Foods that Raise, Lower Diabetes Risk

What foods do Harvard Medical School, the American Diabetes Association and Dr. Cherry recommend to lower your diabetes risk? What foods do they say to avoid?

What foods do Harvard Medical School, the American Diabetes Association and Dr. Cherry recommend to lower your diabetes risk? What foods do they say to avoid?

There is wide agreement among these – and many other doctors, researchers and organizations – on the types of foods that can help ward off diabetes, as well as those that increase the risk of developing this increasingly common and devastating disease.


In Dr. Cherry’s June 3 Radio Program, he recommended the following foods to help manage blood sugar levels:

1. High water soluble fiber, such as psyllium, or Metamucil (1-2 tsp/per day) - This helps stabilize the spikes in your blood sugar, and helps regulate the absorption of some of sugars into your blood. (He suggests the flavored, sugar-free and smooth variety, which makes it easier to take, and/or mixing it with vanilla soy milk.)

2. Oat bran or oatmeal cereal – Also helps regulate blood sugar

3. Beans – Fiber-rich, good source of protein and filling

4. Onions – Contain a compound that stimulates insulin production

5. Cinnamon – Increases insulin’s activity, enabling it to work better at transporting glucose into the blood cells.

The American Diabetes Association recently came out with their 10 best ‘Super Foods” for addressing diabetes:

1. Beans (black, navy, pinto, kidney) – high in fiber

2. Dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, collards, mustard greens, kale) - nutrient dense

3. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit) - rich in vitamin C and high in fiber

4. Sweet potatoes – low in glycemic index (don’t raise sugar levels), high in fiber and vitamin A

5. Berries (whole, unsweetened, fresh or frozen) – high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins

6. Tomatoes – low in calories, high in lycopene, contains all four carotenoids

7. Omega-3 fatty acids – anti-inflammatory, help with blood sugar levels and heart issues

8. Grains (oatmeal, oat bran, barley, whole wheat, flax) – high in fiber, folate and chromium, which helps regulates blood sugar

9. Nuts (almonds, walnuts) – heart healthy

10. Fat free dairy (yogurt, milk) – high in calcium and vitamin D, and help reduce cravings

Harvard Medical School has a shorter list, providing more of a general guidance to consumers in making better dietary decisions. Their report, Healthy Eating for Type 2 Diabetes, explains how food choices, as well as weight control, can help manage and “even prevent” diabetes, although they acknowledge that linking specific foods to diabetes prevention is “somewhat controversial.”

The authors said people with diabetes should follow the same dietary advice as most people, but with extra emphasis on controlling weight and keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol values as close to normal as possible. They advocate a well-balanced diet that emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, while watching calorie intake and getting regular exercise.

Their following specific food recommendations are based on the results of studies that required people to report what they ate or drank.

1. Fiber - Fiber slows the digestion of food, so glucose is released into the bloodstream more gradually, and you feel full longer. This can help you avoid overeating and becoming overweight, thus reducing your risk of diabetes. Soluble fiber in particular appears to improve both blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, and high-fiber diets may even lower the need for insulin.

2. Grains - Both men and women who eat plenty of whole grains had a roughly 40 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who eat little, with cereals, breads, and grains apparently the most beneficial.

3. Nuts - Women who eat nuts or peanut butter at least five times a week have a 20 to 30 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who rarely eat them.

More Research on Fiber, Diabetes

Researchers at Harvard Medical School also found that diabetic women who enjoy a diet rich in bran may live longer and be less likely to die of heart disease than those who do not.

While previous studies have linked high consumption of whole grains to a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes and heart disease, the new study indicates whole grains may help protect the heart even for those who already exhibit type-2 diabetes, which raises the risk of heart disease.

The research was based on a Nurses' Health Study of 7,800 women, which every two years surveyed the health of women with type 2 diabetes. Those with the highest bran intake were 28 percent less likely to die, and 35 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, than those who consumed the least bran. Nurses with the highest bran intake consumed on average 9g of bran per day, or 10 times more than the lowest-intake group.

Although there was no conclusive proof that a bran-rich diet reduced risks, the link between higher bran intake and lower death rates remained even after accounting for other diet factors, such as fat intake and calories and lifestyle factors.


According to the Harvard Medical School report, there are foods that increase the risk of developing diabetes, or can cause additional problems for those who have diabetes.

1. Sweetened drinks - Women who drink two or more sugary soft drinks have a 24 percent higher risk of developing diabetes compared to those who consume less than one per month, and two or more daily “fruit drinks” (with little real fruit juice) lead to a 31 percent higher risk.

2. Red meat - Women who eat around one serving of red meat a day have about a 20 percent higher risk of diabetes than those who eat at least one serving a week, and men who eat processed meats five times a week are nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as men who eat such foods just twice a month.

3. Trans fat - One study documented a 30 percent increased risk of diabetes among women who ate the most trans fats compared to those who ate the least.

4. Refined carbohydrates – Grains from which the valuable nutrients, fiber, and vitamins are removed during the refinement process can cause a significant spike in blood sugar and increase insulin requirements if eaten in large quantities.

5. Salt - Hypertension is twice as common among people with diabetes as it is among the general public. Reducing salt intake to the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of table salt – much less than most Americans consume – is recommended.

And as we discussed in Reduce Your Diabetes Risk by 50%, making dietary and lifestyle changes can cut pre-diabetics’ risk of developing diabetes in half. By following the above guidelines and exercising regularly, you are well on your way to a pathway to better blood sugar regulation and better health.

Dr. Reginald B. Cherry ( is a member of the American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association, Harris County Medical Society, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Cherry has authored numerous articles on Preventive Medicine, emphasizing nutrition and exercise. He also speaks extensively on these topics nationwide and conducts numerous seminars for various groups and organizations. Currently, his weekly television program reaches 80 million homes.