12 Food Facts Diabetics Should Know

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Can food protect you against diabetes? You bet it can! My new book, The Healing Kitchen, introduces you to dietary changes that can make a big difference, whether you have diabetes or not. Diet can be a powerful form of prevention and intervention.

Diabetes is steadily growing into a global epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of this destructive disease in 2014 was estimated at 9 percent of all people over 18. By 2013, diabetes is expected to rank seventh among leading causes of death. 

The frustration for health officials and doctors alike is that diabetes is almost completely preventable. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, and maintaining a normal body weight are the key factors. Alas, humans the world over, even in the most developed countries, lead lifestyles that pave the way for diabetes. As a prime example, more than 24 Americans have type 2 diabetes – at 90 percent, the most common form of the disease − and experts predict that one in three children born since 2000 will develop the condition during his or her lifetime. Moreover, as many as 147 million more Americans – half the population − already have some form of blood sugar dysfunction that often leads to outright diabetes.

Diabetes involves the body’s increasing inability to properly process carbohydrates and utilize insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate glucose (blood sugar) that is the breakdown product of carbohydrates. Our society horrifically overconsumes carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates from added sugars, sodas, fruit juices, breakfast cereals, and white flour products like white bread, pasta, cake, cookies, biscuits, and bagels. The body can’t handle this carbohydrate flood, resulting in high blood sugar, ineffective insulin response, and weight gain. As dysfunction increases, body fat increases as well. Inflammation rises and arteries and nerves become damaged, leading to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and nerve disorders. With lack of exercise – the process accelerates.

As a doctor who has treated many diabetes-related heart problems, diet reform was a big part of my strategy to make patients healthier. It can make a huge difference.

In my book, the Healing Kitchen, I present the best and the most damaging of foods in relation to a variety of disorders, including diabetes. It’s information you need to know in order to avoid becoming a part of the pre-diabetes and diabetes epidemic.

Here are a dozen basic food-and-diabetes facts excerpted from my book that you should know:

  1. The healthiest diets on the planet, associated with the lowest incidence of chronic illnesses like diabetes are the traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets. Because I like them both so much, I have combined their best features into what I call the Pan-Asian Mediterranean diet (PAM Diet), which along with a simple walking program, can reverse diabetes. The book spells out all the details, including not only recipes but also how to eat an anti-diabetic diet even when you eat out much of the time. 
  2. Be carb-smart. Make small changes and start slowly. Switch from refined carbs and sugary products that quickly jack up your blood sugar, to more complex carbs. Example:  brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain bread instead of white bread, oatmeal instead of a puffed cereal. Just simple changes can substantially reduce your diabetes risk. Even switching to brown rice instead of a baked potato once a week can drop your risk.  
  3. Use the glycemic index (GI), a simple rating system that tells you which carbs break down the fastest and the slowest. You should prefer carbs that are slow, and therefore low on the scale. You can find an extensive glycemic index database at www.glycemicindex.com. A simple rule of thumb is to eat foods in their more natural state. Avoid white, processed foods, and go for natural foods with the brightest colors and highest fiber content.
  4. Portion size counts. Complex-carbs are more filling than refined-carbs, so you will eat less and take in fewer calories.
  5. Make vegetables a more central part of your diet. They are rich in nutrients and fiber, a kind of carbohydrate the body can’t digest. But fiber is a very important carbohydrate because it slows down the breakdown of other carbs and helps keep blood sugar on a more even keel. Almonds, beans, steel-cut (not instant) oatmeal, raspberries, and apple are good fiber sources, just to name a few.
  6. Chromium is a mineral that helps you process sugar more effectively. However, 90% of Americans are said to be deficient. You can get chromium as a supplement, but also in foods like brewer’s yeast, egg yolk, onions, basil, tomato, and romaine lettuce.
  7. Eat artichokes. They contain inulin, a carb that improves blood sugar among diabetics. They also help support liver function.
  8. Sweet potatoes contain twice as much fiber as white spuds, and also contribute to better insulin effectiveness.
  9. Eat fruit. Fruits are rich in nutrients and fiber. Avoid fruit juice, which spikes your blood sugar in a jiffy. Citrus, packing plenty of antioxidant vitamin C, is particularly good for diabetics. 
  10. Choose extra virgin olive oil for salads and drizzling onto to veggies. It’s full of healthy fat and antioxidants. Regular consumption improves blood sugar and blood pressure, even among patients with a high risk for heart disease. Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as those made from corn, soybeans, safflower, and canola. And for sure avoid trans fats (hydrogenated oils, typically found in processed food) and minimize fried foods. They are inflammatory and may contribute to diabetes by interfering with the secretion of insulin.
  11. Go nuts! Nuts are excellent sources of healthy fat, fiber, and magnesium, and help control blood sugar and the insulin response.
  12. A number of spices and herbs have anti-diabetic properties. They include cinnamon (particularly good), tarragon, fenugreek, and cilantro.

For more information, practical tips, and condition-specific recipes, I invite you to visit The Healing Kitchen

References and Resources:

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