With type 2 diabetes now affecting over 30 million Americans, this disease now ranks seventh on the list of causes of death. In addition to those already diagnosed with diabetes, though, there are another several million who have the disease but are unaware, including over 80 million who have a condition known as pre-diabetes, which means they are well on their way to developing this disease.
Knowing how to manage your blood sugar, which foods are lowest in natural sugars, and how to change your lifestyle in order to prevent or even reverse diabetes is crucial, therefore, for many Americans. We will help you understand what causes diabetes, how to know if you suffer from this condition, and which foods are the best for helping you maintain consistent blood sugar levels.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Diabetes is the presence of too much sugar in your blood. Your body processes the foods you eat into fuel, and glucose, also known as sugar, is a significant source of energy. When you eat, your body breaks your food down, then releases the glucose from that meal or snack into your bloodstream.
Your pancreas releases insulin, which your cells you to absorb the glucose and use it for energy. Insulin helps the glucose get out of your blood and into your cells. If you do not produce enough insulin, or if your cells are not using the insulin present efficiently enough, then the glucose remains in your blood. This is known as high blood sugar, and persistently high sugar is known as diabetes.
Those with Type 1 diabetes have the disease because the pancreas does not work properly and produces insufficient or no insulin. Most with Type 1 are born with the disorder and have symptoms starting in childhood. Those with Type 1 diabetes much use supplemental insulin to help control their blood sugar, and they will have this disease for their entire lives.
Type 2 diabetes, though, is a form of the disease that develops over time, usually as a result of poor diet and lifestyle choices. Most people with diabetes have this form. When your body produces less insulin, or becomes insulin-resistant, you have the Type 2 form of this disease. Insulin resistance means your cells no longer respond adequately to insulin when it is in your bloodstream, so you have excess glucose.
This usually triggers the production of more insulin, which can lead to further insulin resistance by your cells. This cycle is hard to break for many.
There are many risk factors that can lead to an eventual diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. If you have any of these, you should work hard to control your diet and practice healthy lifestyle habits that can help you prevent this disease. Risk factors common to Type 2 diabetes include being overweight, eating unhealthy foods, leading a sedentary life, living with extreme or chronic stress, having a family history of the disease, smoking, or have a medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, a hormone imbalance, or hypertension.
Your doctor may indicate that you have several risk factors that place you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. If your blood glucose levels are regularly elevated beyond the normal range but do not yet exceed the threshold designated for Type 2 diabetes, you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes. You have started to develop insulin resistance, you have many markers that place you at risk, and if you do not make some changes to how you live and eat, you will very likely develop Type 2 diabetes very soon.
Diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes
Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes involves several medical tests to create a definitive picture of your health. The first test is to monitor your average blood sugar level for the past few months. The A1C test (glycated hemoglobin), will measure how much blood sugar is attached to the hemoglobin in your blood.
This is a good indicator of long-term insulin resistance or high glucose levels. If you test with an A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher two times, you have diabetes, and if your results indicate a percentage between 5.7 and 6.4, you have prediabetes. Anything below 5.7 percent is normal and not cause for concern.
Not everyone is eligible for the A1C test. If you are pregnant, have a hemoglobin variant, or if this test is not available where you live, your doctor may perform one or more other tests to monitor your glucose levels. The most common are random blood sugar tests and fasting blood sugar tests. A random test is taken at any time, regardless of when you last ate, while a fasting test is taken after not eating overnight. The results of these tests will tell your doctor how much glucose is in your blood at any given time.
A fasting blood sugar less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is normal, while levels between 100-125 mg/dL indicate prediabetes. Levels greater than 126 mg/dL on a fasting test show diabetes. For a random test, levels greater than 200 mg/dL are cause for concern and usually indicate diabetes, as well.
An oral glucose tolerance test may be ordered for some with diabetes risk factors. This test starts with an overnight fast, a fasting test, then drinking a sugary liquid. Over the next few hours, blood glucose levels are measured several times. This tells your physician how will your body processes glucose over time, and results of 200 mg/dL after two hours usually indicate diabetes.
If you are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, or have other risk factors for diabetes, you should have regular blood glucose monitoring beginning at age 45. Normal results mean you will not need to be tested for a few years, but borderline results mean you should monitor your glucose levels more frequently.
Being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes is a wake-up call telling you to make changes to your diet and lifestyle. You can change the foods you eat to include more that will not raise your blood sugar, helping you keep your glucose in check. Below are the top 101 foods that you can eat that will not significantly raise your blood sugar levels.
101 Foods That Won’t Raise Your Blood Sugar
The foods that are most likely to cause increased blood sugar are those high in sugars as well as carbohydrates, as they are quickly broken down by your body and converted to sugars. Avoiding sugary foods and beverages will be crucial for maintaining a healthy blood glucose level.
The Glycemic Index
Not all carbohydrates, though, will raise your blood sugar to unhealthy levels. Some carbohydrates are very easy to break down and require very little energy from your body to convert to glucose. When you eat these, they cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. These foods are said to be high on the Glycemic Index, which is a ranking of how various foods affect your blood sugar.
Some carbohydrates are digested much more slowly, and these result in a more gradual release of glucose into your system. Your glucose and insulin levels do not rise significantly when you eat these foods, which are low on the Glycemic Index. Your body needs more time and energy to digest them, so they fuel they produce is absorbed over a longer period.
Foods rated as 55 or less on the Glycemic Index or GI will not raise your glucose levels significantly and are safer to eat than those with an index of 56-69, which are will raise your glucose levels moderately, or those indexed higher than 70, which will cause major spikes in your sugar levels.
Below, we share foods that are low on the glycemic index or naturally are low in carbohydrates, making them safe to eat in moderation while not impacting your blood sugar levels.
These are carbohydrate-based foods that are low on the glycemic index. They have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels and can be eaten in moderation. These carbohydrates tend to have more fiber, which means they are released more slowly into your bloodstream.
- Converted rice
- Corn tortillas
- Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut)
- Oat bran
- Muesli with no added sugars
- Whole-wheat tortillas
- 100% stone-ground wheat or pumpernickel bread
- Cereal made with 100 percent bran
Legumes and Beans
These foods do contain some amount of carbohydrates, but they are also healthy and plant- based sources of protein and fats, which are good for your body. Always adhere to recommendations regarding serving sizes, though, as some of these foods are high in fat when not eaten in moderation.
Legumes and beans can be made from dried or canned varieties. If choosing canned, watch for added ingredients, including salt and fats.
- Peanut butter made with only nuts and salt
- Almond butter made with only nuts and salt
- Cashew butter made with only nuts and salt
- Chia seeds
- Garbanzo beans
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Butter beans
- Hummus prepared with chickpeas
Some vegetables contain more starch than others, making them higher on the GI. Limiting your consumption of these to the recommended portion and serving size will allow you to enjoy these in moderation and not cause huge spikes in your blood sugar level.
Most of these vegetables are very high in fiber, which means they are more slowly digested and converted into glucose.
- Acron squash
- Butternut squash
- Yellow Squash
- Spaghetti squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green beans
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Spring or green onions
- Red Bell Peppers
- Tomato Juice
- Vegetable juices with no added sugars
While fresh fruits do contain natural sugars, they are also high in fiber, which slows down the metabolism of the carbohydrates in them and releases them more slowly into your system, resulting in a steadier blood sugar level.
Opt for whole fruit that has been minimally processed. Avoid fruit juices, as they do not contain the necessary fiber to keep them low on the GI.
- Sour cherries
Zero Carb Foods
- Game meats
- All fresh fish
- Most fresh seafood
- Lean lunch meat
- Olive oil (less than one teaspoon)
- Coconut oil (less than one teaspoon)
Products made from cow’s or goat’s milk contain natural sugars in the form of lactose. In minimally processed forms, lactose will not significantly raise blood sugar if you eat them in moderation.
Never select dairy products with added sugars, full fat has less carbs than nonfat dairy.
- Low-Fat yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Cheddar Cheese
- String Cheese
- Mozzarella Cheese
Other Foods and Beverages
These are foods that can be used as condiments or seasonings, as well as beverages that can help keep your blood sugar steady.
- Sugar-free hard candy or chewing gum
- Sugar-free jam or jelly (one teaspoon)
- Sugar-free syrup
- Herbs-fresh or dried
- Spices of all kind
- Lemon or lime juice
- Tea and Coffee (Without Sugar)
- Low-Sodium broth
5 Practical Eating Tips For Better Managing Type 2 Diabetes
Making small changes in your diet can not only lower your blood sugar but also help you manage your weight, which plays a significant role in your ability to regulate your glucose levels. Below are some tips for healthier eating which can help in your fight against Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
1| The Significance of Body Weight
Being obese or overweight significantly impacts your body’s use of glucose. A very large percentage of those with Type 2 diabetes are also overweight, so reducing your body weight is a way to lower your risk factors for this disease and improve your body’s ability to use glucose and insulin properly.
Added fats cells and pounds are just more pressure on your system to manage its use of insulin properly. When you carry around extra weight and fat in your midsection, sometimes referred to as belly fat, is another risk factor for diabetes as well as heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders.
Because maintaining a healthy weight is vital to your health as well as the treatment and prevention of diabetes, monitoring your portion size is vital. Eating less of all foods will help you lower your weight and improve your body mass index (BMI). Eating smaller portions will also cause fewer spikes in blood glucose levels, as will eating smaller, more frequent meals or snacks.
Losing weight by eating a healthy diet that contains plenty of foods low on the glycemic index will help you lower your blood sugar as well as improve your overall health. Follow these guidelines for a healthier life that include reduced blood glucose levels.
2| Focus on Fiber
Fiber can help you not only manage your weight but also control your blood sugar levels and improve the health of your gastrointestinal tract. Foods that contain soluble fiber are digested more slowly, and their energy is released into your bloodstream slowly.
This causes a steady glucose level instead of one with spikes and valley. A plant-based diet that is high in whole fruits and vegetables will increase your daily fiber intake.
3| Use Healthy Fats in Moderation
Fats are digested much more slowly than sugars and other carbohydrates. While some fats are bad for your heart, others are necessary to support your overall health as well as the healthy functioning of your cardiovascular system. Focus on fats with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The right combination of healthy fats, in moderation, will not raise your cholesterol or triglycerides and can help protect your heart while keeping blood sugar levels steady.
4| Stay Hydrated
When making changes to control your blood glucose levels, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. Drinking sugary beverages, sweetened sodas, and other high-sugar drinks can cause significant spikes in blood glucose levels.
Avoid drinking sweet juices, sodas (even sugar-free ones), and other sweet beverages. To maintain healthier glucose levels, drink more water, which not only helps you maintain sugar levels but also has significant benefits to your overall health.
Drinking enough water keeps your kidneys and liver functioning properly, helps maintain a healthier blood pressure, improves the texture and appearance of your skin, prevents headaches, and supports healthy digestion of your foods as they are converted to glucose. Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water throughout the day to help improve your overall health and prevent as well as treat Type 2 diabetes.
5| Eat Lean Proteins
Unlike carbohydrates, proteins are naturally released very slowly into your bloodstream, slowing down the absorption of glucose by your cells. Protein from lean, whole-food sources can, therefore, help control your blood glucose levels and provide your body with essential nutrients. Lean proteins such as wild-caught, cold-water fish also contain essential fatty acids that are necessary for your brain and heart health.
Lifestyle Tips for Type 2 Diabetes
In addition to changing your diet, there are other lifestyle changes you can make that will help your body more effectively use insulin, reduce your weight, and lower your blood sugar levels. These healthy lifestyle choices will benefit your overall well-being in many positive ways, including the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
1| Visit Your Doctor Regularly
When you are at risk for or already have diabetes, it is critical that you see your doctor regularly. Regular visits will help you monitor your risk factors for diabetes and other diseases, allow you to discuss prevention and treatment options with your doctor, and keep you apprised of any other health issues that may be related to your diabetes. Monitoring your blood glucose levels regularly will also be essential for your health.
Those with diabetes are also more likely to have other health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Women with diabetes or pre-diabetes are also more likely to have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and other endocrine problems. Your doctor should monitor you for all of these conditions if you have diabetes or are pre-diabetic.
2| Get Enough Exercise
Exercising regularly can help you control your weight, which is a large risk factor for diabetes. Your cells become more sensitive to the effects of insulin when you exercise. This means you will actually need less insulin to maintain your blood glucose at healthy levels. Exercise is most effective when it is moderately or highly intensive, and you must perform it regularly to enjoy this benefit reliably.
To help you stay motivated and stick with a regular exercise routine, select activities you enjoy, such as swimming, cycling, walking, group exercise classes, or strength training. Be sure you are doing at least thirty minutes of exercise at least five days per week for maximum benefit to your blood sugar as well as your overall health.
3| Quit Smoking
Smoking has so many negative effects on your health, and that includes increasing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Smoking can lead to heart disease, emphysema, and cancer, as well. Those who smoke are more likely to be overweight, which is a risk factor for diabetes. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke increases inflammation levels, which means your cells become less sensitive to insulin. Cigarette smoke damages all cells in your body, not just your lungs, and these cells have a harder time performing their functions, such as removing sugar from your blood.
Quitting smoking or reducing the amount you smoke can significantly improve your health, including your blood glucose levels. If you live with someone who smokes, this can influence your health, too, so talk with your loved ones and encourage them to quit smoking.
4| Get Better Sleep
There is a strong link between sleep and blood sugar. Your kidneys have to work harder to eliminate excess glucose when your blood sugar is high, and this leads to more frequent urination, including at night. Nighttime trips to the bathroom interrupt deep, restful sleep.
Those who sleep less or find their sleep less than restful are at risk for unhealthy eating habits, which can increase blood sugar and lead to further diabetic symptoms. You can find yourself in a cycle of little sleep, bad eating and exercise habits, higher blood sugar levels, and back to getting less sleep.
Stress can also increase your sleeplessness and raise your blood sugar. Stress leads tot eh release of cortisol, sometimes called the stress hormone. Elevated cortisol makes your cells more resistant to insulin and contributes to further elevated glucose levels, too.
Be sure you are devoting enough time to sleep, are eating properly to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and working to reduce or cope with the stress in your life.
Controlling your blood glucose levels is critical for preventing and treating Type 2 diabetes. This disease is more prevalent than ever due to the unhealthy diet of most Americans, which includes too many simple carbohydrates, not enough dietary fiber, and too much added sugar in processed foods.
Switching to a diet that includes more plants, fewer animals, and no processed or packaged foods will help you maintain a steadier blood sugar level as well as get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to be healthy.
Making big changes to your diet and lifestyle can be difficult to maintain long-term. If you are trying to learn to control your diabetes or prevent future problems, you may want to consider joining a support program for those with diabetes.
Nationwide, there are hundreds of community programs designed to support those learning to live with and treat their Type 2 diabetes. Programs such as these are a great way to get more education about your eating and lifestyle habits as well as gain the emotional support that is sometimes necessary when making significant and permanent changes in your health.
Preventing and treating Type 2 diabetes can protect you from some of the harmful effects of this disease, which include blindness, loss of limbs, and even premature death. To live a longer, healthy life, it is crucial that you control your blood sugar levels and eat foods that will supply you with the energy you need without the sugar you do not.