You’ve heard the term more times than you can count: superfood. But what exactly does it mean? Simply put, a “superfood” is a food that’s packed with nutrients. There’s usually a high percentage of one particular nutrient that makes a superfood “super,” like vitamin A or potassium.
When it comes to fighting chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, which is often preventable, adding the right superfoods to your diet is key. And it’s easy! Here’s what you need to know about diabetes superfoods, along with four expert-approved recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Diabetes superfoods: 101
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which your body doesn’t produce enough (or any) insulin, or doesn’t properly use insulin to metabolize glucose, a sugar your body needs to fuel itself. While genetics definitely play a role, research shows that diet and exercise habits are also main contributors to the development of type 2 diabetes. For example, risk factors like obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and low physical activity can be reduced or even eliminated by eating the right foods and exercising regularly. Enter: diabetes superfoods.
Here are 10 so-called superfoods to introduce into your daily diet:
- dark leafy greens
- citrus fruits
- fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
- whole grains with ample amounts of fiber
- fat-free milk and yogurt
According to American Diabetes Association, these foods are full of fiber, protein, and healthy fats (as well as vitamins and antioxidants) and low in simple sugars and saturated fats. In other words, they’re packed with the good stuff without all the bad stuff known to increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. Also, they have a low glycemic index, which is an important ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods that is based on the food’s effect on blood sugar.
But before you “superpower” your diet with an endless supply of these diabetes superfoods, it’s important to know this: Superfoods are also part myth. While there are veggies and fruits that are incredibly nutritious, experts emphasize that no single food can prevent or revert disease. And just like anything else, superfoods should be eaten in moderation and as part of a well-balanced diet and regular exercise regimen to get their full benefit.
“’Superfoods’ seem to have come into existence due to their high nutrient content of one particular nutrient,” says Puja Mistry, MS, RD, LD, the Houston regional dietitian at H-E-B Grocery Stores. “For example, kale became a superfood due to its high vitamin K content. Acai and blueberries for their antioxidants, avocados for their healthy fats, edamame for their protein. However, these foods alone cannot get the job done. They are excellent sources of what they provide, but they work best in combination with a variety of healthy foods. Basically, one food alone isn't going to be a cure for anything.”
With that philosophy in mind, it’s relatively simple to incorporate superfoods that help fight diabetes into your everyday meals. If you’re not sure how, these nutritionists and dietitians have four easy superfood recipes that you don’t need a culinary degree to whip up and enjoy.
If you’re not much of a breakfast person or prefer to eat on the go, a morning smoothie is perfect to kick-start your day, especially if it’s chock-full of fiber. Rebecca Lewis, in-house dietitian at HelloFresh, offers a personal favorite recipe that’s as pretty (and easy!) as it is good for you.
Turmeric orange smoothie
- 8 ounces of water
- 2 medium-sized carrots
- 1 orange
- 1/2 cup of frozen mango
- 1-inch piece of turmeric root, grated = 1 Tbsp (if you can’t find this, use 1 tsp of ground turmeric powder)
- 1-inch piece of ginger, grated = 1 Tbsp
1. Peel the orange, carrots, turmeric, and ginger (grate, if necessary).
2. Blend all ingredients and enjoy!
*Tip: Be careful with touching the turmeric. Once used as a fabric dye, turmeric can seriously stain your clothes.
“Most superfoods are plant-based,” says Lewis. “This is important because the basis for any diet intended to increase health and wellness includes a large intake of fruits and vegetables, [which are] also a rich source of fiber. This is critical for people with diabetes, as fiber slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream (as well as helps curb cravings).”
And an extra bonus is that Lewis’s smoothie has turmeric, a ginger-like spice that may help treat and prevent type 2 diabetes.
For many busy people, lunch is a common time to eat poorly. But regularly dining out for lunch can undo all your hard work eating well throughout the day. So instead of heading to the drive-thru, pack a nutritious, superfood meal the night before or in the morning. It’ll help you keep your sugar and fat intake low, while still fueling you for the rest of your day. Love a good salad? Registered dietitian and food blogger Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, LD has one that’s perfect to satisfy your hunger and combat type 2 diabetes.
Blackberry peach salad
- 3 cups of chopped kale
- 20 mint leaves
- 1 cup fresh blackberries
- 1 large peach, diced
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 1/4 cup toasted almonds
- 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp honey
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp poppy seeds
- Toast almonds by heating them in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant.
- Combine kale, mint, berries, peaches, goat cheese, and almonds in a large bowl.
- Whisk together dressing ingredients and pour over salad.
*Tip: Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container. This salad can be made up to one day ahead of when you want to eat it.
“One piece of kale is not going to cure anything,” says McMordie. “It's best to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so aim for one of them being an antioxidant-packed 'superfood.' Aim for a serving of nuts at least twice a week and a serving of fish at least twice a week.”
When the afternoon munchies hit, resist the urge to grab a bag of chips or other packaged snack foods that are full of sugar and saturated fats. Instead, have a cup of nonfat unsweetened yogurt with fruit or nuts mixed in. If you’re craving something sweet, you can try making this easy protein shake from H-E-B Health and Wellness. The added matcha tea is a bonus refresher for a midday pick-me-up.
Chocolate matcha protein smoothie
- 2 Tbsp chocolate whey powder
- 1 tsp matcha green tea
- 1/2 medium banana
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 Tbsp flaxseed
- 1 cup ice
- Combine ingredients in a blender until smooth and serve right away.
“Snacks like this prove you can indulge a little and still fight diabetes, as long as it’s in moderation,” says Mistry. “A ‘diabetic diet’ is really just one that is focused on managing carbohydrates and ensuring they're consumed at regular times and regular amounts, with fats and proteins mixed in to help slow digestion. It doesn't mean cutting out a certain food group or that certain items need to be avoided.”
After a long day, you may be tempted to eat whatever is easiest for dinner. But it’s important to avoid eating very heavy meals at night because this is when you’re generally the most inactive and burning the fewest calories, which can lead to sugar spikes and weight gain. For a savory, satisfying meal, try a flavorful baked salmon dish that’s ready in 30 minutes, like this one by Hannah Berkeley, lead dietitian at Glycoleap.
Baked salmon with lemon and garlic
- 4 salmon filets
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix olive oil and lemon juice in small mixing bowl.
- Rub fish filets with minced garlic and place on baking dish.
- Pour olive oil mixture and sprinkle cilantro over fish.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.
“Limit your red meat intake to once or twice a week, and check out some of the healthier swaps [like salmon],” advises Berkeley. “Replacing some saturated fats with healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and keep your heart healthier. But do be wary of your portion size. Even healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados, oily fish, and nuts contain lots of calories!”
Foram Mehta is a San Francisco-based journalist by way of New York City and Texas. She has a bachelor’s of journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has had her work published in Marie Claire, India.com, and Medical News Today, among other publications. Most recently, Foram worked as a ghostwriter and assistant editor on a patient's guidebook to epilepsy surgery with a top New York epileptologist, a first of its kind in patient-focused literature. As a passionate vegan, environmentalist, and animal rights advocate, Foram hopes to continue using the power of the written word to promote health education and help everyday people live better, fuller lives on a healthier planet.