Vegetables to the Rescue

Many experts say that people with diabetes shouldn’t eat much flour or sugar. I agree. But other nutritional authorities don’t want you to eat saturated fats, either. So what CAN you eat? My answer: Try vegetables!


For 30 years I’ve been preaching to people to eat more vegetables. I even wrote songs about them. Nobody listened. Until now.

All of a sudden, vegetables are becoming trendy. Michelle Obama says cover half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Holistic doctor Terry Wahls, MD, says eat three full plates of them a day. As a vegetable advocate, I’m in heaven. But why should you eat vegetables? Which ones are best, and why aren’t you eating them yet?

Types of Vegetables
Few Americans grew up eating many green things, and most don’t know anything about them. Did you know there are multiple different categories of vegetables, each with different nutrients and flavors?

Here are some types, courtesy of Wikipedia and the excellent Nutrition Data Web site.

Flower buds. These include broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes. Broccoli is very high in vitamins A, C, E, and K; cooked broccoli has a glycemic load (GL) of 3 (a GL of 10 or under is considered low), is considered anti-inflammatory, and contains proteins and lots of fiber.

Seeds. Includes sweet corn, peas, and beans. Green peas are high in B vitamins and many minerals. They have a GL of 7, but are considered mildly pro-inflammatory, unlike most other vegetables.

Leaves. Leafy greens are my favorite, and include kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, beet greens, bok choy, chard, and many others. Kale, in particular has become the rock star of vegetables. I see it featured in supermarkets all the time.

Boiled kale has an almost non-existent GL of 3 and a sky-high anti-inflammatory score of 439. It is high in fiber, has huge amounts of vitamins A, C and K, and it contains minerals such as magnesium that can be hard to get in other places.

Some of the kale fad is probably hype, though, because many other leafy greens have similar benefits.

Buds. Brussels sprouts. I’m not sure how they differ from the “flower buds,” but they are high in the minerals iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus, as well as vitamins A, C, and K.

Actually, most of these green things are pretty similar in nutrients. Other types include:
Stems of leaves, like celery and rhubarb.
Shoots, such as asparagus.
Leaf coverings, such as leeks

Then there are the non-greens, such as:
Tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are highly anti-inflammatory, white potatoes are more pro-inflammatory. All have moderate to high GL, but as discussed last week, baking makes their GL go up.

Sprouts like soybeans and alfalfa. Alfalfa sprouts have the ultimate glycemic load of 0. They won’t fuel you for exercise, but they do contain protein, vitamins B, C, and K, fiber, and a bunch of minerals.

Roots, including carrots, beets (another current star), and radishes. Boiled carrots have a GL of 2, a good anti-inflammatory score, tons of vitamin A, potassium, and manganese.

Bulbs like onions and garlic. These are worth a whole other blog entry.

Fruits in the botanical sense, but used as vegetables. These include tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, peppers, and avocado. These foods are less sweet than regular fruits and have a variety of nutrients, including proteins, fats, and vitamins.

Obviously, there are a lot of choices. But which ones taste best, and how do you prepare them for pleasure and health? Most Americans boil vegetables to death, so naturally they don’t taste good. Fortunately, wonderful options exist.

Our Web site has published many vegetable recipes that look tasty. You can see them here. (The roasted winter vegetable blend, roasted vegetable and barley salad, and creamy colorful vegetable salad are among my favorites.)

A Google search for vegetable recipes will give you thousands more ideas. I like the Web site What’s Cooking America, which gives recipes for individual vegetables.

In general, you can season vegetables like crazy without overdoing it, so don’t be shy. You can bake, boil, stir-fry, microwave, or eat them raw in many cases.

Another great option is to juice them, which gives you all the nutrition without all the chewing, but frequently leaves a lot of cleaning up to do. I would like to hear from readers who are juicing vegetables and/or fruits, to see how that’s going. I’m thinking of doing it for myself.

When it comes to taste, Americans are spoiled by all the sugars, fats, and salt we get. It’s hard for vegetables to compete. Jim Healthy of My Healing Kitchen says that trying to enjoy vegetables or fruits while eating a sugary diet is like going to a loud rock concert and not being able to hear your sweetheart whisper “I love you” in your ear. The delicate flavors of vegetables are the loving whispers we can’t hear over the din of the sugar concert.

But if you give them a try, you might find them more delicious than you thought possible. Let us know.

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  • Deb

    I have had to give up a lot of foods I love because of diabetes and food allergies, but very few of them, fortunately, are vegetables. When I was a child, and later as an impoverished grad student, I always ordered a vegetable plate when I went out to eat. It usually consisted of 4 half-cup servings of vegetables chosen from a list, and was an economical choice, but I mainly did it for the taste of the vegetables themselves. It’s rare to find a vegetable plate option any more, but I make them at home for breakfast or lunch frequently, since I always cook an abundance of vegetables to last a couple of days. A big salad is another favorite lunch. I have stopped differentiating between starchy and non-starchy vegetables, instead focusing on the total number of carbs in what I eat. I am also trying to get more than half my carbs from vegetable sources (including legumes) rather than grains. It seems to be working: I’m thoroughly enjoying my meals and my numbers are coming down.

  • David Spero RN

    Deb, great that your numbers are coming down. Glad to meet another vegetable fan. I suggest pushing yourself — more and more vegetables, fewer grains, see what happens.

  • calgarydiabetic

    The only bad about them is probably that you end up eating a lot of pesticide per calorie consumed.

  • Eve

    I love vegetables and am lucky to live within a short walk of an outdoor market that sells all
    kinds of them. White potatoes raise my blood glucose and I have eliminated them from my diet.
    Sweet potatoes unfortunately are more expensive-
    but tastier and healthier. Spaghetti squash is
    another low-carb vegetable that can substitute for pasta (which is also a no-no for me, including whole wheat pasta, except in small quantities). You can spice your vegies up with spices, herbs, lemon juice, crushed garlic – so they aren’t boring. Eating avocado is good for
    feeling satiated when you cant fill yourself up
    with carbs.

  • K Gilmour

    Once you begin to transition from prepared/manufactured chemical laced foods to basic fresh foods, your taste preferences change to adapt to less salt less sugar and more natural foods. I can no longer even stomach the thought of eating anything like those prepared frozen entered or those ‘dinner in a small cardboard box – just add water and ‘nuke’ for five minutes.’

    This means gorgeous vegetables, jewel-like berries, fish like fresh Canadian wild caught walleye, wild sockeye, animals that have lived on responsible and humane farms but small quantities of meat and poultry.

    Eat from the farm and garden: not from the factory.

    I’m experimenting with turning salad into dinner. Ex. start with a bowl of fresh dark greens (up to 8 Oz. per person).
    Add a can of drained beans – or garbonzos, sliced radishes, chopped sweet onion – yes a whole medium one, a dozen black olives halved, sliced scallions, chopped small Persian cuke – unpeeled, a few of your favorite mushrooms sliced – baby bellas are nifty, thin slices of carrots and a handful of grape tomatoes. You can even add a couple of hardboiled eggs chopped and/or a piece of chicken or fish chopped.
    Make a salad dressing with fresh squeezed lemon juice and add a little fresh squeezed orange juice if you like. Mix with some good extra virgin olive oil from Crete adding course cracked four color peppercorns and a tiny bit of fresh cracked sea salt – very little.

    This is the best hot summer eve. dinner – even my carnivorous & spud-addicted hubby is loving this. What’s not to love about vegetables?

    High volume food with loads of texture, color, shapes, complex flavors will really keep your palate entertained. Good protein, healthy fats, high fiber, low glycemic index, raw food = good digestive enzymes, satiety level is off the scale for this meal.

  • carol c

    I am trying very hard to find foods I can eat, not only am I diabetic, I have high potassium levels, high cholestrol, and most green veggies I am not suppose to eat. This does not leave me much. Each site i go searching on says it will give me low potassium food list, but they never do actually.

  • K Meyer

    I have been moving toward a complete plant-based diet and I’m finally seeing some results. My doctor has eliminated one of my diabetes medications (glypizide) completely and has twice reduced my metformin. I am so happy and love, love love vegetables.

  • David Spero RN

    Carol, why aren’t you supposed to eat green vegetables, and why the low potassium?

  • NiceDiabetes

    Completely agree, whenever I eat veggies, I always feel 100% better in myself

  • Maria Vilma Gauna

    I’m in the insulin pump with CGM. Now that I’m in my 50’s I found myself picky in eating and halfway during meals I lose my appetite. I used to love eating salads and cooked vegetables, now I don’t like it anymore. I love broth based soup, that I can tolerate. I have Diabetic unawareness, so I have to test my blood sugar multiple times a day. I love the vegetable juice freshly made but my dietitian does not want me to drink it, she prefers smoothies with yogurt or milk to slow the absorption of the sugars. Have you tried fresh vegetable juicing? What advice you can give to my case? Thanks.