In a groundbreaking study in 2011 on reversal of type 2 diabetes, researchers at Newcastle University in England put 11 people diagnosed with diabetes within the previous four years through a carefully planned, extreme 600 kcal-a-day diet for eight weeks. The results were startling. After one week, the pre-breakfast blood sugar levels of every participant were normal. Three months after the end of the diet, even though the patients had returned to eating normal (but healthy) food, seven of them had been cured completely.
The study, published in Diabetologia, dramatically reaffirmed the well-known fact that type 2 diabetes can be effectively managed or cured through lifestyle management.
The corollary to this, of course, is that certain foods, when added to your daily diet, can certainly help prevent diabetes. Which still doesn’t mean that you can go on a sugar binge—nothing can replace the benefits that a balanced diet and regular exercise give. These foods give an extra boost to a healthy diet—they have been shown not only to help stabilize blood sugar and prevent diabetes, but if consumed regularly, also help in weight management, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, help prevent bowel cancers, keep bones and muscles in better shape, and more.
Unsalted almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fats and low in carbs, while being rich in magnesium, which is believed to be important for carbohydrate metabolism. The results of a study published in the ‘Journal of the American College of Nutrition’ in 2010 show that almond consumption can offset the effect of high blood sugar, prevent insulin resistance and lower levels of bad cholesterol. The study involved 65 pre-diabetic adults who were divided into two groups to determine the effect of almond consumption. One group ate a healthy diabetic diet without nuts and the other group ate the same diet, but with 20% of the calories from almonds (roughly 2 ounces [around 55g] per day). Analysis showed that the group that ate almonds had much better insulin levels and improved markers of beta-cell function. The study authors concluded that the high-fibre content and unsaturated fats in almonds “help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease”.
Another study, published in 2007 in ‘Metabolism’, concludes that almonds not only lower serum cholesterol levels but also reduce the glycaemic impact (blood sugar-raising capacity) of the carbohydrate foods with which they are eaten.
Add in your diet: The flavour of almonds goes up manifold when they are dry-roasted in the oven. Unsalted roasted almonds can be chopped and added to salads, or eaten as it is for a snack. Almond butter makes a very good sandwich spread. Some of the flour used for cakes can be substituted with almond flour.
A 2007 study, ‘Whole Grain, Bran, and Germ Intake And Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review’, on nurses in the US, published in ‘PLOS Medicine’, found that those who consumed more wholegrains were almost 40% less likely to develop diabetes than those who consumed the least.
While wholegrains have been proven to prevent diabetes, they lower average blood sugar and insulin levels, and improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in those who already have type 2 diabetes.
Making a sudden transition from refined foods like white flour to wholegrains can lead to a bloated and uncomfortable feeling, so make it gradual. Even replacing half your daily carbohydrate-intake with wholegrains like oats, brown rice, barley, ‘ragi’ (finger millet) or broken wheat can make a big difference.
Add in your diet: Oat porridge or oat ‘upma’ for breakfast, broken wheat ‘pulao’ or ‘khichdi’ with seasonal vegetables for lunch, ‘ragi’-cinnamon biscuits for a snack, and tomato and barley soup with wholewheat bread for dinner.
Yogurt and cheese
According to a 2011 study published in ‘The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’, higher dairy product intake during adolescence is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Another study published in the same journal establishes that consuming cheese or yogurt may help prevent diabetes. Scientists believe that the fermentation process that converts milk to cheese and yogurt could be responsible for their anti-diabetic property. The probiotic bacteria in yogurt lowers cholesterol and produces certain vitamins that help prevent diabetes. Dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt are also rich in vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, which may help protect against the condition.
Add in your diet: Yogurt lends itself to many Indian dishes in the form of ‘raita’, curries or with rice. A bowl of ‘dahi’ is part of most Indian ‘thaalis’. Outside of Indian cuisine, you could use yogurt for dips and salad dressings, buttermilk/thinned yogurt for cake and pancake batter, and hung yogurt for desserts such as cheesecakes. It is also one of the foods you can get weaning babies started on. Yogurt paired with seasonal fruit makes an excellent snack for children as well as adults.
A meta-analysis of studies published in the ‘Journal of General Internal Medicine’ in 2009 evaluated the association of tea consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes and showed that greater tea consumption is associated with lesser incidence of type 2 diabetes. This is good news for the tea-loving Indian population. However, tea is best had brewed lightly and with minimal milk, rather than the overtly sugary boiled-over-several-minutes traditional beverage preferred by most Indians. While green tea is known to provide the maximum health benefits, researchers in Geneva, London and France found black tea to be more beneficial in a study published in ‘BMJ Open’ in 2012. They found that across 50 countries, places where people drink black tea more, people had significantly lower rates of type 2 diabetes. It is possible that the flavonoids help to regenerate the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas.
Add in your diet: Have three-four cups of lightly brewed black or green tea, with minimal milk and no sugar, for maximum benefits. You can still have the occasional cup of masala ‘chai’ but not on a regular basis.
A regular in the Indian spice box, fenugreek (‘methi’) seeds are rich in dietary fibre. These also have anti-inflammatory, hypolipidemic (decreasing lipid levels) and blood sugar-reducing properties. The seeds contain an amino acid not found in mammalian tissues, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which is supposed to increase insulin production by stimulating those cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin.
The ‘Diet And Diabetes’ handbook from the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, prescribes 2 tsp of fenugreek seeds a day along with lunch and dinner or 25g of these every day. According to the authors, “Seeds can be taken as such after overnight soaking in water or in powder form mixed with buttermilk 15 minutes before a meal.”
Add in your diet: Fenugreek seeds can be soaked, sprouted and added to salads. Soak along with the rice while making ‘idli’ batter, or add to ‘rotis’, ‘dal’ and vegetables. Add 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds to any ‘dal’ and pressure-cook them together. The one drawback is the bitter taste, which can be masked when added to food preparations instead of eating them as it is. One can also make fenugreek tea using the seeds and drink one-two cups a day.
A 2010 paper in the ‘Journal of Diabetes Science And Technology’ concluded that cinnamon and components of cinnamon have shown beneficial effects on nearly all of the factors associated with metabolic syndrome, including insulin resistance, elevated glucose and lipids, decreased antioxidant activity, inflammation, blood pressure and increased weight gain.
In a clinical study, ‘Cinnamon Improves Glucose And Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes’, published in ‘Diabetes Care’ in 2003, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were divided into groups, and it was observed that the intake of 1g, 3g, or 6g of cinnamon per day reduced serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
Add in your diet: Use cinnamon liberally in baking, in masala ‘chai’, sprinkle on hot cocoa or oatmeal porridge for breakfast. Banana slices dusted with cinnamon powder make an excellent healthy dessert. Cinnamon has an inherent sweetness that works on satisfying the sweet tooth just like sugar does, helping to reduce sugar consumption. Try having your coffee with a dash of cinnamon powder instead of sugar.