Take Control: Best Foods for Controlling Diabetes

By Polly Rea Photography by Joe Filshie

Take Control: Best Foods for Controlling Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a major public health issue, with serious consequences for sufferers. But the key to controlling – and even preventing – diabetes may lie in our kitchens at home.

According to the World Health Organisation, 90 per cent of diabetes cases across the globe fall into the type 2 category, which can be controlled by lifestyle factors. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and the right diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Visceral fat, which sits around the organs, secretes hormones that contribute to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Daily exercise limits visceral fat and builds muscles, which contain large amounts of glutathione – a valuable antioxidant – as well as many insulin receptors on their cells, promoting glucose clearance from the blood.

A diet low in carbohydrates with adequate protein and high levels of good fats will also ensure proper secretion of insulin and therefore optimum blood sugar levels. Foods high in carbohydrates cause a spike in the release of insulin which – when repeated over years – causes the receptors to become resistant. Consuming protein, good fats and fibre with all meals will slow the breakdown of the glucose and encourage a steady release of insulin.

A well-balanced diet is key but some nutrients are especially useful as part of your daily diet.


This mineral’s ability to help improve insulin action in pre-diabetes and control blood glucose in type 2 diabetes is of special interest to researchers. Broccoli is a rich source of chromium and easily added to your dinner plate on its own or in a salad.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

An antioxidant that helps protect the body against cell damage, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) may have an impact on insulin sensitivity as it may help turn glucose into energy. ALA may also be an option in the treatment of pain associated with diabetes neuropathy. Small amounts are found in grass-fed meats as well as broccoli and spinach.


When it comes to reducing diabetes risk, magnesium is involved in carbohydrate and glucose metabolism. This vital mineral plays an important role in helping regulate blood sugar levels but its availability is decreased in times of stress and during exercise, so regular intake is essential. Dietary sources include dark leafy greens, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and nuts.


Another mineral important in maintaining healthy blood sugar metabolism, zinc can be found in high amounts in the cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin and, being used in the production of insulin, keeping zinc levels high is important. Zinc is depleted with high sugar intake, as many zinc molecules are required to break down one sugar molecule. Pepitas are high in zinc – try snacking on these crunchy seeds between meals instead of high-sugar alternatives.

Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D have been found in people with diabetes, suggesting it may play an important role in reducing risk – especially as vitamin D can be synthesised in many cells, including those in the pancreas, influencing its sensitivity to insulin. While sensible exposure to sunlight is a great source, small amounts can also be found in egg yolks. Consult your health practitioner before taking supplements.


For our bodies to work effectively, we need to convert glucose from the food 
we eat into energy that’s then distributed around the body. Insulin, a natural hormone we produce within the body, is essential for this process. When the pancreas does not produce enough – or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces – high blood glucose levels are the result. People who have type 2 diabetes can manage these levels through self-care and monitoring

Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, are high in magnesium, which improves insulin sensitivity. A deficiency in 
cellular magnesium 
increases the risk of diabetes. Be sure to eat leafy greens at least twice a day


Limes and other citrus contain high levels of soluble fibre, making them ideal to eat every day. They help regulate how sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, reducing spikes in blood sugar. Citrus also have a low glycemic index

Green Tea

Polysaccharides in green tea may possess the same ability to regulate blood sugar as insulin, making it a powerful tool. Be sure to include green tea with meals, particularly those high in carbohydrates


This common household spice helps regulate blood sugar levels. Best as a preventative rather than a treatment, cinnamon can be sprinkled over whole baked fruit and enjoyed as a healthy dessert.


Eating lean protein, such as chicken, at every meal will ensure increased satiety, reducing the likelihood of 
overeating. Protein 
also helps build healthy muscle mass, which is linked to lower insulin resistance


Flaxseed is one of the most concentrated plant sources of omega-3 fats, as well as being rich in antioxidants and fibre while low in carbohydrates. It all adds up to a food that helps reduce the risk of diabetes


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