If you have been recently diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, or have been managing these conditions for a while, you are more than likely aware of the immense power of a healthy nutritional meal plan. What you eat and drink plays a major role in reaching your HbA1c goal, along with a regular exercise routine, an effective stress management plan, and adhering to your medication regimen.
The HbA1c test is a three-month average of your blood sugar levels, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The HbA1c test measures the amount of glucose that has entered the bloodstream and bonded with Hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, over the course of three months. This is the average lifespan of a red blood cell. The more glucose that enters the bloodstream, the higher the amount of glycated hemoglobin, which is reflected in a higher HbA1c level.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA),an HbA1c level below 5.7 percent is considered normal; between 5.7 and 6.4 signals prediabetes; and over 6.5 percent indicates type 2 diabetes.
Here is a handy printable HbA1c chart and conversion calculator to make it easy to keep track of your levels at home, in between healthcare visits!
For many people living with diabetes, the goal is to reduce their HbA1c and manage their blood sugar levels to prevent future diabetes-related complications.
According to MedlinePlus, having elevated blood sugar levels for an extended period of time can lead to vision problems, nerve damage, amputations, and kidney damage, amongst others.
Whether your goal is to achieve good control of your current blood sugar levels, or to lower your HbA1c quickly, there are certain kinds of foods experts agree can be beneficial in a diabetes meal plan, based on both their nutritional value and where they lie on the Glycemic Index. There are quite a few foods that may help lower your blood sugar levels, but some may be more effective than others. Keeping in mind that body weight, activity, stress, and genetics also play a role in regulating blood sugar levels, following a healthy meal plan is probably the most critical for lowering your blood sugar and HbA1c levels long term.
Also, adding the strategies of carbohydrate and calorie counting to your self-care routine can be very helpful in reaching your diabetes management goals, whether eating a home-cooked meal, indulging in the occasional pizza, or dining out at your favorite restaurant.
Keep reading to discover which foods can lower your blood sugar and HbA1c levels quickly, without sacrificing taste!
The Power of The Glycemic Index And Glycemic Load
There are certain kinds of foods that are very helpful in lowering blood sugar levels quickly based on their Glycemic Index and their Glycemic Load. The Glycemic Index (GI), is a scale that measures how quickly carbohydrate-laden foods can cause blood sugar spikes once eaten. Foods that are valued low on the GI increase glucose in the bloodstream at a slower rate than high GI foods, for instance, sweet corn, which can cause rapid high blood sugar spikes, per MedlinePlus.
It is important to factor in the glycemic load, as well. Like the GI, GL measures how a food will affect blood sugar levels not only based on its carbohydrate content, but also takes into consideration the food’s serving size. Therefore, the GL offers a more complete picture of the food’s blood sugar level effect, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A GL of 10 or less is considered low, 11 to 19 is medium, and 20 and above is high, according to Oregon State University.
Carbohydrate And Calorie Counting
An effective foundational approach to lowering blood sugar levels is to count carbohydrates. During digestion, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is a type of sugar. Certain types of carbohydrates, namely “simple” carbohydrates, can raise the amount of sugar in your blood quickly, according to the NIH. Simple carbohydrates usually are found in refined and processed foods-think baked goods and white bread and rice.
Also, keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight is key to reducing insulin resistance, per the CDC. Paying attention to the overall calories you take in, be it from carbohydrates, fats or proteins, will help mitigate weight gain. Did you know, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, that just a 5 to 10 percent loss of body weight can improve your blood sugar numbers and lower your risk of diabetes by 58 percent? That’s a very doable goal! A healthy weight not only will minimize your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but it will also help your cardiovascular health, says the ADA. This is a must for people living with diabetes, as diabetes and heart disease, along with other complications, go hand in hand, according to the CDC.
Foods That Help Lower Blood Sugar Levels Quickly
While some foods, including those high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates, can contribute to rapid blood sugar spikes, others can actually optimize blood sugar regulation while promoting overall health!
The following is a list of foods that you may want to consider incorporating into your nutritional meal plan to help lower your daily blood sugar levels, and eventually lower your HbA1c.
1. Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts: Sulforaphane, a plant chemical that is produced through an enzyme reaction when chewed, is a type of isothiocyanate that has been found to have blood sugar-reducing properties. This chemical is found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts. Test-tube, animal, and a few human studies have shown that sulforaphane-rich broccoli extract has potent anti-diabetic effects, helping enhance insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar and oxidative stress markers. Broccoli sprouts also are concentrated sources of glucosinolates such as glucoraphanin. Research suggests that these compounds help promote insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels in people living with type 2 diabetes when supplemented as a powder or extract. Incorporating more cruciferous vegetables into your meal plan may even reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but more research is needed.
2. Seafood: Seafood, including fish and shellfish, is a valuable source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may help regulate blood sugar levels. Protein is essential for efficiently lowering your blood sugar levels. It helps slow digestion, prevents post-meal blood sugar spikes, and increases feelings of fullness. Plus, it may help prevent overeating and promote excess body fat loss! A high intake of fatty fish such as salmon and sardines has been shown to help improve blood sugar stabilization. In a small study with 68 participants, overweight and obese adults who ate 26 ounces (oz), or 750 grams (g), of fatty fish per week had significant improvements in post-meal blood sugar levels compared with those who consumed lean fish, such as haddock.
3. Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds: Brightly colored and packed with fiber and antioxidants, pumpkin is a great choice for quickly lowering your blood sugar levels. Did you know that pumpkin is actually a traditional diabetes remedy in many countries, including Mexico and Iran? Interesting! Pumpkin is high in a type of carbohydrate called polysaccharides, which have been studied for their blood sugar-regulating potential. Treatments with pumpkin extracts and powders have been shown to significantly decrease blood sugar levels in both limited human studies and animal studies. More research is needed, however, to determine how whole pumpkins may benefit your blood sugar and HbA1c levels. Pumpkin seeds are packed with healthy fats and protein, which make them an excellent choice for blood sugar control. A small 2018 study with 40 participants found that consuming 2 oz (65 g) of pumpkin seeds reduced post-meal blood sugar by up to 35%!
4. Nuts and Nut Butter: Research has shown that eating nuts may be an effective way to help both regulate and lower blood sugar levels. In a small study of 25 people living with type 2 diabetes, consuming both peanuts and almonds throughout the day as part of a low-carbohydrate diet reduced fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels. Also, a review found that consuming various types of tree nuts led to reduced fasting blood sugar levels in people living with type 2 diabetes. The authors of this study did note, however, that the results were not clinically significant and that more research would be necessary.
5. Okra: Okra is a fruit that’s commonly used like a vegetable. It’s a rich source of blood sugar-lowering compounds such as polysaccharides and flavonoid antioxidants. Okra seeds may be beneficial as a natural remedy for diabetes due to their potent blood sugar-lowering properties! Rhamnogalacturonan, the main polysaccharide in okra, has been identified as a powerful antidiabetic compound. Plus, okra contains the flavonoids isoquercitrin and quercetin 3-O-gentiobioside, which help reduce blood sugar by inhibiting certain enzymes. Although animal studies suggest that okra has potent antidiabetic properties, more human research studies would be necessary for confirmation
6. Flaxseed: Flaxseed is rich in fiber and healthy fats which may help reduce blood sugar levels. In an 8-week study of 57 people with type 2 diabetes, those who consumed 7 oz (200 g) of 2.5% fat yogurt containing 1 oz (30 g) of flaxseed each day experienced significant reductions in HbA1c levels, compared with those who consumed plain yogurt. Moreover, a review of 25 controlled studies found that eating whole flaxseed led to significant improvements in blood sugar regulation. Best of all, flaxseed adds a deliciously nutty flavor!
7. Beans and lentils: Beans and lentils are rich in magnesium, fiber, and protein. These nutrients may be able to help lower blood sugar levels! They are particularly high in soluble fiber and resistant starch, which help slow digestion and may improve blood sugar response after meals. A study of 12 women demonstrated that adding black beans or chickpeas to a rice meal significantly reduced their post-meal blood sugar levels compared with eating rice alone. Many other studies have shown that eating beans and lentils can benefit blood sugar regulation and possibly help protect against the development of diabetes.
8. Kimchi and Sauerkraut: Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut contain health-promoting compounds, including probiotics, minerals, and antioxidants. Research associates these compounds with improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity! A 2021 review concluded that probiotic foods had a notable effect on blood sugar regulation in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers noted that these foods had the greatest impact on people whose diabetes was not well managed and those who were not on insulin therapy. Most studies into the effect of fermented foods on blood sugar regulation, however, involve rodent or cellular investigations. As a result, further controlled human studies are necessary.
9. Chia seeds: Eating chia seeds may benefit blood sugar control! Some studies even link chia seed consumption to reductions in blood sugar levels and improvements in insulin sensitivity. A 2020 review of 17 animal studies concluded that chia seeds might help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation and potentially reduce disease risk, including the risk of diabetes. Also, a study of 15 healthy adults showed that participants who received 1 oz (25 g) of ground chia seeds alongside 2 oz (50 g) of a sugar solution had a 39% reduction in blood sugar levels compared with those who consumed the sugar solution alone.
10. Kale: People often describe kale as a “superfood”, and for good reason. It contains multiple compounds that may help decrease blood sugar levels, including fiber and flavonoid antioxidants. A study that included 42 Japanese adults demonstrated that consuming either 7 or 14 g of kale-containing foods along with a high-carbohydrate meal significantly decreased post-meal blood sugar levels compared with a placebo. Research has shown that the flavonoid antioxidants found in kale, including quercetin and kaempferol, have potent blood sugar-lowering and insulin-sensitizing effects.
11. Berries: Numerous studies link berry intake with improved blood sugar stabilization. Berries contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them an excellent choice for people with wanting to lower their blood sugar and HbA1c levels. A 2019 study found that eating 2 cups (250 g) of red raspberries with a high-carbohydrate meal significantly reduced post-meal insulin and blood sugar in adults living with prediabetes compared with a control group. In addition to raspberries, studies have shown that strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries may benefit blood sugar management by enhancing insulin sensitivity and improving glucose clearance from the blood, getting into the cells more effectively for energy use.
12. Avocados: Adding Avocados to meals may offer significant benefits for blood sugar control due to their richness in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Numerous studies have found that avocados may help reduce blood sugar levels and protect against the development of metabolic syndrome through fat loss. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increases chronic disease risk, including high blood pressure, prediabetes, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.
13. Oats and Oat Bran: Including oats and oat bran in your meal plan may help lower your blood sugar levels due to their high soluble fiber content, which has been shown to have significant blood sugar-reducing properties. An analysis of 16 studies found that oat intake significantly reduced HbA1c and fasting blood sugar levels compared with control meals. Moreover, a small study of 10 people found that drinking 7 oz of water mixed with 1 oz of oat bran before eating white bread significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar compared with drinking plain water.
14. Citrus Fruits: Although citrus fruits contain natural sugar, they are considered low to medium on the glycemic index. Citrus fruits are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are packed with fiber and contain plant compounds such as naringenin, a polyphenol with powerful antidiabetic properties. Eating whole citrus fruits may help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce HbA1c, and protect against diabetes.
15. Kefir and Yogurt: Kefir and yogurt are fermented dairy products that may help regulate blood sugar.An 8-week study of 60 people with type 2 diabetes showed that drinking 20 oz per day of kefir, a probiotic-rich yogurt drink, significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels compared with drinking kefir that did not contain probiotics.Yogurt consumption may also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. In a 2022 analysis of 42 studies, the authors concluded that each 50 g (1.7 oz) of daily yogurt intake was associated with a 7% decrease in type 2 diabetes risk.
16. Eggs: Eggs are a concentrated source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some studies have linked egg consumption to better blood sugar regulation! A study of 42 overweight and obese adults living with either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes showed that eating one large egg per day led to a significant 4.4% reduction in fasting blood sugar and improvements in insulin sensitivity compared with an egg substitute. What’s more, during a 14-year follow-up study of 7,002 Korean adults, frequent egg intake of two to less than four servings per week was associated with a 40% lower risk of diabetes than eating eggs once per week or less. This association was apparent in men but not in women.
17. Apples: Apples contain soluble fiber and plant compounds, including quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and gallic acid, which may help reduce blood sugar levels and protect against diabetes A study of 18 women found that eating apples 30 minutes before a rice meal significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar compared with eating rice alone.
Keep in mind, however, that your overall nutrition intake, as well as factors such as your daily activity level and achieving a healthy body weight, are a powerful combination of tools to ensure good blood sugar control and strong protection against diabetes-related complications and other chronic diseases.