What to Eat to Treat Diabetes

Diabetes affects the cardiovascular, glandular, musculoskeletal, and respiratory immune centers.

Chicken soup may be good for the common cold, but onion soup is just what the dietician ordered for diabetes. Both onions and garlic are rich in blood-sugar-lowering compounds and provide vitamins C and E, two nutrients that diabetics are commonly low in. Eating therapeutically is a habit that takes practice, and it pays if you’re dia­betic. All you need is your soup spoon, salad fork, tea cup, and some face time with fresh foods, including raw fruits and vegetables, that improve your chances of resisting or rebounding from this disorder.

Diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar, affects 40 percent of the population, and it’s climbing by 6 percent yearly. According to the American Dietetic Association, by 2010, diabetes will become the lead­ing cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is characterized by a disturbance of the pancreatic hormone insulin. When insulin builds up in the blood instead of being taken up into the cells, a state of hyper­glycemia (high blood sugar) results. hT is can lead to damaged blood vessels and then to heart, eye, or kidney disease. There are two major forms of this disease: diabetes type 1 (juvenile onset) and diabetes type 2 (adult onset). The latter is the more common of the two, affecting 90 to 95 percent of the afflicted, many of whom are unaware that they are affected. Insulin is always required for type 1, but not always for type 2.

People with diabetes are more prone to cardiovascular disease because of faulty fat metabolism; may have poor circulation due to the narrowing of blood vessels, which leads to many complications; and have a heightened susceptibility to infection. In addition, 90 percent of those with diabetes are overweight or obese. A poor diet high in fiber-depleted simple carbohydrates, unmanaged food allergies, and frequent viral infections can all make matters worse. Stress can cause adrenaline levels to rise, triggering a hike in blood sugar. Life expectancy is typically four to eight years shorter for diabetics compared to nondiabetics.

What to Eat

Your diabetes immunity-boosting defense kit should include frequent helpings of soups, salads, and other dishes formulated from low-fat, high-fiber beans, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables, whose pectin con­tent reduces the need for insulin and lowers blood sugar. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Americans, espe­cially diabetics, should eat more than the 1/2 cup of beans they cur­rently consume a week and shoot for a much-higher-in-fiber goal of 3 cups a week. Beans are low in total fat, with no saturated fat, but have important nutrients such as calcium, iron, folic acid, and potas­sium. Beans help lower the risk of hypertension and stroke as well as helping manage diabetes, says the FDA. In fact, a low-fat plant-based diet actually helps repair the way the body uses insulin rather than just compensating for the malfunctioning of this hormone, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Whole Grains for Healing. Add three or more helpings of whole grains daily, and you reduce your chances of worsening insulin resis­tance or of developing Metabolic Syndrome, that cluster of factors that often precedes type 2 diabetes. Whole grains are a source of chromium, and this trace mineral is required for insulin to act on cells, moving glucose from the blood into the cells. Insulin resistance, which is at the root of type 2 diabetes, might in fact be related to chro­mium deficiency, which is widespread, say researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In test animals, increased chromium increased life span, lowered blood pressure, and normalized hemoglobin levels. Eating refined foods, which are low in chromium, also increases chromium loss from the body.

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Watch the GI. Keep an eye on the glycemic index (GI), which can tell you how rapidly a carbohydrate turns into glucose. In the Nurses’ Health Study, a one-third drop in risk came from eating a low-GI­foods diet with plenty of cereal fiber. (See glycemicindex .com for details.) Try some unusual low-sugar, low-glycemic-index fruits such as papaya, Asian pear, quince, star fruit, and the pomelo, a giant citrus.

Normalizing Blood Sugar with Your Knife and Fork. That kit for normalizing blood sugar should also include berries (with blueberries at the top of the shopping list), sweet potatoes (which help control C-reactive protein in the blood, as a bonus), vitamin-B-complex-rich nutritional yeast, soybeans, sea vegetables, and dairy or nondairy yogurt, plus eggs, if you eat them. Plus, include antioxidant-rich all-star eats such as oranges and other citrus, tomatoes, squash, spinach, and both onions and garlic (the more, the better, since both contain blood-sugar-lowering sculpture compounds). Potatoes, yeast, and spinach contain small amounts of alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control (as well as repairs cartilage). So do mono- and polyunsaturated oils such as flax­seed, rapeseed, and olive oils.

Look for bitter melon (aka balsam pear) in the ethnic foods sec­tion or fresh produce section of your market or in Asian food marts. Steamed or sautéed with beans or another ingredient to offset its bit­terness, it contains a polypeptide that helps regulate blood sugar.

Insulin, Glucose, and Magnesium. Magnesium-rich foods also help normalize the insulin-glucose mechanism in the body. In at-the-table terms, this means more nuts, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and beans.

Think Twice About Sweet or Salty. Refined sugars are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rise in blood sugar and in insulin, eventually exhausting the adrenals in a state of reactive hypo­glycemia. Even if table sugar is out, garden sugar isn’t. Stevia, a bush whose leaves are 330 times sweeter than cane sugar, can be bought in powder or liquid form or grown from seed. Fructose, used in modera­tion, is another sweetener that actually enhances sensitivity to insu­lin. But avoid products made with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which contributes to metabolic syndrome, which in turn increases risk of diabetes and causes intra-abdominal fat, a risk factor for car­diovascular disease.

Herbs. Healing herbs, for taking in soups and juices, sprinkling on foods, or steeping as teas, that stimulate production of insulin include cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, bay leaf, fenugreek, and blueberry leaf.

Coffee and Tea. What you don’t sip as juice, soup, or water, you can drink as coffee or tea. In a twelve-year study of more than 14,000 adults, women who drank three to four cups of coffee daily had a 20 percent reduced risk of diabetes type 2. The magic ingredient may be the antioxidant chlorogenic acid, which indirectly helps regulate blood glucose. But remember, caffeine is still problematic for other reasons, so check with your health care professional if you have a heart condition, ulcer, or another condition for which caffeine may be con­traindicated. If you use decaf, make it organic to avoid the chemicals used to grow and process coffee beans.

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