If you have diabetes, thinking about your blood sugar is a part of everyday life. If you don’t have diabetes, the state of your blood sugar probably rarely crosses your mind. The thing is, though, when it comes to following a nutritious, disease-fighting diet, eating for healthy blood sugar should be on everyone’s mind. “I once worked with an endocrinologist that told me, ‘everyone should eat like a diabetic,’” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.
Why Everyone Should Eat for Healthy Blood Glucose
Blood sugar, or glucose, is your main source of energy, and it comes from the food you eat. Since all foods are not created equal (if only a slice of three-layer chocolate cake were as good for you as steamed broccoli!), each thing you eat is going to release varying levels of sugar into your bloodstream. Then insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps your body convert that sugar into energy. When you have type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use it well, which leaves excess sugar circulating in the blood.
“Whether you’re diabetic or not diabetic, [eating for healthy blood sugar] can go a long way to keeping you healthy,” says Largeman-Roth.
Keeping your blood sugar levels under control can help balance your energy levels and prevent complications from high or low blood sugar. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious problems, like kidney, foot and eye issues, and even increase your risk of heart disease.
How to Eat for Better Blood Sugar
If you’re at a do-it-yourself pasta bar, you may fill your bowl with noodles, then top it with a ladle full of sauce. This meal isn’t ideal for anyone—whether they have diabetes or not. “Instead of sitting down and having a giant plate full of pasta or a giant bowl of rice, we should be eating a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats at each meal, because that really does help us regulate our blood sugar,” says Largeman-Roth.
A healthy diet for diabetes is very similar to a regular healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and nuts and seeds. According to the American Diabetes Association, here’s how to build a diabetes-friendly meal:
- 50% non-starchy veggies, like broccoli, spinach, or carrots
- 25% grains or starches, like corn, quinoa, or pasta
- 25% lean protein, like turkey or chicken
Add a serving of fruit or dairy (1 cup), if your eating plan allows
Sip on a low-calorie drink, like water or unsweetened tea
“I think the real difference is when you’re diabetic you have to focus on the amount of carbohydrates you’re taking in at every meal and every snack. That’s a daily thing that you have to really commit to for the rest of your life,” says Largeman-Roth.