By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD

These foods deserve a spot on your plate if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Living with diabetes no longer means adhering to a rigid food plan. In fact, today's recommendation are highly individualized and flexible, with guidelines focusing on choosing a variety of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, lean protein, nuts, and healthy fats. And within these food groups, there are even a few specific foods that research suggests will not only keep you healthy, but may offer additional benefits when it comes to glucose management and diabetes-related health issues.

Check out these 10 foods that are worth adding to your weekly menus if you are living with diabetes.

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1. Blueberries

The American Diabetes Association named blueberries a "superfood" — and for good reason. The tiny blue fruit delivers a hefty dose of antioxidants and fiber-rich carbohydrates that trigger a lower glycemic response than many other fruits. In addition, research suggests that making blueberries, strawberries, or other berries a regular part of your diet may improve insulin-resistance. This could potentially reduce the risk of becoming diabetic in those with pre-diabetes or a family history, and it could improve insulin-resistance and management in those already diagnosed.

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2. Beans

High in fiber, black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, and other beans are good sources of both protein and slow-digesting carbohydrates. The combination offers short-term benefits by leaving your stomach full and preventing sudden glucose spikes, but also appears to have long-term benefits. A 2012 JAMA study had individuals incorporate one cup of beans or legumes a day as part of a low-glycemic diet for 12 weeks, while a control group ate other high-fiber carbohydrates as part of a low-glycemic diet. At the end of the study, those consuming beans had lower HgbA1c levels, lower blood pressure, and lower triglycerides.

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3. Leafy Greens

Loading up on non-starchy vegetables is a good way to add more food to your plate without adding many calories or carbs. And leafy greens are some of the best low-carb veggies to add for those managing diabetes. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, lettuces, and other greens are packed full of beta-carotene and vitamin C, two antioxidants that are associated with reducing risk of heart disease and eye conditions, such as cataracts and macular degeneration. They're also rich with magnesium, which is associated with reducing risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, a 2010 study found that individuals who consumed more leafy greens had a significantly reduced risk of developing diabetes.

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4. Almonds and Walnuts

Need a quick snack? Grab a handful of almonds, walnuts, or other tree nuts. The combination of fiber, protein, and fat slows absorption of the small amount of carbs in nuts to prevent blood sugar spikes. Several studies have even associated regular nut consumption with lower fasting blood glucose levels, improved insulin resistance, and improved A1c levels. Concerned about the fat and calories? Keep portion size to around one ounce per day, but don't avoid them since research suggests regularly eating this portion is associated with lower body weights.

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5. Greek Yogurt

There's a lot we still don't know about gut health, but it's clear that maintaining a diverse supply of good bacteria in the GI tract is a key component to staying healthy, even helping to manage diabetes. According to a 2017 study that compiled results from 12 research trials, incorporating probiotics on a regular basis was associated with lower HgbA1c levels and fasting blood glucose in those with type 2 diabetes. A 2014 study found inflammatory markers decreased as well with probiotics, which could potentially reduce complications from diabetes. And one of the best ways to get probiotics is eating yogurt with live bacteria cultures. Choose Greek yogurt for higher levels of protein, and "plain" to avoid added sugars. Then add fresh fruit or nuts for a little sweetness and crunch.

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6. Oranges

Juicy orange sections may seem too sweet to be beneficial, much less healthy, if trying to manage blood sugar levels. However, oranges are actually considered a low-glycemic food thanks to their soluble fiber content, making them a good fruit choice for those with type 2 diabetes. But this means it's key to eat the fruit, rather than drink the juice. In addition, oranges and all other citrus fruits are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin C and folate, as well as potassium which helps to keep blood pressure in check.

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7. Fish

Aim to eat in 8 to 12 ounces of fish each week, particularly cold-water ones that are higher in fat, such as salmon, trout, sardines, and mackerel. They are also good sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Most individuals don't get near the amount of omega-3s needed, and these fatty acids are play key roles when it comes to preventing heart disease. Omega-3s also work to reduce inflammation in the body, so incorporating them may help prevent or improve diabetic-inflammatory conditions like neuropathy in arms, legs, and extremities.

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8. Oatmeal

Oats are a whole grain that can keep you fueled the first half of the day, as well as help manage glucose levels and reduce heart disease risk. In 2015, researchers pooled the results from 16 studies examining the effect that oats had on various health measures specifically in those with type 2 diabetes. Their summary suggested that regularly eating oats was associated with significant reductions in HghA1c, total cholesterol, and LDL levels, as well as a slight decrease in body weight and decline in triglycerides. For greatest benefit, choose groats (oat grains with only the husk removed), oat bran, or steel-cut oats. Skip instant oats that are usually highly refined and lacking in fiber.

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9. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Diabetes increases one's risk for heart disease and stroke. This means replacing less saturated fats and trans fats (often found in higher-fat meats, animal products, and processed foods) with healthier unsaturated fat and oil sources is essential. Avocados, nuts, and many cooking oils such as olive, sesame, and canola contain primarily unsaturated fats. But extra-virgin olive oil may be one of the best. The reason is that it contains a compound called oleocanthal that has anti-inflammatory effects, and reducing inflammation is important for those with diabetes since it lowers risk of developing diabetes complications like neuropathy. All olive oils contain oleocanthal, but less refined types like extra-virgin have higher levels, so make that your go-to for salad dressings and when cooking at lower heats.

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10. Meatless Mains

Consider swapping poultry or meat with plant-based proteins sources like beans and tofu a few times a week. Skinless chicken and lean meats fit within a healthy diet to manage diabetes, but research suggests swapping them out on occasion to reap the benefits that plant proteins offer. Eating more meatless meals is of interest to health professionals because vegetarians have a significantly reduced risk of developing diabetes. Potential benefits from plant proteins are thought to come from increased antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, as well as improvements in gut health.

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