Which foods help lower (manage) blood sugar?

In this article, we’ll explore ways you can use foods to help manage your blood sugar. 

No one type of food can quickly lower the amount of sugar in your blood. 

Instead, a range of factors can influence your blood sugar response. Some factors include your meal’s nutrient content, the time of day, and your food combinations.

The tips below will work for most people, but if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you should work with a healthcare provider. Together, you can set the blood sugar levels you should be aiming for.

Blood sugar responses after eating

After you eat, your body breaks down digestible carbohydrates into simple sugar molecules called glucose. This happens in your gut. 

The glucose then moves through your gut wall into your bloodstream. Once there, it travels around your body, providing energy.

At the same time, your body releases a hormone called insulin. This helps cells take up glucose, removing it from your bloodstream. 

So, your levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar) rise and fall in the first few hours after a meal — this is normal. But blood sugar responses vary between people. 

One person may only have a small rise in blood sugar after a meal. Someone else may have a much more pronounced blood sugar spike. Another person may have a large dip in blood sugar — all after eating the same meal.

Managing blood sugar levels is particularly important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

People with type 2 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin, or their bodies don’t respond to it as well as they should. 

And people with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. Because of this, their blood sugar levels are more prone to larger peaks and dips.   

This is why scientists have mostly studied ways to manage blood sugar in people with diabetes or prediabetes.

Blood sugar control is important for people without diabetes, too.

For instance, ZOE’s own research has shown that people with large dips in glucose are more likely to feel hungry soon after eating and consume more calories later in the day.

If large spikes and dips occur occasionally, it’s not a significant problem. But if they happen regularly, over time, it can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Food combinations and blood sugar

Some foods are more likely than others to produce a pronounced blood sugar response. These foods are called high-glycemic index (GI) foods.

One example of a high-GI food is white rice. The carbs in white rice quickly break down in your gut, so the sugar tends to reach your bloodstream relatively fast, causing a blood sugar spike for some folks. 

But pairing high-GI foods with other foods that contain fiber, protein, or fats can help reduce the size of your blood sugar response.

So, if you eat white rice with high-protein beans, it’s likely to cause a smaller response.

Similarly, white bread can produce a large blood sugar spike in some people. But pairing it with peanut butter can reduce the response.

This is because peanut butter is rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

Food timing and order

Generally, people have better blood sugar control in the morning than the evening. 

So, a high-carb meal for breakfast is likely to produce a smaller response than an identical meal later in the day.

There’s evidence that the order in which you eat your food matters, too. For instance, eating foods rich in protein or fat before you eat carbs reduces your blood sugar response.

For more details, we have a podcast that covers food ordering and other ways to reduce your blood sugar responses.

Foods to help manage blood sugar

To be clear, no single food on its own can quickly reduce your levels of blood sugar.

But adding certain types of foods to a meal can help reduce your blood sugar response after you eat. We look at these foods below.

1. Legumes

Studies have shown that protein-rich legumes can help reduce your blood sugar response to meals you eat later in the day.

There’s also evidence that following a low-GI diet rich in legumes may reduce blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes and improve blood sugar control

Aside from their effect on blood sugar, legumes are nutrient-dense and often relatively low-cost.

Some examples of legumes are:

  • chickpeas

  • lentils

  • peanuts

  • peas

  • black beans

  • pinto beans

  • green beans

  • lima beans

  • soybeans

2. Nuts and nut butters

Like legumes, nuts are rich in protein. They’re also rich in healthy fats. Both of these components may help manage your blood sugar responses to food.

For example, one study found that eating nuts reduced blood sugar responses after the participants ate a slice of white bread. The study included people with and without type 2 diabetes.

And according to a 2014 review, consuming nuts is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Quick tip: If you choose nut butter rather than whole nuts, go for options with the fewest ingredients.

Some nut butters have added sugars, which could affect your blood sugar responses. And crunchy peanut butter is generally better than smooth.

3. Vegetables

Vegetables are a great source of fiber. And studies have shown that consuming fiber reduces your blood sugar response after a meal.

There’s also some evidence that eating leafy green vegetables is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Some high-fiber veggies include:

  • carrots

  • broccoli

  • cauliflower

  • eggplants

  • Brussels sprouts

Here’s a longer list of high-fiber foods to add to your diet.

At ZOE, we know that having a diverse range of vegetables and other plants in your diet is best for your long-term health. But we also know that everyone responds differently to food. 

When you join ZOE, you’ll learn how your blood sugar and blood fat levels change after you eat. We’ll also analyze your gut microbiome and provide ongoing nutrition support to help you move toward your health goals. To get started, take our free quiz.

4. Seeds

Seeds are packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. So, adding seeds to your meals may help reduce your blood sugar responses.

For instance, a clinical trial showed that adding 65 grams of pumpkin seeds to a meal significantly reduced the participants’ blood sugar responses. But 65 g is a fairly large serving of seeds.

Another study found that 25 g of chia seeds or 31.5 g of flaxseeds reduced participants’ blood sugar responses after they ate a high-sugar snack.

Here are some good seeds to add to your diet:

  • chia seeds

  • pumpkin seeds

  • sunflower seeds

  • flaxseeds

  • sesame seeds

5. Whole fruits

Some fruits, like bananas, can cause blood sugar spikes for some people. 

But other fruits may help reduce blood sugar responses after a meal.

For instance, one study tested the effects of red raspberries in people with prediabetes. They found that these berries reduced participants’ blood sugar responses when they were part of a high-carb breakfast.

Another study looked at the effects of blackberries in men with overweight or obesity. The participants added 600 g of blackberries every day to a high-fat diet. 

After 7 days, their blood sugar levels improved, compared with their levels after eating a high-fat diet that didn’t include blackberries. 

Still, adding that many blackberries to your diet every day would probably get expensive.

But overall, eating more whole fruits is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. 

Importantly, though, consuming fruit juice is linked to an increased risk of diabetes. 

Some high-fiber fruits include:

  • avocados

  • apples

  • strawberries

  • pears

  • raspberries

  • blackberries

  • kiwis

6. Whole grains

Your body quickly digests highly refined grains, like white flour and white rice. These can cause blood sugar spikes in some people.

But whole grains are fiber-rich, so they can help reduce your blood sugar responses after eating.

One review investigated the effects of oats in people with type 2 diabetes. The scientists concluded that adding oats to participants’ diets improved their blood sugar control.

Also, regularly eating whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Alongside fiber, whole grains contain a wide range of healthy components, like vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

Some grains you might add to your diet include:

  • barley

  • bulgur

  • farro

  • millet

  • dark rye flour

  • wheat germ

  • whole-wheat flour

  • quinoa

  • brown rice

  • wild rice

  • popcorn


Blood sugar levels rise after a meal, and that’s normal. But having larger peaks often may damage your health in the long run.

No individual foods can quickly reduce your blood sugar levels. But there are ways to help manage fluctuations and reduce your risk of substantial spikes.

For instance, the order you eat your food may make a difference — consuming fiber, protein, and fats before carbs might help minimize your blood sugar response.

For instance, one study tested the effects of red raspberries in people with prediabetes. They found that these berries reduced participants’ blood sugar responses when they were part of a high-carb breakfast. 

Also, combining carbs with fiber, fat, and protein can reduce the risk of blood sugar peaks. 

So, adding legumes, nuts, vegetables, seeds, fruits, and whole grains to your meals may help temper your blood sugar levels after you eat. 

Overall, a healthy diet is varied and contains a wide range of plant foods.

Having a plant-heavy diet should naturally help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve your blood sugar responses. 


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