The key to beating diabetes—bringing your blood glucose levels under control and minimising your risk of heart disease, neuropathy, kidney failure, blindness and a host of other horrible conditions—lies in the food you eat. Here are a few really great diabetes-beating foods.
To beat your diabetes you need to eat unprocessed food that is low in sugar, low in fat, low in salt, high in fibre and that has low GI (glycemic index) values, ie is digested slowly.
You should eat mainly plants and avoid eggs and dairy products. Every day you should also take a comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement and wash your food down with plenty of water.
All very good in theory, you might say. The real question is: what foods should you actually eat?
Here are a few foods you can eat to fight your diabetes. This list is not at all exhaustive and there are hundreds more you can discover by doing your own research.
The perfect breakfast, porridge is made from whole-grain oats that are full of fibre using lots of water. It is also served hot so it will take longer to eat and, as it is made from whole-grains, it will be digested slowly.
All that fibre and liquid means you will feel full for longer and energy will be released slower, giving a lower spike in your blood glucose.
Crisps-breads are whole-grain crackers made from rye. They are packed full of fibre and are very low in fat, making them a great alternative to traditional crackers.
Whole-grains contain more plant nutrients than refined grains. They also have lower GI values ie they take longer to digest so they release glucose into your bloodstream at a more moderate rate than refined grains.
Research suggests that persons who eat whole-grains tend to have less fat around their stomachs than people who eat refined grains.
The benefits of whole-grains don’t just apply to crackers. Switching from refined-grains to whole-grain cereals, breads, and pastas is also crucial for beating your diabetes.
Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal, ie it is not actually a cereal but it is cooked and eaten in the same way as cereals.
Unlike wheat or rice, it contains eight of the essential amino acids and so it is a complete protein (8 grams per cup). It is packed with dietary fibre (5g per cup), phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free and easy to digest.
The only drawback with quinoa is that it contains more fat than wheat or rice. However these are mainly heart-healthy fats such as monounsaturated fat (in the form of oleic acid).
Quinoa can also provide small amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In addition, it contains a wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients (plant chemicals).
Though it is relatively unknown in the many parts of the world, quinoa is as easy to cook as any true grain. Mixed with vegetables and some lean protein, it can make for some interesting dinners.
Bulgur is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat that has been parboiled (partially pre-cooked) and dried. It is usually ground into particles which are sifted and sold in various sizes.
As only a small amount of bran is removed during processing, it is considered a whole grain. It has a pleasant, nutty flavour, and can be stored for long periods.
Bulgur is highly nutritious. A 100gm contains nearly 16g of carbohydrates (of which less than half a gram are sugars), 12.29g of protein, and only 1.33g of fat. Just 3.5% of the energy in bulgur comes from fat.
Bulgur is also high in dietary fibre (more than 18%) and rich in B vitamins, iron, phosphorus and manganese. Indeed this grain has more nutritional impact than rice or couscous.
It also requires very little cooking and can be mixed with other ingredients without being cooked. Bulgur shines in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh salad and kibbeh.
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods on Earth. They are excellent sources of carotenes, and the darker they are, the more carotenes they contain. They also contain plenty of vitamins and dietary minerals.
Sweet potatoes contain glutathione, an antioxidant that can enhance the metabolism of nutrients and the health of the immune-system, and also protect against a wide range of diseases.
Unlike many other starchy vegetables, their low GI value ensures that sweet potatoes are a great diabetes beater and a wondrous substitute for ordinary potatoes.
Many non-dairy milk alternatives are available. Made from plants, each has a different nutritional profile, flavour, colour and texture.
Soy milk is one of the most popular substitutes for dairy milk. Made from soybeans, its nutritional profile is the most similar to cow’s milk compared to other non-dairy alternatives.
It contains 8 to 10 grams of protein per serving. The isoflavones in soy milk have been shown to be beneficial in preventing heart disease.
Soy milk can be sweetened or unsweetened, fortified with calcium vitamins A and D and riboflavin. You can also get flavoured varieties such as chocolate and vanilla.
Good though it is, you need to be cautious when buying soy milk and read the labels thoroughly.
Casein, the protein found in milk, and caseinate derivatives are sometimes added, along with sugar and fat to enhance the taste. Ensure that soy milk contains less than 3% fat and that only 10% of its energy comes from fat.
Several non-dairy yoghurts are available in most markets. These are made from various milks including rice, soy, and coconut milk. One of the most popular is yoghurt made from soy milk.
You can make soy yoghurt at home just by adding yoghurt bacteria to soy milk, using the same method as you would use for dairy yoghurt.
However you need to add one tablespoon of sugar for each litre of unsweetened soy milk in order to promote bacterial fermentation. This is because soy milk on its own lacks the lactose (milk sugar) that is the basic food for the yogurt bacteria.
Soy yogurt contains less fat (about 2.7%) than yogurt made with whole milk (3.5% fat). Soy yogurt can also be made from reduced-fat soy milk.
However you need to check labels carefully for taste-enhancing added ingredients that can boost sugar or fat levels dramatically.
Beans are high in protein but very low in fat and have no cholesterol. They are full of complex carbohydrates, yet have a low GI value, which means they are very helpful for controlling your glucose and cholesterol levels.
Beans have high levels of vitamins and dietary minerals. They also contain significant amounts of insoluble and soluble fibre. One cup of cooked beans has between 9 and 13 grams of fibre. This is one reason why people who eat beans often weight less than those who don’t.
Adding low-calorie beans to your diet will help you lose weight and control your blood glucose levels.
Lean meat and fish
Protein can keep you full longer and digesting it burns more calories than digesting other foods. Meat and fish contain more protein than most other foodstuffs.
If you must eat meat, make sure it is as lean as possible. Dark meat tends to be high in fat. Skinless chicken breast contains less fat.
Some cuts of beef have less than four grams of saturated fat per serving, so you can eat them provided you stick to 4-ounce servings.
One of the best sources of protein is fish and most fish are low in fat. In addition, the fats found in salmon, herring and other fatty fish are usually omega-3 fatty acids, healthy forms of fat that are said to protect against heart disease and other chronic conditions.
Moderately-sized servings of fish should not impede you from controlling your blood glucose and beating your diabetes.
A broth is water in which vegetables or meats have been boiled and which is used as a soup. Broths help you beat your diabetes by helping you to lose or maintain your weight. Soups are full of water (by definition!) and tend to fill you up while only delivering a minimal amount of calories.
Soup is also hot, which prevents you from guzzling it down too quickly, which allows the feeling of satiation to kick in before you have eaten too much. When eaten as a first course, a broth will take up space in your stomach that might have gone to foods with higher calories.
You can make a satisfying low-calorie meal out of a broth by adding chopped up chunky vegetables, beans or cubes of lean meat, chicken or fish.
Eating salads is a great way for beating diabetes. The vegetables found in salads are nearly always high in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
In addition, ingredients such as lettuce contain plenty of water which will take up space in your stomach (provided they are eaten as a starter), leaving less room for fattier foods later in your meal.
You can make your salads more interesting by making sure they contain a variety of vegetables and fruits. But be cautious with vinaigrettes, which can add satisfying flavours, as some contain excessive amounts of oil.
Chilli or hot peppers
Chilli or hot peppers, such as habaneros or jalapeños, contain a flavourless compound called capsaicin, an irritant that produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact.
Capsaicin seems to curb the appetite and speed up the metabolism slightly, but only for a short time.
However, because people tend to eat less when their food is spicy, it can be helpful in reducing the amount of food you eat and thus your weight, which will help you control your blood sugar.
You can’t eat spicy foods, of course, if you have acid reflux or other digestive problems.
Cinnamon has a stabilising effect on blood sugar. Studies indicate that it can cut fasting glucose levels by up to 30%.
My own experience suggests that, about a teaspoon sprinkled on my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings reduces my average glucose levels on awaking by nearly 0.5mmol/l (9mg/l) or about 8%, a significant drop. Half a teaspoon has little effect.
It seems to me that this spice, in the form of ground powder, can help control your blood glucose.
However a Cochrane review (a meta-analysis summarising and interpreting the results of many trials) published in 2012 found that cinnamon was no more effective than a placebo in reducing haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a long-term measurement of blood glucose control.
Nevertheless I continue to use cinnamon it every morning.
You can also stir it into your coffee, tea or yoghurt to add flavour without adding calories.
These are just a few of the foods you can eat to beat your diabetes. There are hundreds more.