You hear the term in almost every health-food related article these days: “superfoods!” They’re often hyped as the latest and greatest nutritious powerhouses — overflowing with potent antioxidants or able to work wonders like zap fat or reverse diabetes. In short, we’re told that they are the foods we’ve all been missing! But are they really?
It is no surprise that many of my clients come to me asking if they should start eating more of these sensationalized food items in order to lose weight or better manage their diabetes. In reality, while some of these spotlighted foods may be a great addition to a healthy, diabetes-friendly eating plan, they are by no means a cure-all solution. In fact, eating a variety of healthy, whole foods (most of which don’t need to be sought out from the depths of the Amazon or come with a hefty price tag) can be a much more effective way to get in all of those vital nutrients that help keep your diabetes, and overall health, in check.
For me, the real “superfoods” are the tried-and-true basics that provide plenty of nutrients and fill you up without the sugar spikes:
1. Non-Starchy Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables include dark, leafy greens, green beans and peppers (versus starchy veggies like corn and potatoes). Loading up at least a quarter of your plate with non-starchy veggies at each meal can help to fill you up on lots of fiber and fewer calories, which can aid in both blood glucose stabilization and weight reduction. Opting for more non-starchy veggies is also a great way to increase your intake of antioxidants and phytochemicals (a fancy name for healthy plant compounds) that help to ward off disease.
Not a vegetable fan? Try adjusting your palate gradually by sneaking chopped or pureed veggies into foods you already love like soups or casseroles. Or bulk up that burger or sandwich with several slices of tomato and a handful of spinach. Explore different recipes that sound appetizing and you may start changing your perception of vegetables before you know it.
2. Wild Salmon or Tuna: Few animal proteins offer up the amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids quite like wild salmon or tuna. These cold-water fish have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and have major heart-protecting properties that are particularly important for staving off coronary heart disease, a high risk factor for those living with diabetes.
The ADA recommends getting in fish at least two times per week to reap its ticker-protecting benefits.
3. Nuts: Similar to fatty-fish, nuts have an excellent nutrition profile that research suggests can both reduce HbA1c levels and lower amounts of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the body. It only takes about 2 ounces of nuts per day to see these great effects.
Try adding a tablespoon of chopped nuts to salads or oatmeal for an extra punch of protein and healthy fats. Or pair a handful of raw almonds or walnuts with a piece of fresh fruit for a great, mid-day snack that won’t send blood sugars surging.
4. Beans: Another great way to get a healthy dose of fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates is by incorporating more beans into your diet. Beans not only offer up a hefty variety of vitamins and minerals, but some studies have shown that eating more beans can help to keep blood sugars lowered and keep HbA1c levels in line.
5. Berries: Many of my clients with diabetes will shy away from eating berries and other fruit because of their natural sugar content, but incorporating a few servings per day of these antioxidant-packed morsels can help to satisfy a sweet tooth and have the bonus of fiber to prevent glucose from soaring. Add a handful of fresh or frozen berries to smoothies or yogurt for a great between-meal snack.
6. Plain Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is a very versatile ingredient that packs almost double the amount of protein of regular yogurt varieties and is typically lower in overall carbohydrates. Better yet, Greek yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics, also known as “friendly” gut bacteria that promote healthy digestion and may play a major role in the prevention and management of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Seek out yogurts with few ingredients and no added sugars or thickeners. If you do like your yogurts sweetened, try adding fresh or frozen fruit to avoid spiking blood sugars. It can also be used in baking and as a substitute for sour cream in savory dishes.
7. Whole Grains: Trying to cut back on your carbohydrate intake? It’s a good idea to reduce refined versions, but you may want to rethink completely eliminating high-fiber whole grains. Due to their complex carbohydrate make-up, whole grains break down slowly, releasing glucose into your bloodstream at a much more gradual pace than their processed counterparts. Plus, many whole grains contain valuable nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium or chromium, which has been shown to play an important role in reducing insulin resistance.
There is no need to search far and wide for superfoods to help manage your diabetes and eat a healthy diet. True superfoods don’t have to be trendy or high-priced – they’re just nutrient-rich foods that make it easier for you to manage your diabetes. And the best news is many of these nutritious powerhouses may be found right in your neighborhood grocery store.