Looking to cool off this summer? Try these hydrating foods that won’t spike your blood sugar.
By Stephanie Bucklin
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
Eat Your Way to Hydration
Dobra´nska Renata/Stocksy; Thinkstock (2)
Summer: a time of beaches, pools, fresh air … and heat. And that heat can lead to dehydration, which can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes.
“Dehydration can lead to higher levels of sugar in the blood,” says Katherine Mitchell, RD, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. If dehydration becomes severe enough, Mitchell says, it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment.
Clearly, hydrating is important. “By drinking more water, there is less sugar taking up space in the blood volume, thus you lower the concentration of blood sugar,” says Leigh Tracy, RD, CDE, at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
To stay cool and keep diabetes under control, reach for the following fruits and vegetables.
Celery and Cucumbers
If you’re looking for hydrating foods that won’t spike your blood sugar, nonstarchy vegetables are some of your best options.
“Nonstarchy vegetables are rich in water, as well as important vitamins and minerals,” Tracy explains. “They’re also a good source of fiber, and are lower in calories and carbohydrates than other foods, which is great for blood sugar control. Aim to make half your plate nonstarchy vegetables.”
Mitchell agrees, noting that many times people think fruits are the foods with the most water, even though many vegetables have high water content as well.
For instance, celery is about 95 percent water and packs a lot of fiber, Mitchell says.
Cucumbers are another hydrating option, coming in at about 96 percent water, Mitchell says. One cup of sliced cucumber is only 16 calories and packs a number of antioxidants, including vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin A, Tracy notes.
You can pair these vegetables with proteins, like hummus or reduced-fat string cheese, or include them in protein-rich salads, Mitchell says. For instance, she suggests trying salads with proteins like chickpeas, reduced-fat cheese, fish, or chicken.
Mitchell emphasizes that it’s important to eat protein alongside these foods, which always helps slow how quickly any sugars enter the bloodstream.
Bell Peppers red, yellow, and green bell peppers
Bell peppers are another great nonstarchy vegetable with high water content, Mitchell says, noting that they’re also rich in vitamin C and fiber.
“Fiber slows down how fast everything digests, and thus how fast sugar enters the bloodstream,” Mitchell says.
In fact, bell peppers are about 94 percent water, and one medium green bell pepper packs about 2 grams (g) of fiber, for just 24 calories and just 6 g of carbs. Bell peppers also are a good source of potassium, which is essential for regulating heart function,
digestion, and muscular function, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Potassium is also an electrolyte, a type of nutrient that plays an important role in hydration in the body.
If you opt for yellow or red bell peppers instead, you’ll be adding another powerful antioxidant called beta- carotene to your diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, your body converts beta-carotene into retinol, which is crucial for both vision and growth.
Just as with celery and cucumber, you can pair bell peppers with proteins, like reduced-fat cheese, nuts, and hummus, Mitchell says. You can even toss them into chopped salads for a burst of color, fiber, and hydration.
Greens baby spinach leaves
Greens, like lettuce, can also be very hydrating, according to Mitchell, who says to opt for a richer, darker green lettuce, which packs more nutrients and vitamins than lighter-colored lettuces.
One of those darker greens? Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient that “plays a major role in your body’s ability to form blood clots,” Tracy says. “It’s also a good source of potassium and is low in carbohydrates.”
And even though it’s not crunchy iceberg lettuce, spinach is surprisingly hydrating as well, coming in at about 91 percent water.
Other options include kale, which is about 84 percent water, according to the USDA. It even has minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, along with vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. As an alternative, use arugula in your salad, which is about 92 percent water, and contains nutrients like potassium, vitamin A, and more.
You could cook the spinach to get more into a serving or opt for a leafy green salad with protein and extra veggies. Another creative way to keep your hydration levels up? Add some mint or basil leaves to your water to give it a new, interesting taste — the trick also works with additions like cucumber, lemon, lime, and frozen fruit, Mitchell says.
Tomatoes are another great hydrating option. “One cup of cherry tomatoes is about 30 calories and is high in potassium but low in carbohydrates,” Tracy explains.
They pack a nutrient punch as well and include lycopene. “Lycopene not only provides the rich red color in tomatoes but also acts as a powerful antioxidant to protect your cells,” she says. Lycopene is best absorbed when the tomatoes are cooked, so having tomatoes in a variety of ways is the best way to get the most nutrients.
Tomatoes clock in at about 95 percent water and one medium red tomato contains only about 5 g of carbs while packing 1.5 g of fiber. Tomatoes also contain high levels of vitamin A, which helps your body maintain healthy eyes, teeth, bones, skin, and more.
You could pair tomatoes with reduced-fat mozzarella cheese and basil for a refreshing Caprese salad, or throw tomatoes into a salad packed with beans and other veggies. You can get even more creative and opt for a refreshing gazpacho — a cold, vegetable-based
soup that doesn’t have a lot of sugar, but does contain a good amount of water, and is loaded with antioxidants, according to Mitchell. “It’s very refreshing in the summer,” she says. Try a gazpacho loaded with tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumber, or toss in some bell peppers and onions for extra nutrients and flavor.
Apple slices with peanut butter
If you have diabetes and are searching for hydrating foods, you don’t have to skip fruits altogether. “Most fruits will have natural sugar in them, but with fruit it depends on choosing those that have more fiber,” Mitchell says. Fiber slows down how fast your body digests those fruits, and thus how quickly they affect your blood sugar, she explains.
One great option is to choose fruits with skins on them, Mitchell says, as the skins provide additional fiber. For instance, she suggests trying apple slices and peanut butter for a hydrating, protein-rich snack, noting that apples are a good source of fiber.
Other ideas? Pair an apple with a piece of reduced-fat string cheese, or switch it up and swap in a pear or a peach instead.
These fruits won’t cause the same spike in your blood sugar, though you should still monitor it to be safe. Another test? “If you have diabetes and notice you’re constantly running to the bathroom more than normal, it’s important to check your blood sugar, as it may be too high,” Tracy says. “When blood sugars are high, the kidneys are working harder to flush out the excess sugar, which increases thirst and leads to more bathroom breaks.”
Berries, strawberries, and blueberries
Fruits with seeds are another great high-fiber, hydrating option. Berries especially are a great source of antioxidants like anthocyanin, Mitchell says, and also have plenty of vitamin C. Try blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, or raspberries, and pair them with some high-protein nuts for a nourishing snack.
Tracy agrees, noting that berries are both high in nutrients and low in calories — for instance, eight medium strawberries (about 1 cup) have only about 11 g of carbohydrates. The same goes for about ¾ cup of raspberries and blackberries, Tracy says. Blueberries come in only slightly higher at about 16 g of carbs per ¾ cup serving.
If you’re not feeling like berries, you can opt for other hydrating, seed-containing fruits, including kiwis and watermelons, both of which pack water, fiber, and nutrients. One cup of watermelon has about 11 g of carbohydrates and contains almost a cup of water as well, Tracy says, while one kiwi has about 10 g of carbohydrates. Even better? “Two kiwis have fewer carbohydrates and provide more potassium than a large orange,” Tracy says.
To help slow the effects of these fruits on your blood sugar, you can pair them with protein-rich snacks, Mitchell says. For instance, try plain nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt with some berries, she suggests — even the yogurt will give you some extra hydration.