Diabetes is one of the modern age diseases. The predominance is due to our changing and health damaging lifestyle. Our eating habits have changed over a period. Our diet is rarely complete and we lack relevant nutrients which keeps our body away from various disorders.
Search for top 3 causes of diabetes and you would understand. Obesity, lack of exercise and smoking are top causes of diabetics. Only US has more than 25 million people with diabetes and thrice the same are pre diabetes. Total of $250 billion are spent each year in diabetes treatment. If one tenth of the same amount be spent on healthy and natural food, the diabetes can be avoided.
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What is Diabetes anyway?
Our body digests carbohydrates into sugar. This sugar on further digestion provides us energy. Diabetes is disease governed by high sugar content in blood. This is due to disorder in sugar metabolism. This can be caused by various reasons. In some case it is genetic. Our body organ – pancreas, secrete enzyme insulin which is required for digestion of sugar. In some cases, our body fails to secrete required insulin, we call such cases as Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes treatment involves injecting insulin in body at regular interval. In other condition, our body cells are incapable of using insulin properly or show resistance to insulin. It is called type 2 diabetes. Obesity and poor diet are prime causes of type ii diabetics. Type 2 diabetes treatment is a challenge. Type ii diabetes treatment involves various medications.
What are foods for diabetic people?
Natural Food is source of body energy and sugar. Hence first interaction of food in diabetes is its sugar content. Good food for diabetes not only contains right amount of sugar, but it also controls how fast it is digested in body. Food for diabetics has low glycemic index. In our article Glycemic index and low GI diet we mentioned how Glycemic index plays important role in diabetes management. In brief, high GI food increases blood sugar rapidly, while low GI food gradually secrets sugar in blood.
Having talked of Glycemic index, it is also essential to understand role of dietary fibers in controlling glycmeic index. Fibers are long chain of carbohydrates which are not digested in body, however they block or hold various substances in food from being absorbed. Fibers block harmful cholesterol from getting absorbed in intestine. At the same time, fibers result in decreasing glycemic index of food.
Further natural food contains various phytonutrients and naturally found chemicals which exhibit some of the most wonderful health benefits. Aptly, nature is known as the best chemist. Research has found that often type II diabetes is associated with oxidative stress or free radical. Hence naturally occurring antioxidant food are important in diabetes management. Further diabetes often leads to cardiac problems; antioxidant food plays important role in preventing cardiac risks in diabetic patient. Thus higher intake of antioxidant food lowers the risk of diabetes.
Increased blood sugar causes diabetes. Sugar is sweet, so naturally some food which tastes opposite to sweetness – bitterness is associated with treatment of diabetes. Ayurveda holds special place for bitter Fenugreek seeds and bittergourd in treatment of diabetes.
It is not just about sugar. Protein plays important role in treatment of diabetes. Modern therapies show that increase in dietary intake of protein helps in better diabetes control and associated weight gain or high blood pressure. It was earlier believed that protein gets digested into glucose and effects blood sugar level. Recent studies show that increased protein does not increase blood sugar as only 50% is converted to glucose, but increase insulin response. It also reduces craving for food and controls body weight. A protein intake of 0.8-1 gm per kg of body weight is often recommended for people with diabetes and kidney diseases, while for other diabetic patients should not reduce protein intake below 1 g/kg of body weight.
Role of minerals in food in treatment of diabetes cannot be ignored. Diabetes is associated with disturbed metabolism of Copper, Zinc, chromium and Magnesium. Deficiency of these minerals may induce increase in type II diabetes. A healthy diet with adequate supply of various minerals is hence important.
So to summarize what are good food for diabetes. Food for diabetic should have low sugar and low glycemic index. Best foods for diabetics offer high fibers, high antioxidants and high protein. In other words Food to avoid with diabetes are one with high sugar and high glycemic index. Foods which justs adds up calories while not providing enough protein and other nutrients should be avoided.
Natural Foods for diabetes
Below are some foods and herbs which are good for diabetes and have found to exhibit health benefits in treatment of diabetics.
Bitter Gourd (Momordica charantia)
Bitter melon or bitter gourd or Karela is popular vegetable fruit and is found beneficial in diabetes. Preliminary studies show that bitter melon juice improves glucose tolerance, reduces blood sugar level, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. Bitter melon juice is traditional medicine which has other benefits as well and regular intake of bitter melon juice is recommended.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum)
Fenugreek seeds with high fiber content and other vital chemicals help in reducing blood sugar. Research has shown benefits of fenugreek seeds on diabetes. It also helps reduce cholesterol absorption in body. Fenugreek seeds soaked in water or curd overnight are consumed in morning by diabetic patients as traditional medicine for diabetes. 4-hydroxy isoleucine is chemical isolated from fenugreek seeds which increases insulin secretion and lowers glucose absorption.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric has been used over 4000 years for treating various diseases including diabetes. Turmeric has hypoglycemic properties as it lowers blood sugar levels. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care in July 2012 found that it may actually prevent prediabetes from developing into diabetes. It is also effective in treatment of diabetic wound.
Onion (Allium cepa)
Onions are low-calorie food with lot of health benefits. It contains essential fibers, minerals and vitamins along with other micronutrient. Onion delays carbohydrate absorption in body and thus plays important role in controlling blood sugar. A study also suggests that dietary onion extract is beneficial for improving diabetes by decreasing lipid levels and obesity. Onions contain high concentrations of flavonoids like Quercetin, cysteine and allyl propyl disulphide. Anti diabetic properties of onion can be attributed to these flavonoids. Onion is rich in chromium, deficiency of which may cause diabetes.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Like onion, garlic offers health benefits in terms of hypoglycemic properties attributed to various flavonoids present in them. A clove of garlic eaten raw in morning to prevent diabetes and heart diseases is a traditional practice. Garlic is also useful in protection of heart and kidney, which are commonly affected organs in case of severe diabetes.
Gurmar Leaves (Gymnema sylvestrae)
Gynmenma Sylvestre is herb which finds important place in ancient medicine forms of India, including Ayurveda, Yunani and Siddha. Leaves of gymnema Sylvestre are used in ayurveda for its anti-diabetic properties. Gymnemic acid present in leaves stops stimulation of taste buds for sweetness and thus helps prevent sugar cravings. It is one of the miracle plants which kills/paralyzes temporarily sensation of sweet. A human study with extract from leaves of Gymnema found effective in controlling hyperglycaemia in Type 2 daibetics patients. In the study, long term dosage of Gymnema supplements resulted in reduction of blood glucose and reduced need for conventional medicines.
Neem (Azadirachtha indica)
Bitter neem leaves are considered effective on treatment of diabetes. Chewing one neem leaf daily is considered healthy habits and can prevent diabetes. Chewing 10 leaves of neem daily in morning is recommended for patient with diabetes. Intake of Neem supplements have found to reduction of medications required in treatment of type II diabetes. Nimbidiol present in neem is considered to be α-glucosidase inhibitor and thus prevents absorption of glucose in intestine.
Bael (Aegle marmelos)
Bengal Quince, Bel or Bilva is herb traditionally used in treatment of diabetes. Water extract of bel leaves improves digestion and reduces blood sugar and urea. It also reduces body cholesterol.
Nayantara or periwinkle (Vinca rosa)
The leaves and stems extract of vinca exhibit anti-diabetic properties. It reduces blood sugar level and protects development of beta cells in pancreas, thus is effective in treatment of type 2 diabetics. Chewing of fresh leaves can treat tooth ache as well. Periwinkle tea is traditionally used in treatment of diabetes. Periwinkle are rich source of alkaloids which has medicinal effects on body. Results from animal studies as published in Mymensingh Medical Journal in 2007, suggested effects of periwinkle on diabetic rats.
Amla juice can cut blood sugar levels. Amla with its antioxidant properties is found useful in preventing diabetes. It reduces oxidative stress in Type 2 Diabetes patients. Indian Gooseberry also contains choromium which has benefits in treating diabetes. It stimulates the cells which promote insulin secretion and thus help regulate blood sugar.
Jamun or Jambhul or black plum (Eugenia jambolana)
This tropical fruit is used in traditional medicines for treatment of diabetes. Seeds of Jamun are used in Ayurvedic, Unani and chinese medicines for diabetes. A diabeteic patient can enjoy jamun fruit without hesitation. Jamun seed can be obtained once the juicy flesh is eaten. Just remove the skin of the seed to find inside nut just like pistachio. This seed can be sun dried and powdered. Jamun seed powder is beneficial for diabetes, as it has antihyperglycemic properties which reduce blood sugar level. Even jamun pulp exhibits anti diabetic properties. It also stimulates secretion of insulin in body.
Grapes have low glycemic index. It also contains polyphenols, including stilbene resveratrol, quercetin, catechins, and anthocyanins that have shown potential in reduction of high blood sugar level. It also improves beta cell function in the pancreas which are often cause of type 2 diabetes. Grapes or grape products thus offer health benefits to type 2 diabetics. However still grape juice should be avoided, rather whole grapes should be consumed.
Beans are considered excellent food for diabetics. With high amount of dietary fibers and proteins, they offer low glycemic index. Some grams have also found to reduce insulin resistance. Various beans like kidney, lima , black, green beans, horse gram and other are good food for diabetes.
Chickpea seeds or Chana
Scientists from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology have found that unprocessed raw horse gram seeds or Chickpea seeds are anti hyperglycemic in nature. They also offer reducing insulin resistance.
Bengal gram also reduces blood sugar in both diabetic and non diabetic patients. For patients with diabetes, it is a boon. Bengal gram extract is usually combined with water before drinking.
Germinated black gram along with fresh bitter gourd juice is powerful remedy for prediabetes. Regular consumption reduces risk of diabetes.
Studies have shown that black coffee without sugar cuts the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Study published American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that women who drank at least three cups of coffee a day had 23% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes as compared with those who drank none. Chlorogenic acid in Coffee is a natural antioxidant and reduces glucose absorption. Magnesium in Coffee is also linked to blood sugar regulation.
Among other benefits, green tea is also helpful in reducing the blood sugar and insulin levels in the body
Chia Seeds regulate blood sugar and is helpful in type 2 diabetes. Chia seeds, along with water, forms gel in stomach; thus slowing down metabolism and absorption of carbohydrates. This reduces fluctuations in blood sugar and thus helps regulate blood sugar, helpful for people with type 2 diabetes. Chia seeds also play a vital role in regulating optimum insulin levels in body.
Action of Tukmaria seeds or sweet basil seeds is similar to chia seeds. With high dietary fibers and gel forming mucilage, it interferes with sugar metabolism.
Holy basil – Ocimum sanctum
Tulsi or holy basil has long history of medicinal benefits. One of its benefits is reduction of blood sugar level. Leaves of tulsi when chewed reduces fasting blood glucose. Indian practice is to serve ambrosia / food to gods with a leaf of holy basil placed on it. Probably signifying its importance as food.
Babhul or Acacia arabica
Babhul is a wild throny shrub found in tropical asia. Babhul plant and stem extract has various health benefits including it being anti diabetic. It helps secrete insulin. Research has confirmed its hypoglycemic properties.
Aloe has been traditionally used as folk remedy for diabetes. Aloe vera gel is obtained from leaf pulp. Aloe latex or aloe juice is bitter yellow exudate from the pericyclic tubules just beneath the outer skin of the leaves. Both gel and latex have potential use in treatment of diabetes. It stimulates secretion of insulin from pancreas.
Capparis decidua is commonly known as kerda, kair, karir, kirir, karril in India. While spicy fruits are used in vegetables or pickles, its is rich in phenolics and glucosinates which show strong antidiabetic activity through inhibition of α-amylase.
Coccinia indica is also known as the ivy gourd, baby watermelon, kundru or little gourd. Ivy gourd extracts are claimed to help regulate blood sugar levels. Some research shows that it inhibits enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase which play vital role in sugar metabolism. Ivy gourd is sometimes recommended for diabetic patients. Leaves extract are found to show hypoglycemia in drug induced diabetic dogs. Kundru chickpea curry is excellent recipe combining two good foods for diabetes.
Mango (Mangifera indica)
The leaves of mango plant are used in treatment of diabetes in Nigerian folk medicine. Aqueous extract of Mangifera indica leaves possess hypoglycemic activity. Thus it reduces absorption of glucose in intestine. Fresh clean mango leaves can be soaked in water overnight. The same are boiled in morning. Mango leaves water is then allowed to cool. It is considered good for treatment of diabetes.
It is also known as Bhumi amla, bahupatra or bhuiamla. Bhumiamla is very bitter tasting small herb literally means ‘the Amalaki of the earth’. Leaves of this plan resemble Amla (Emblica officinalis). It contains lignans (phyllanthine and hypophyllanthine), alkaloids, and bioflavonoids (quercetin) which are useful in protecting liver and has potent antioxidant property. It is traditionally used in treatment of diabetes.
This deciduous tree is found in India and also known as Indian Kino Tree. Pterostilbene, a constituent derived from wood of this plant is found to have hypoglycemic properties and useful in treatment of diabetes. Flavonoid extracted from the tree also causes pancreatic beta cell regranulation. Certain chemical in the plant have also found to exert antihyperlipemic activity. Epicatechin in the plant extract stimulates secretion of insulin. The plant is long used in treatment of diabetes in Ayurvedic medicines.
Stevia is often uses as substitute for sugar. With sweetness about 30 times higher than sugar, it helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.
Sunflower Family Root Vegetables
This includes burdock, chicory, dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, salsify and scorzonera. The roots of these plants contain inulin, a naturally found fructose which helps in reduction of blood sugar in diabetic patient. Decoction made from roots of these herbs is used in treating diabetes.
Brewer’s yeast is rich source of chromium which is effective in treatment of diabetes induced due to chromium deficiency.
This popular vegetable is effective anti-diabetic food. With adequate chromium, it helps reduction of blood sugar and thus regulate. Consumption of broccoli reduces need for medications in patients with mild diabetes.
Herbs for Diabetes
We have already included some herbs in list of foods for diabetes. Many conventional drugs are derived from protypic molecules in these medicinal herbs. For example Metformin a common diabetic drug is based Galega officinalis, which is rich in hypoglycemic guanidine. Metformin is non toxic form guanidine and biguanides.
With more than 400 traditional plants showing anti-diabetic property, even World Health Organization Expert Committee on diabetes has recommended that traditional medicinal herbs be further investigated. Some of the medicinal plants with antidiabetic and beneficial properties are listed here.
Improve your lifestyle to prevent Diabetes
Improving your lifestyle is equally important in treatment of type 2 diabetes. Some lifestyle changes which reduces risk of diabetes
- Avoid smoking
- Do exercise regularly
- Do not skip meals
- Prefer whole food instead of refined food
- Learn and practice meditation for emotional and mental balance
- Enjoy adequate sleep
- Avoid sugary drinks
- Avoid alcohol
- Spread meals throughout the day
- Manage body weight
- Do yoga – here is list of some good yoga for diabetes