Achieving optimal blood sugar levels is essential for good health, to maintain a healthy weight and to lower the risk of developing diabetes or diabetes-related complications. Much of the food we eat is converted into sugar (glucose) when it’s digested, which is then used by the body as energy. Problems occur though when our blood sugar levels go too high or low. That’s why it’s important to understand the effects that different foods can have on our blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, not every food in the supermarket has a diabetes-friendly GI label, so here is your guide to 5 foods that can help you achieve improved blood sugar levels.

1. Nuts

Nuts make the perfect snack – just a handful a day and you’re getting a powerful protein punch, along with healthy fats, fibre and a host of vitamins and minerals. Nuts are great for people with diabetes as due to their high protein content they have little effect on blood sugar levels. They are also known to reduce the impact of other carbohydrate-containing foods on your blood sugar levels, regardless of whether you have diabetes or not. Eating nuts regularly not only provides a hunger-busting daily snack but are also great for helping to manage your blood sugar levels.

2. Oily fish

Eating more oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and trout boosts your intake of good fats. Fish is low in carbohydrate, but just as rich in protein as red meat and chicken, which means you’ll feel fuller for longer and it won’t affect your blood sugar levels greatly.  The Heart Foundation encourages including oily fish in your diet a couple of times a week due to their healthy omega-3 fats, which is known to help to maintain a healthy heart – an added bonus!

3. Vegetables

Vegetables are made up of mostly water, fibre and starches and also provide a great source of vitamins and minerals. Eating a wide range of colourful, fibrous vegetables each day is a great way to improve blood sugar levels. Veggies, like salad greens, are considered ‘free foods’ because they’re low in carbohydrate and won’t cause much change in your blood sugar levels. This means you can eat as many leafy greens as you like throughout the day without needing to worry!

4. Basmati Rice

Eating the right kind of grains to help manage diabetes is important. Despite contrary belief, basmati rice is a good option as it contains a special type of starch called amylose, which is digested slowly in the gut. This creates a slower peak in your blood sugar levels compared to other rice varieties such as jasmine rice. Basmati rice is also low GI, making it a great addition to any meal – just remember to watch you portion sizes, as even though it’s low GI if you eat too much it can have a marked effect on your blood sugars!

5. Legumes – lentils, beans & peas

These veggies contain loads of fibre, which help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Like basmati rice, legumes also contain amylose, meaning they’re slowly digested, preventing large rises and falls in blood sugar levels. Did you know that consuming 1 cup of legumes a day has been shown to improve blood sugar levels and also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among people with type 2 diabetes? This low-GI veggie makes a delicious foundation for a lunchtime salad, and you can ditch the meat as they are chock full of protein and will definitely fill you up!

Article co-authored by Stefanie Valakas, who is currently studying a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics at  The University of Sydney.