Diabetes Plant-based Diet

Eating Low-Glycemic Plant Foods to Manage and Reverse Diabetes

Following a plant-based low-glycemic diet is a powerful way to manage and reverse diabetes. Here’s why:

      • Helps keep blood glucose levels stable – low-glycemic foods break down more slowly and prevent dramatic blood glucose spikes.
      • Reduces risk of complications for diabetes, such as kidney disease, nerve damage and vision problems by stabalizing blood glucose levels while providing powerful nutrients.
      • Supports healthy body weight – low-glycemic foods can be more filling, preventing food cravings as well as energy and mood crashes as it stabilizes blood glucose levels.
      • Improves insulin sensitivity by helping your cells utilize blood glucose more effectively.
      • Lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol while maintaining “good” HDL cholesterol levels.

Why choosing low-glycemic foods is important

The foods we eat are broken down into glucose which enters our bloodstream, signalling the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin helps the blood glucose enter our body’s cells to be used for energy and signals our liver to store blood glucose to be used later.

Diabetes drastically reduces insulin’s effects on the body. The pancreas of those with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin  and, for those with type 2 diabetes, their bodies are resistant to the effects of insulin or don’t make enough insulin to keep normal glucose levels.

Persistently high blood glucose levels can damage nerves, blood vessels, and vital organs. Low-glycemic foods break down more slowly in the body, causing a smaller rise in blood glucose after eating.  By eating low-glycemic foods, people with diabetes can control their blood glucose levels and prevent serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

Difference between the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of foods

When choosing low-glycemic foods it’s important to consider both the Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL) of what you are eating.

GI is the rate a food item is digested and raises blood glucose levels in the body. Factors that effect a food’s GI are:

    • The more processed the grain, the higher the GI. Grains that have been milled and refined have had the bran and germ removed (such as white rice). This causes your digestive system to breakdown the grain more quickly into glucose, causing a sugar spike. In addition, finely ground grain is more rapidly digested than coarsely ground grain. This is why eating whole grains in their “whole form” (such as brown rice or oats) can be healthier than eating highly processed whole grain bread.
    • The higher the fiber content of a food, the lower the GI. Foods higher in fiber are digested more slowly and so slowly raise the level of blood glucose.
    • The riper the fruits and vegetables, the higher the GI. Because of their higher sugar content and lower fiber, over-ripe plant foods will raise blood glucose levels faster.
    • The higher the fat and acid content of a meal, the lower the GI. If you add a little oil to your potoate (a high GI food) you end up lowering the glycemic index when it’s eaten. However, be careful with how much fat you add to your meals as it does not negate the negative effects of a high fat diet! The good news is that acids, like lemon juice and apple cider vinager, also slow the rate of digestion of high GI foods.

GL takes this one step further by taking into account, not only the rate food is converted into blood glucose, but the amount of  carbohydrates contained in a specific food. The GL score is determined by a calculation that estimates how much a specific food item will raise blood glucose levels when eaten. Simply multiply the grams of available carbohydrate in a specific food by that food’s GI, and then dividing by 100.


Tips for following a

plant-based, low-glycemic diet

1. Eat whole, unprocessed plant foods that are high in fiber, esp. before higher GI/GL foods.

Eat high fiber, higher fat foods BEFORE eating the higher GI/GL foods. This actually mitigates glucose spike.

Examples: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

2. Include low-glycemic foods at every meal.

Examples: leafy greens, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes and broccoli. See food list to the left for more options.

3. Include protein sources to help stabilize your blood glucose levels.

Examples: beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu.

4. Avoid refined carbs, added sugars and highly processed foods to prevent glucose spikes.

Examples of refined carbs: packaged cereals, bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, biscuits, sweets, pastries, pies, alcohol, etc.

Examples of added sugars: cane sugar, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, molasses, sucrose, etc.

Examples of  highly processed foods: sodas, syrups, candy, chips, bakery items, fast food, etc.

5. Limit high-glycemic foods that can increase blood glucose levels.

Examples: potatoes, dried fruit, grapes, white flour, etc.

6. Eat healthy fats to dull the urge for sweets & high carb food.
7. Watch portion size on the mod/high GI/GL foods.

Low-glycemic Plant-based Food List

Below is a chart that lists the GI and GL of different types of plant-based foods. The lower the score, the longer that food item takes to raise your blood glucose levels. If you don’t see a particular food item on this list, search that item at glycemic-index.net.

    • Glycemic Index (GI) scale: Low = less than 55, Medium = 55–70, High = above 70
    • Glycemic Load (GL) scale: Low = 10 or less, Medium = 11 to 19, High = 20 or higher

Important: The food items listed below are based on eating them plain, without adding any flavoring. How a food item is prepared (adding sauces, spices and/or oil) may change the GI / GL scores.


GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

 Apples Low Low
Avocados Low Low
Banana Low – Medium Medium
Blueberries Low Low
Dried fruit High High
(red or green)
Medium High
Lemon Low Low
Mango Medium Low
Nectarine Low Low
Oranges Low Low
Peach Low Low
Pineapple Low – Medium Low
Plums (fresh) Low Low
Tomatoes (fresh) Low Low
Watermelon High Low


GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

Artichoke Low Low
Asparagus Low Low
Beets (boiled) Medium Low
Bell peppers (red or green) Low Low
Broccoli Low Low
Cabbage (white or red, raw) Low Low
Carrots (raw) Low Low
Cauliflower (raw) Low Low
Celery (raw) Low Low
Cucumbers Low Low
Eggplant (cooked) Low Low
Green beans Low Low

Leafy greens

(kale, spinach, chard, etc.)

Low Low
Mushrooms (raw or cooked) Low Low
Potato (baked, plain) High High
String beans Low Low
Sweet potato (baked, plain) High Medium – High
Zucchini Low Low


Grains and Flours

GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

Brown rice (cooked, plain) High Medium
Oat flour Low Low
Quinoa (cooked, plain) Low Low
Rye flour Low High
White flour High High
Whole wheat Low High
Wild rice (cooked, plain) Low High


Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds

GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

Almonds Low Low
Black beans Low Low
Black-eyed peas Medium High
Cashews Low Low
Chia seeds (dried) Low Medium
Chick peas (canned) Low Low
Flax seeds Low Low
Kidney beans Low Low
Lentils (green or yellow, plain) Low Low
Pistachios (roasted) Low Low
Red beans (canned) Low Medium
Split peas (including dal) Low Low
Sunflower seeds (dried) Low Low
White beans (canned) Low High

Plant-based Oils

GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

Avocado oil Low Low
Coconut oil Low Low
Hemp seed oil Low Low
Olive oil Low Low
Sunflower oil Low Low


GI Score

GL Score Per Serving

Agave syrup Low  Medium 
Brown rice syrup High High 
Coconut sugar  Low Low 
Maple syrup Medium High
Monk fruit  Low Low 
Stevia  Low Low