plain water. And according to cardiologist Susanne Steinbaum, DO, it also increases green tea sensitivity. “Green tea is good for people with diabetes because it helps the metabolic system function better,” she told Everyday Health.

Because green tea fights off obesity, it also helps to prevent diabetes. During a Japanese study, participants who drank six cups of green tea per day were 33% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. But you don’t have to drink that much green tea to reap the benefits.

Oatmeal Has An Unusual Type Of Fiber

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Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It’s no secret that oatmeal supplies fiber. But its type of fiber, beta-glucan, differs from most other food. According to research in Vascular Health and Risk Management, beta-glucan regulates blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, and decreases the risk of hypertension in people with diabetes.

However, you won’t find this anti-diabetic effect in most flavored oatmeal packets. Registered dietitian and nutritionist Jackie Newgent advises diabetics to buy savory oatmeal. You can get raw oats or steel-cut oats and then add the sweet flavor through honey, cinnamon, or fruit.

Consider Cauliflower (Possibly As A Pizza)

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Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Cauliflower is a low-carb, flexible vegetable that can sneak into any dish. It also controls blood sugar in people with diabetes. During an animal study published in Science Translational Medicine, cauliflower improved glucose tolerance in rats with a high-sugar diet.

That’s not to say that you can binge on sugar and then cure it with cauliflower. But it does suggest that cauliflower can fit into a diabetic diet, especially cauliflower pizza. Pair it with an organic tomato sauce and a low-glycemic cheese, and you have a meal!

Edamame, An Ideal Soy Snack

A person holds a bowl of soy over a meal of sushi and low mein.
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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Edamame contains a host of anti-diabetic benefits, according to registered dietitian and nutritionist Jenna Braddock. She says that edamame’s high fiber (ten grams per cup) and high protein can prevent blood sugar spikes. It also provides choline, a nutrient that erases markers of heart disease from the bloodstream.

There have been some suggestions that soy does not benefit diabetes. However, more research is needed to substantiate this claim. Most nutritionists recommend edamame as a small source of soy, since the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Carrots Are Perfectly Safe

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Nikolas Joao Kokovlis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Some people have heard that carrots are loaded with too much sugar, but this is a misconception. A registered dietitian from Seattle, Rene Ficek, combats this. She says that carrots are as non-starchy as broccoli and lettuce, so they’re safe to eat without fear of a blood sugar spike.

If you’re still nervous, Ficek recommends eating the carrots raw. “Cooking vegetables makes their carbohydrates more bioavailable,” she explains, “so sticking with raw will have a more minimal impact on blood sugar.” Carrots make a great low-carb snack when dipped in guacamole or hummus.

Two Great Things Make Something Even Better: Hummus

Pita and bread are dipped into a pile of hummus.
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Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Hummus is a creamy spread made with chickpeas and olive oil. Because its main ingredients are good for diabetics, hummus makes a great diabetic snack as well. Registered dietitian and nutritionist Nicole Anziani praises it for its high protein, which keeps your blood sugar level.

According to a study in BMC Nutrition Journal, diabetics who ate one ounce of hummus had better insulin levels than those who did not. That could have to do with how both olive oil and chickpeas slow digestion and the absorption of sugar.

Have Some Dark Chocolate Once In A While

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Unsplash/@dovilerm

Diabetes and chocolate have always been enemies, at least on the surface. But diabetics can still have a decadent candy once in a while. The Global Diabetes Community in the U.K. recommends dark chocolate, which is chocolate that has 70% or more cocoa. It has fewer sugar additives than other kinds of chocolate.

As with all sweets, you have to limit your consumption of dark chocolate. Nutritionist Nicole Anziani says that just an ounce of dark chocolate can produce enough cortisol to assuage stress and lower cravings. The Global Diabetes Community recommends eating it before exercising.

Snack On Popcorn

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Paltu Shyamal/IndiaPictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If it’s not from a movie theatre, popcorn is one of the best snacks for diabetics. Raw, whole-grain popcorn without butter or oils is a low-fat, low-sugar craving cutter. According to research in Advances in Nutrition, popcorn helps people feel fuller, which prevents extra snacking and blood sugar spikes later on.

Although popcorn is a low GI food, it’s on the higher end than other snacks. You’ll want to measure your serving sizes before digging in, as popcorn is a carbohydrate. But compared to chips or crackers, it’s a superior option.

Celery, The Ultimate Diabetic Snack

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Celery is a low-calorie vegetable full of vitamins. Physicians and nutritionists alike recommend celery as a diabetic snack because it has virtually no calories. The Defeat Diabetes Foundation added the celery lowers blood pressure and stabilizes blood sugar.

In 2012, a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases discovered that the bacterium H. Pylori can triple a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes. Celery can block the growth of H. Pylori and, by doing so, prevent blood sugar from rising. Thank its high amounts of vitamin K for this ability.

Drink Seltzer Water For Fizzy Cravings

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Charlotte Ball/PA Images via Getty Images

Instead of picking up a sugar-filled, pro-diabetes soda can, opt for unsweetened seltzer. Seltzer water is a mineral-free water that’s carbonated with carbon dioxide. In one study, people who drank fizzy water for two months had healthier cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Seltzer water comes in many flavors, so you don’t have to drink it plain. Compare it to soda or fruit juice, and you have a much healthier option. It contains no sugar and sometimes some fiber. So crack open a cold can and enjoy!

Wild Rice, As Good (If Not Better) Than Brown Rice

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JOHN CROFT/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Although we’ve established that whole-grain rice is safe to eat, we haven’t discussed wild rice. Wild rice is made from grasses, so it contains more protein than brown rice. Like other diabetes-safe rices, wild rice has a moderate GI which makes it safe to eat in moderation.

Wild rice also provides fiber, which registered dietitian Beth Reardon supports. She says that fiber-rich rices keep blood sugar steady because it is not digested by the body. Combined with the high protein, wild rice may inhibit blood sugar spikes.