Is Fish Good for Diabetics?

Finding the right foods is not always easy for people with diabetes.  You have to think twice and make smart choices for proper blood sugar control. So is fish good for diabetics? Definitely yes!  Fish is a great source of protein and very low in carbs so it won’t spike blood sugar levels.  Read about why fish is good for people with diabetes, it’s health benefits, and easy ways to make fish a part of your diabetes diet.

Fish Nutritional Facts

While there’s different types of fish, the nutritional data show they’re generally low in carbohydrates and mostly protein.

man cutting sockeye salmon
Filet of Sockeye Salmon

Below is the nutritional information of 100g of Sockeye Salmon, a fish you can find in most grocery stores.

  • Calories 155
  • Protein 27g
  • Total Fat 6g
  • Carbs 0g
  • Magnesium 36mg
  • Potassium 436mg
  • Vitamin D 16.7 micrograms (668 IU)

Why Fish is Good for Diabetes

Fish is a great choice for people with diabetes because it basically has zero in carbs and offers a lot of health benefits.

Won’t Spike Blood glucose levels

Because it’s mostly protein without any carbs, you don’t have to worry about fish causing spikes in your blood glucose levels.  For example, salmon has an estimated glycemic load of zero.

People with diabetes have to manage blood glucose levels every day and picking low-carb foods is very important. Fish makes an excellent food for a diabetes diet because it gives the protein your body needs without spiking blood sugar.

Fish is also mostly protein which is important for maintaining muscles that help control blood glucose levels. And while protein powders are fine for people with diabetes, getting protein from whole foods is generally a better option.

Health Benefits from Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Probably the most well known fact about fish is its high content of Omega 3 fatty acids, especially oily fish.

Two important Omega 3s, EPA and DHA, are found in most fish oil and offer many health benefits.

Fish that tend to be rich in Omega 3s are salmon, mackerel, herring and fresh sardines.

sardines on metal pan coated in oil and seasoning
Sardines with olive oil and capers

Promotes Heart Health

The Omega 3s in Fish oil can lower triglycerides, which is fat that’s found in the blood. But having high triglyceride levels increases the chances of stroke and heart disease.

Studies also show that Omega 3s can increases HDL cholesterol levels. HDL is the “good cholesterol” because it helps remove extra fat cells in the blood.

Omega 3 can help lower blood pressure and is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular problems as shown in studies.

Anti-inflammatory

In addition to improving heart health, omega 3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties.

This especially helpful in people with metabolic syndrome like obesity, high blood pressure and/or high blood glucose levels as shown in this study.

trout fish on black plate with onions and seasoning
Trout with onions and lemon

Helps with Depression

Studies show that people who eat omega 3 fatty acids can improve symptoms of depression

For instance one study showed that young adults who supplemented with Omega 3s reported lowered depression in a relatively short amount of time.

And this study showed that EPA in particular seemed to be more effective at improving depression than DHA.

Good Source of Vitamin D

Fish can also be a good source of Vitamin D, which is a nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium. It also helps muscles move and helps the immune system by protecting against viruses and bacteria.

From the nutritional info above, one serving of salmon has over 16 micrograms or 668 IUs of Vitamin D. That more than the recommended daily amount Vitamin D 600 IUs for adults up to 70 years.

How Often You Should Eat Fish

Based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines, 8 -10 ounces of seafood per week is recommended for healthy eating patterns.

The American Heart Association recommends fish intake of 2 servings per week, especially fatty fish.

steamed fish on plate with mushrooms and green onion
Steamed fish with mushrooms

Mercury Levels in Fish

While you can enjoy eating fish several times a week, try to avoid the fish varieties known to have high mercury levels.

Mercury is a heavy metal used in industries but can be released in environment. Fish and shellfish can absorb mercury in the environment and overtime builds up in their tissue.

Methylmercury is a type of mercury found in fish and shellfish. It’s also a neurotoxin and being exposed to high levels can lead to adverse health conditions like:

  • Feeling “pins and needles” feelings in hands, feet, and mouth
  • Impaired speech, hearing, or walking
  • Muscle weakness

Generally, the larger fish varieties have higher levels of mercury. This is because larger fish eat smaller fish and any mercury in the smaller fish accumulates.

According to the FDA data, fish with the highest levels of mercury are:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • King mackerel
  • Bigeye tuna
  • Marlin
two steaks of swordfish on cutting board
Swordfish steaks

Is Fish Safe during Pregnancy or Breastfeeding

Yes, fish is generally safe when pregnant or breastfeeding but choose fish with lower mercury levels.

In fact, eating fish is actually recommended because omega 3 fatty acids in fish promote brain growth and development in infants. You can refer to the FDA‘s guide of “best choices” of fish for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Best Ways to Cook Fish for Diabetes

Because managing blood glucose levels keeps you busy enough, you don’t want your diet to also take a lot of time. Fish is pretty easy to prepare and doesn’t take long to cook.

Below are quick and easy ways to cook fish along with some tasty recipes.

Baked

To us, baking fish combines all the great things of being simple, quick and versatile.

Most fish filets are baked at 375 – 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Properly cooked fish is done when the meat is flaky and a little firm.

There’s tons of ways to season fish but a general rule is match the seasoning with the natural flavor of the fish.

baked fish on parchment paper with tomatoes and lemon
Baked fish with roasted tomatoes and lemon

If it’s a mild flavored white fish (like tilapia or trout) then use use light seasonings like herbs, lemon juice, and mild spices. But if you’re making fish with a rich flavor – like tuna or salmon – then you can use stronger seasonings like soy sauce, chili powder or balsamic vinegar.

Sautéed

Sautéing fish gives the most variety to your dishes, from quickly seared fish or cooked fish in savory sauces.

The basic steps to sautéing fish is to: heat up the pan, add in a fat (like olive oil or butter) and then place fish and other ingredients. But cooking time will vary based on your recipe.

Why we like sautéed fish the most is you can make crispy, crunchy fish skin!

fish filet searing on pan
Sautéed fish in a pan

Steamed

Most people don’t think to steam fish but it’s great for delicate fish like sea bass, cod and flounder.

Steaming is also simple: add water to boiler and place the fish in the steaming basket (it’s good to line the steamer with parchment paper). And you don’t need to add any oil or fat, which is good if you’re watching calories.

But the best thing with steaming is you can infuse bold flavors – like ginger, lemon grass or even cooking wines – without overpowering delicate fish.

salmon filet in steamer basket
Salmon filet in steamer basket

FAQ

Can Fish Raise Your Blood Sugar?

 Because fish has almost zero carbs, your blood sugar level won’t increase much when you consume fish (if at all). But if you’re adding sauces or toppings then pay attention to sugar in the ingredients because that can raise blood sugar.

What Kinds of Fish is good for diabetics?

Most fish are a good choice because they’re very low in carbs. But eating fatty fish gives the added health benefits from Omega 3s.

Is Fried Fish Good for diabetics?

Fried fish is not a good choice for people with diabetes because the batter adds unnecessary carbs, which raises blood glucose. And it’ll likely be fried in seed oils making it very inflammatory.

Summary

Fish is without a doubt a great choice for people with Type 2 diabetes.  It virtually has zero carbs so you don’t have to worry about blood glucose spikes.  And it’s packed with high quality protein to help maintain muscles.

Eating fish also gives other health benefits from Omega 3 Fatty Acids, especially oily fish. Improving cardiovascular health, lowering inflammation and even helping with depression have been shown by taking to Omega 3.

Best of all, cooked fish takes little time making it more convenient for a diabetes diet. Whether it’s baked, sautéed or steamed, most fish only need 15-20 minutes of cooking.

We know following diabetic diets is not easy but with the right foods, managing diabetes doesn’t have to be a struggle. Fish as well as other seafood like shrimp make a great choice as part of a healthy diabetes diet. 

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