When it comes to protecting yourself against diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome, diet is one of the most effective tools available. By choosing foods that moderate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, it’s possible to prevent disease and keep your body lean and healthy.
This article provides a list of ten foods that have been shown in studies to improve insulin health and balance blood sugar. Before we get to the list, it should be noted that strength training and an active lifestyle are essential for insulin health. One of the primary predictors of diabetes is lack of physical activity.
For best results, put just as much effort into being physically active as you do into optimizing your diet.
Blueberries are packed with bioactive antioxidants that improve insulin action, possibly by lowering markers of inflammation. A recent study found that obese, insulin resistant volunteers who consumed blueberry smoothies for 6 weeks significantly improved insulin sensitivity compared to a placebo group. Take note that the subjects removed other foods from their diet to offset the calories in the blueberry smoothie so as not to gain body fat over the course of the study.
Vinegar improves pancreatic function so that your body releases less insulin in response to the carbs your eat. This is useful because when you eat high-glycemic carbs, such as bread, cookies, or fruit juice, the pancreas tends to overestimate the amount of insulin needed, releasing too much, which is associated with inflammation and blood sugar imbalances.
#3: Leafy Greens
Similar to blueberries, leafy greens, including kale, collards, arugula, and chard, are packed with antioxidants that will reduce the glycemic response to higher carb foods. Rainbow chard is particularly effective and is known as an anti-diabetic food in Turkey. Including a serving of leafy greens at every meal can improve insulin sensitivity and lower your diabetes risk.
#4: Almonds & Other Nuts
Nuts contain fiber and antioxidants that help sensitize your cells to insulin. For example, one study of volunteers at risk of heart disease found that when they supplemented their diets with almonds, they had a significant reduction in 24-hour insulin levels compared to when they consumed a whole wheat muffin. Walnuts have also been found to improve insulin sensitivity and scientists speculate that other tree nuts will have a similar protective effect against metabolic problems.
Salmon and other fatty fish such as mackerel supply the omea-3 fats EPA and DHA that improve the health of cells so that insulin can more easily bind with receptors. This means less insulin needs to be released from the pancreas to maintain blood sugar in a healthy range.
#6: Lentils & Legumes
Lentils and legumes are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and contain a decent amount of protein for a plant-based food. This combination makes them effective for improving insulin sensitivity and lowering glucose levels when they are regularly consumed as part of the diet. Researchers note that substituting legumes for higher carb foods can have a powerful effect on lowering diabetes risk and improving insulin health.
#7: Green Tea
Green tea and yerba mate are known as nutrient practitioners, meaning they improve insulin signaling to lean tissue cells so that energy is less likely to get stored as body fat. For example, when green tea was consumed in addition to bread, glucose and insulin were lower than when subjects ate bread by itself.
Cinnamon and other spices, such as fenugreek and turmeric, can mimic insulin, which means that less insulin needs to be released form the pancreas in order to regulate blood sugar. Cinnamon helps glucose get into cells to be burned for energy, making it a great spice to sprinkle on higher carb foods like sweet potatoes or oatmeal.
Avocado contains a powerful dose of healthy fat, fiber, and antioxidants that can improve insulin sensitivity. Topping high-carb foods like toast with avocado will lower the insulin response by slowing digestion and moderating the rise in blood sugar. Avocado consumption may also promote metabolic health. For example, including a half an avocado at lunch has been shown to reduce appetite and include satiety so that people eat less at subsequent meals.
#10: Probiotic Foods
Supplementing with probiotics that contain beneficial bacteria has been shown to moderate blood sugar and lower the insulin release of high-carb meals. Foods that contain beneficial bacteria, such as pickled vegetables (sauerkraut, kim chi), and fermented dairy (cheese, yogurt, kefir) will likely have a similar effect.
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Liu, C., et al. Effects of green tea extract on insulin resistance and glucagon-like peptide 1 in patients with type 2 diabetes and lipid abnormalities: a randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled trial. PLoS One. 2014. 9(3):e91163.
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