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The Ultimate Guide to a Diabetes-Friendly Diet

When many discover that they have prediabetes or diabetes, their hearts sink as they imagine a future filled with bland, tasteless, and uninteresting food. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, according to Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of healthcare, the taste and enjoyment we derive from food, known as rasa, is considered to be at the forefront of good health.

However, this doesn’t mean we can continue eating whatever we want. Instead, Ayurveda recommends specific diets for specific people, depending on their Ayurvedic body type (also known as a dosha) and the health complications they face.

In Ayurvedic thinking, diabetes is considered to result primarily from an excess of kapha dosha. In order to return to a state of health, patients will need to reduce the prevalence of kapha in their diet and lifestyle. Freshly cooked, whole foods that are light, dry, warming, well-spiced, and easy to digest are ideal for the job. Furthermore, favoring astringent, bitter, and pungent flavors will be more useful than those that are sweet, sour, and salty. To balance excess kapha, It’s also best to eat only two or three square meals per day without snacking in between.

A Western Perspective

Additionally, from the perspective of Western medicine, one measurement that is often given great importance when considering what to eat for diabetes is the Glycemic Index (GI). GI is a measure of how much carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. A GI score below 55 is considered low, a score between 55 and 70 is considered medium, and anything above 70 is high. The higher the rating, the more a food raises a patient’s blood glucose levels.

Below, we explore many foods that diabetes patients commonly ask about with both Ayurveda and Western Medicine in mind. We let you know if they’re good or bad for you and why. By the end, you’ll realize that even if you have diabetes or prediabetes, there are plenty of delicious foods that you can fill your plate with!

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As many of you know, excessive blood sugar is the cause of diabetes. Although researchers haven’t determined that consuming excessive sugar directly causes diabetes, they’ve addressed many compelling correlations between sugar intake and rates of diabetes. Additionally, consuming excess sugar can lead to obesity, which is a well-known risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that not all sugars are not the same. The aforementioned research was conducted on refined sugar, also known as table sugar. However, natural sugars that exist in fruits and vegetables, when consumed as whole foods, don’t have the same effect. In fact, consuming sugars in their natural form can actually lower an individual’s risk of diabetes. So, if you have a sweet tooth, know that you can still indulge it in a healthy way.

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Many people with diabetes or prediabetes learn to become expert carb counters, and for good reason. The balance between your body’s insulin levels and the carbohydrates you eat determines your blood glucose levels.

However, carbs can’t be entirely avoided. In fact, according to the CDC, people with diabetes should allocate about 45% of their diet to carbs. That means that the average woman will need 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, and the average man will need 60 to 75 grams per meal.

Carbs come in the form of sweets, fruit, milk, yogurt, bread, cereal, rice, juices, pasta, potatoes, and other vegetables.

Typically, processed foods pose the greatest risk of flooding your body with carbohydrates. So, avoid foods such as white bread or bagels, pastries, and donuts. It’s also often best to avoid sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. If you do feel the need to eat these foods, be sure to talk to your doctor first to determine what your body can handle.

On the positive side of things, fiber controls blood sugar levels. So, it’s always best to find carb sources that are also high in fiber. These can come in the form of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and fiber supplements if necessary. Additionally, combining high carb foods such as white bread or white rice with high fiber foods like beans and nuts will help to prevent your blood sugar from spiking.

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Despite being full of vitamins and minerals, generally speaking, it’s best to eat potatoes in moderation if you are diabetic or prediabetic. The reason being is that potatoes are starchy vegetables and typically receive a high or moderately high GI score. However, with certain cooking methods, potatoes can be enjoyed from time to time.

When preparing potatoes, always leave the skin on to get the benefits of the fiber they contain. Furthermore, eating potatoes alongside fiber-rich vegetables is a great way to prevent blood sugar spikes.

When it comes to cooking methods, boiled, lightly sauteed, and grilled potatoes have a lower GI score than potatoes that are mashed or fried. Also, Ayurveda recommends cooking foods in natural spices and herbs in order to aid digestion. When making potatoes, feel free to incorporate ingredients such as cumin, coriander, oregano, paprika, sage, thyme, rosemary, basil, and sea salt.

It’s good to remember that grains and starchy foods together should make up only one-fourth of your plate at each meal. Anything more than this can lead to blood sugar spikes. So, with these cooking tips in mind, feel free to enjoy potatoes as a side dish or maybe in moderation within a curry dish.

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Cauliflower is an excellent choice for those with diabetes or prediabetes. Although many of us have been led to believe that colorful fruits and vegetables are healthier, the white florets of cauliflower are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while simultaneously holding a GI score of zero!

The American Diabetes Association recommends filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower. This equates to at least three to five servings per day. One cup of raw cauliflower constitutes a serving, and it contains just 25 calories, two grams of dietary fiber, and 80% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C!

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If you love a nice, warm bowl of oatmeal, you’re in luck. Oatmeal can be a great choice for those with diabetes or prediabetes depending on how refined it is. While steal cut and rolled oats have a low GI score because they retain all the plant’s natural fiber and nutrients, instant oatmeal has a high GI score because it is stripped of many of its beneficial attributes. Furthermore, quick oats are often filled with artificial flavors, refined sugars, and added flour.

So, it’s always best to choose steel-cut or rolled oats that are gluten-free and whole-grain.

Oats can be both healthy and delicious if prepared properly. You’ll likely be happy to hear that cinnamon has been proven to prevent blood sugar spikes. So, adding this sweet spice is encouraged when it comes to preparing oatmeal.

To avoid excess fat, it’s best to prepare your oats with water or low-fat milk and to substitute ghee for butter if you need to use cooking oil.

Finally, cooking berries, nuts, and seeds into your oatmeal is a great way to add more fiber to your meal, thus keeping your blood sugar low.

Cream of Wheat

When compared to oatmeal, Cream of Wheat is a slightly less diabetes-friendly choice. The regular form of this breakfast porridge has a moderately high GI score of 66; however, the instant variety scores much higher, making it a bad choice for those with diabetes or prediabetes.

Most Cream of Wheat is made from refined wheat, containing only 5% of your recommended daily fiber. So, this porridge can’t compare compared to some whole grains that provide up to 25% of your recommended daily fiber indicate. For that reason, you should always opt for the whole-grain version of Cream of Wheat when possible.

However, despite these drawbacks, Cream of Wheat isn’t all bad. In fact, it has only 3 grams of sodium per serving. Eating a low sodium diet is crucial for diabetes and heart disease prevention. Furthermore, it is a good source of many nutrients such as iron, calcium, and B vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as selenium, which all work to boost overall health.

When it comes to preparing Cream of Wheat, the same recommendations for oatmeal apply: cook with cinnamon, nuts, seeds, and fruits to make your meal more diabetes-friendly.

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Although it’s often ignored in the standard American diet, eggplant is a delicious, hearty vegetable that is a favorite in culinary arts around the world, from Italy to Turkey to Japan. As such eggplant can be prepared in innumerable ways, ensuring that you’ll have a hard time getting bored with this vegetable.

Eggplant is low in carbs and calories, while high in fiber, allowing it to gain a low GI score of 15. Furthermore, this vegetable is an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, especially when eaten with the skin. If that weren’t enough, eggplant contains high levels of phenol, which have been shown to improve the metabolism of carbs, protect the cells that make insulin, enhance insulin activity, and increase glucose uptake. All these factors together make it a standout choice for those with diabetes or prediabetes.

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In recent years, kale has taken center stage in the health and wellness world, and for good reason. This leafy green vegetable is packed with plenty of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants while simultaneously being low in calories and carbs. As such, kale has a GI score of only 10, making it an excellent addition to the diet of anybody with diabetes or prediabetes.

Eating kale is also a great way to prevent heart disease, which is a well-known complication of diabetes.

When it comes to preparing kale, you have many options including sauteing, steaming, baking, juicing, boiling, and eating raw. Steaming is often the best way to prepare kale because it retains a high quantity of nutrients while making its tough fibers easier to digest.

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Sushi is a beloved food by many. Although it’s not the healthiest option for those with diabetes or prediabetes, with a few modifications it can still be enjoyed in moderation.

In general, fish is an excellent option for those with diabetes; it is a tasty source of healthy fat, protein, and nutrients, without the high calories and unhealthy saturated fats found in other meats.

However, the excessive amounts of sticky, white rice consumed alongside sushi is what makes it a dealbreaker. In fact, short-grain white rice is in the high range when it comes to GI score. So, in a typical sushi meal, the carbs from rice combined with fried tempura and sweetened sauces can quickly get out of hand.

When it comes to sushi, try to stick to sashimi (fish without rice). Also, it’s a good idea to look for restaurants that offer rolls made with brown rice or quinoa in order to keep the fiber content high. Eating a side order of vegetables with your sushi is another way to add more fiber to your meal. Exploring these options can help prevent your blood sugar levels from jumping after enjoying your sushi.

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Squash comes in many shapes, sizes, and varieties, which are broadly grouped into two categories: summer squash and winter squash. Thankfully, both are excellent choices for those struggling with diabetes, meaning that everyone can enjoy squash almost year-round. However, there are some important differences to be aware of.

Summer squash, also known as zucchini, is most commonly found in long, bright yellow, orange, or green varieties. This is an excellent non-starchy vegetable to add to any meal. Being low in carbs and high in fiber, summer squash is kind to your blood glucose levels, scoring just 15 on the glycemic index.

Additionally, zucchini is full of carotenoids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which all work to support an overall healthy life.

Winter squash comes in the forms of pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash. These winter varieties should be enjoyed with a bit more caution than their summer cousins. Unlike its summer squash, winter squash is considered to be a starchy vegetable, meaning it shouldn’t take up more than one-fourth of your plate. Furthermore, winter squash nearly three times the digestible carbs as summer squash. For these reasons, winter squash varieties often receive a GI score in the moderate to high range.

However, that doesn’t mean you should stay away from winter squash. In fact, studies conducted on animals reveal that extracts from winter squash can reduce both obesity and blood glucose levels. Another study verified this reduction of blood glucose in humans.

So, although it shouldn’t be eaten in excess, definitely make the most out of winter squash when it’s available in the fall and winter!

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Although bacon often gets a bad reputation in the health and wellness world, in fact, when eaten properly, it can be enjoyed by those working to avoid diabetes. This is because bacon, in its purest, unprocessed form, has high protein and almost no carbohydrates.

However, unfortunately for most-bacon lovers, there is a catch. Most bacon is highly processed with many added sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Together, these factors can cause a huge spike in blood glucose levels.

In fact, there is a high correlation between the consumption of processed meats and type 2 diabetes. However, on the other hand, studies have found that unprocessed meats don’t correlate to a rise in diabetes.

So, when you buy bacon, make sure to check the package to ensure that it’s minimally processed and totally sugar-free before you buy it. However, even unprocessed bacon can have high levels of sodium, which can exacerbate diabetes complications such as heart attacks and strokes. Because of this, the American Diabetes Association recommends that those with diabetes aim to have 2300 mg of sodium or less per day.

Ultimately, we recommend keeping bacon consumption to a minimum but it would likely be best not to consume bacon at all. If consumed, it would be best to have bacon in unprocessed and in its most natural form, and to be only consumed a handful of times during the late fall and winter.

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Like bacon, pasta is a beloved comfort food to countless people. Unfortunately, this satisfying staple in the standard American diet can send blood sugar levels skyrocketing. With a dangerous combination of high carbs and low fiber, those working to prevent, manage, or reverse diabetes should be wary of their pasta intake.

Although pasta only has a moderately low GI score of around 50, its excessive carbs can quickly lead to weight gain, which is a big risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to eating pasta, many are surprised to find that the recommended serving size is only half a cup! This surprisingly small amount contains 20 grams of carbs, with very little fiber to balance the equation. While many hope that whole wheat pasta will be a healthier alternative, in reality, the carb to fiber ratio isn’t much better.

So, it’s best to avoid wheat, rice, and egg pasta, as well as gnocchi, as much as possible. If you do indulge, make sure to add plenty of vegetables and legumes to increase your fiber intake.

If you can’t give up pasta, then it can be helpful to explore alternatives such as Japanese Konjac Noodles, which are high in fiber with nearly no calories or carbs. Eating spaghetti made from soybeans, black beans, kelp, or vegetables can be a healthy choice as well.

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As many of us have heard, excess sugar is a diabetic’s worst enemy. Thankfully, this does not apply to the natural sugars found in fruits when eaten in their whole, unprocessed form. In fact, eating an abundance of fruits is associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This is because fruits are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which all work to promote overall health.

Although you can enjoy fruits both canned, frozen, or fresh, we always recommend consuming fruits fresh. Food has a life force in Ayurveda, and then consumed frozen or canned, the fruit has lost it’s life energy. When consuming fresh fruits, you have the option of either eating them raw or cooking them into dishes. When consuming raw, it’s best to consume fruits by themselves and not with other food. We recommend raw fruit as a snack between mealtimes. You can also cook fruits into meals, like baked oatmeal using blueberries, in which case the fruit has been made as part of the dish.

As always, portion size is key. Fruits are a source of carbs, so they can be used as a replacement for other carb sources such as grains, dairy, or starchy vegetables in a meal. Also, pairing them with extra fiber in the form of nuts or seeds is always a good idea.

Furthermore, it’s best to avoid fruit that is processed in any way, be it dried, juiced, or blended. You might be surprised to find that just one third to one half a cup of fruit juice can have 15 grams of carbs! Also, only two tablespoons of dried fruits like raisins or dried cherries have the same amount. Furthermore, blended fruit drinks like smoothies are high in sugar that is rapidly absorbed, leading to big spikes in blood glucose. So, when it comes to fruit, always eat it in its natural form.

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Sweet Potatoes

When compared to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are a much healthier option for those with diabetes or prediabetes. Although they are still quite high in carbs, sweet potatoes have a comparatively lower GI score than regular potatoes, landing in the moderate range at around 61. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are also higher in fiber and nutrients such as beta-carotene than white potatoes, making them an all-around healthier choice.

There are many kinds of sweet potatoes. While most of us are familiar with the orange variety, there are other types that provide extra benefits for those with diabetes.

For instance, purple sweet potatoes (also known as Stokes Purple or Okinawan potatoes), which are lavender-colored on the inside and outside, can be a better choice for diabetics. These spuds have a lower GI score than orange sweet potatoes and are also a great source of anthocyanins, compounds that work to reverse or prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance.

Japanese sweet potatoes, also known as white sweet potatoes or Satsuma Imo, are another diabetes-friendly variety. They are purple on the outside and yellow on the inside. They also contain an important component called caiapo, which has been shown to reduce fasting and two-hour blood glucose levels. It also proved to lower cholesterol levels.

With these benefits in mind, it’s important to remember that sweet potatoes are also a big source of carbs. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a serving size of sweet potatoes, which is only half a cup, contains 21 grams of carbs. So always enjoy these spuds in moderation. When preparing them, remember to keep the skins on to get the extra fiber and nutrients that they provide.

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In addition to being loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, beets also have special properties that make them an excellent choice for those working to avoid or reverse diabetes.

The first benefit of beets is that they lower blood pressure, which is often high in those with diabetes. Furthermore, eating beets with a meal is proven to lower insulin resistance and prevent spikes in blood glucose. If these benefits weren’t enough, the antioxidants in beets also reduce the risk of many diabetes complications, such as retinopathy, neuropathy, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.

In addition to these great qualities of beets, there are no known harmful side effects of beets for diabetics. So, feel free to include plenty of beets in your diet!

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Most people with diabetes or prediabetes will be happy to hear that cucumbers are a non-starchy vegetable with almost no carbs! So, you’ll be able to eat almost as much as you could ever want.

Cucumbers are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which contain disease-preventing properties. In addition to this, studies have found that certain cucumber extracts can lower blood sugar levels in rats. However, more research needs to be done before we can safely say the same for humans.

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Maple Syrup

It’s quite common to find maple syrup on the table of your typical American breakfast, drizzled on pancakes, waffles, or french toast. Although many perceive maple syrup to be a more natural sweetener than refined sugar, in reality, maple syrup is pretty much pure sugar.

This sweetener has nearly no fiber, fats, or protein, causing all the sugar to rush right into your veins, spiking blood sugar levels. Furthermore, a serving size is one tablespoon contains 13 grams of carbs, and we all know how hard it is to eat only one tablespoon of this sweet syrup.

When compared to refined sugar, Maple syrup’s one saving grace is that it’s a better source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, its levels of these nutrients pale in comparison to most fruits and vegetables, while also coming at the high price of an enormous sugar load. So, if you do choose to consume maple syrup, be sure to do so in moderation.

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Bananas are quite high in carbohydrates. In fact, one medium-sized banana has 27 grams of carbs and only 3 grams of fiber! However, bananas are also an excellent source of potassium, a nutrient that helps to control blood glucose levels. In fact, one study found that eating bananas regularly lowers fasting blood glucose levels.

So, as long as carb intake is properly monitored, bananas can be a great addition to the diet of anybody with diabetes or prediabetes.

It’s important to keep in mind that less-ripe bananas have a lower GI score than ripe bananas. Furthermore, the greener a banana is, the more resistant starch it has. Resistant starch is similar to fiber in that it aids in digestion while preventing blood sugar spikes. Furthermore, this variety of starch also improves insulin sensitivity.

For these reasons, be sure to always choose small, newly ripe bananas. As mentioned above with fruit, it is best to consume bananas raw as a snack by itself and between meals unless it is being cooked into a dish, of course, like banana bread. It is preferred to consume bananas fresh and not eat them when they have been processed like dried or frozen.

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It’s quite common for diabetics to be told that they should avoid dates, but is there any truth in this recommendation? Well, dates are quite high in sugar, with one cub of chopped dates containing 110 grams of carbs, which contains 95 grams of sugar! However, dates are also an excellent source of fiber. So, these sweet treats don’t need to be entirely avoided. In fact, diabetics can safely enjoy two to three dates per day, as long as they’re careful to avoid other sources of sugar during that same day.

Furthermore, in addition to being an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, studies on rats show that date extracts are a protective agent against diabetes-induced neuropathy. Another benefit is that dates are a great source of vitamin A, which reduces the risk of blindness and improves vision for diabetics.

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Tomatoes are a great choice for diabetics; they have only five grams of carbs and 32 calories per one-cup serving, making them very helpful for weight loss. Furthermore, with a good amount of fiber and a GI score of only 15, tomatoes are kind to blood glucose levels,

Tomatoes can also be a big help in treating the complications associated with diabetes. Studies show that regular tomato consumption can decrease blood pressure, which is often high in diabetes patients. Tomatoes are also proven to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, which reduces the risk of heart attacks. Additionally, tomatoes work to lower both body weight and blood glucose levels. With all these amazing properties in mind, everybody with diabetes or prediabetes should feel free to eat plenty of tomatoes.

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Sesame seeds are an ancient food that are still surprising modern scientists today with their outstanding health benefits. In fact, one study found that sesame oil is linked to a reduction in blood sugar. Furthermore, it also has a synergistic effect with the anti-diabetes medication Glibenclamide, allowing for an even greater reduction in blood sugar when the two are used together.

Another study showed that taking one and a half ounces of sesame seeds per day over 60 days led to a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol. This suggests that these seeds can help prevent heart disease, a common complication of diabetes.

Another frequent complication of diabetes is high blood pressure. Thankfully, it’s also been found that sesame seeds work to lower this too. If that weren’t enough, sesame seeds are also full of antioxidants, which protect against oxidative stress. Since oxidative stress is a big risk factor in the development of diabetes, sesame seeds are a great choice for both those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Certain extracts from sesame seeds are also proven to blood glucose levels in patients with prediabetes.

In addition to these perks, sesame seeds have a low GI score of 35, with only 7.2 grams of carbs and 3.9 grams of fiber per one ounce serving.

With all these great benefits in mind, whether it’s toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, or tahini, there are many fun and delicious ways to start adding sesame to your diet.

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In recent years, quinoa has become quite popular in the United States, and for good reason. This grain has high levels of protein, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber, which all work together to prevent spikes in blood glucose. In fact, quinoa has a low GI score of 53.

However, it’s also important to note that quinoa is a high carb food, with 20 grams of carbs in just half a cooked cup! So, even though quinoa is a better grain than most, diabetics still need to be careful with their consumption. In fact, most are better off avoiding grains altogether, favoring substitutes such as zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice instead.

Many studies have proven the efficacy of a low-carb diet in treating diabetes. One, in particular, found that 95% patients who ate a low-carb, grain-free diet were eventually able to reduce or stop their diabetes medication.

So, if you do choose to enjoy quinoa, like all grains, be sure to do so in moderation and with plenty of vegetables and legumes on your plate as well.

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Hummus is a middle eastern staple consisting mostly of chickpeas, which are legumes. Eating a diet high in legumes is recommended for those with diabetes and prediabetes due to their high fiber and protein levels. In fact, one study found that patients with type 2 diabetes who ate one cup of legumes per day as part of a low glycemic diet showed an improvement in their blood glucose tolerance as well as a reduction in their risk for coronary heart disease.

For hummus specifically, another study found that people who ate at least one ounce of hummus at a meal had blood sugar levels that were four times lower than those who ate white bread with their meal.

When eating hummus, stick to a serving of one third of a cup. Additionally, the best way for diabetics to enjoy this spread is by using it as a dip for raw vegetables, such as carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli.


While we know that hummus is a good choice for diabetics, what about just plain chickpeas? Well, like most legumes, chickpeas are an excellent choice for people with prediabetes and diabetes; they are high in fiber and protein with a low GI score of just 33.

The American Diabetes Association(ADA) recommends eating legumes with many meals each week, so beans such as chickpeas should definitely become a staple in any diabetic’s diet. When eating legumes, its always healthier to buy dried beans or no-sodium canned beans, because the ADA also recommends cutting back on sodium.

Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein, making them a good alternative to meat, without any saturated fats. Furthermore, these beans also contain phytochemicals, which work to stimulate insulin secretion in the body.

With these benefits in mind, feel free to frequently enjoy chickpeas and other legumes.

Enjoying Your Diet While Treating Diabetes

As you can see, a diabetic’s diet doesn’t have to be bland. Rather, there are many delicious foods that have enormous benefits for both preventing and treating diabetes. As always, when shopping, make sure to always buy fresh, organic ingredients whenever possible in order to receive the maximum health benefits.

We wish you all the best on your healing journey!

Want to learn more about healthy cooking for diabetics?

If you’re interested in learning great recipes that incorporate some of these diabetes-friendly foods, we recommend that you attend the Diabetes and Weight Loss Wellness Program & Retreat. You’ll enjoy first-hand cooking demos from world-class Ayurvedic practitioners and with their guidance, you’ll be cooking healthy meals like a pro all on your own in no time.