Micro-level dietary management of diabetes

healthy food for diabetics

The common notion is that diabetes is a disease related to sugar intake of a person, so most people end up reducing sugar/carbohydrates in the diet. The lowered carbohydrate intake is compensated by increasing protein and fat intake.  Overall, the focus remains on the macronutrients.

In the bargain, we forget to pay attention on the micronutrients. Though required in small quantities, most of them have a large role to play in the regulation of blood sugars and insulin secretion. The processing of foods often leads to a loss of these nutrients and hence, special care needs to be taken to incorporate them in daily diet. Balancing macro and micronutrients is an important part of managing diabetes.

Some of the minerals important for blood sugar control or regulation of insulin secretion are:


People with diabetes have long been known to have more zinc in their urine and less in their bloodstream. And previous research also has suggested that higher zinc levels in blood are linked to a lower risk of diabetes. A genetic change affecting one specific protein involved in transporting zinc within cells that secrete insulin and people with this genetic change are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Food sources:

A wide variety of foods contain zinc and good sources usually have 1-2 mg per serving. Oysters contain more than any other food (74 mg/serving), but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the diet. Other food sources high in zinc include beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products

Chromium: This trace mineral is fundamental in proper insulin function and is believed to facilitate the attachment of insulin to the cell’s insulin receptors.  A lack of chromium can result in insulin resistance, which leads to elevated blood levels of insulin and glucose, resulting in diabetes and cardiovascular complications.

Food Sources:

Food processing removes most of the naturally occurring chromium. Whole grain products and certain fruits and vegetables like broccoli, potatoes, grape juice, and oranges are sources of chromium. Ready-to-eat bran cereals can also be a relatively good source of chromium. Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts should also be incorporated in the diet.


Magnesium is an important component of many unprocessed foods, such as whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, and it is largely lost during the processing of some foods. The over processing of food and adoption of western diets have contributed to the substantially reduced magnesium intake in industrialized countries during the last century.

Hypomagnesemia (low blood levels of magnesium) is a common feature in patients with type 2 diabetes. Although diabetes can induce hypomagnesemia, magnesium deficiency has also been proposed as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Magnesium is a necessary cofactor for several enzymes that play an important role in glucose metabolism. Scientists suggest that magnesium supplementation has a beneficial effect on insulin action and glucose metabolism.

Food source:

Most dietary magnesium comes from vegetables, such as dark green, leafy vegetables. Other foods that are good sources of magnesium:

  • Fruits or vegetables (such as bananas, dried apricots, and avocados)
  • Nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
  • Peas and beans (legumes), seeds
  • Soy products (such as soy flour and tofu)
  • Whole grains (such as brown rice and millet)


One clinical study found that people with diabetes who had higher blood levels of manganese were more protected from LDL or “bad” cholesterol than those with lower levels of manganese. Some studies seem to show that people with diabetes have low levels of manganese in their blood. But researchers don’t know if having diabetes causes levels to drop, or whether low levels of manganese contribute to developing diabetes. More studies are needed.

Food sources:

Rich dietary sources of manganese include nuts and seeds, wheat germ and whole grains (including unrefined cereals, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, and oats), legumes, and pineapples.

There is no cure for diabetes. However, one can ensure proper intake of nutrients and strive to manage diabetes, or better still, prevent diabetes altogether.



Ruy Lopez-Ridaura, MD1, Walter C. Willett, MD123, Eric B. Rimm, SCD123, Simin Liu, MD34, Meir J. Stampfer, MD123, JoAnn E. Manson, MD234 and Frank B. Hu, MD123 Magnesium Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men and Women Diabetes Care January 2004 vol. 27 no. 1 134-140


Author: drpoojachhawcharia

Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.

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