Want tasty foods for diabetes prevention?
About 37% of Americans have a condition known as pre-diabetes. Individuals with pre-diabetes have blood sugar levels higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Within five years, between 15-30% of Americans will develop full-fledged diabetes. There are no symptoms initially. Do not be fooled. Pre-diabetes also increases the risk for nerve damage, chronic kidney disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, and cancer.
In one significant study Harvard researchers found that if those who were at risk for developing diabetes made only one lifestyle change—improving their diet– they reduced their risk for developing diabetes by 20% compared to those who made no dietary changes. What were the changes made? They consumed more fruits and vegetables regularly, ate more whole grains and less saturated fat, and drank less sweetened beverages. And this 20% reduction happened without even weight loss or increased physical activity.1
News Flash: Your intestines have their own ecosystem and operate like a mega city for at least 100 trillion bacteria. There are at least 2000 different known species of bacteria. While one third of bacteria are common to most everyone’s intestines, two-thirds of bacteria are unique to you. So your gut microflora is essentially different than anyone else’s.
Obesity Changes Gut Bacteria
Ninety per cent of individuals who have type 2 diabetes are obese. In obese individuals, the balance of bacteria in the large intestine is disturbed. Additionally, individuals with diabetes are also known to have a hostile bacteria environment in their gut. As a result, unfortunate microbial byproducts form and may encourage inflammation, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Poor gut bacteria can help trigger the development of obesity. In contrast, helpful, friendly gut bacteria can help to reduce the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The microflora composition in the colon of lean animals and individuals is different than those found in the colon of obese animals and individuals. What can you do about it? Clue: The foods we eat largely determine the type of bacteria we have in the colon. Generally speaking, a plant-based diet and fiber encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. Here are five good ways of using foods to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Granny Smith Apples
Crunch on Granny Smith apples. Because they are rich in soluble fiber and antioxidants, regular consumption of apples can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease. But it can do so much more! Non-digestible compounds in apples — especially the tart Granny Smith apples— may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The non-digestible compounds, such as fiber and polyphenols, actually remain intact as they reach the colon. Once there, they benefit the growth of friendly bacteria. This consequently reduces your risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Studies in mice show that the non-digestible compounds in Granny Smith apples actually change the proportions of fecal bacteria in obese mice to be similar to that of lean mice.2
We should also mention that oligosaccharides (carbohydrates composed of a relatively small number of monosaccharides) also help to maintain the balance of gut microflora in favor of friendly bacteria. These beneficial gut microbes release anti-inflammatory byproducts that help to reduce the risk for chronic disease and long-term diabetic compounds. Oligosaccharides are found naturally in asparagus, artichokes, onions, chicory, garlic, leeks, and bananas. Twelve Natural Ways to Improve Gut Health without Probiotics
Enjoy a handful of fresh or frozen berries daily. A study consisting 3,645,585 person-years of follow-up found that higher intakes of anthocyanins were significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.3 How? Berries are rich in soluble fiber, anthocyanins, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory compounds but low on the glycemic index.
The glycemic index measures how fast and how much a food raises blood glucose levels. The soluble fiber in berries slows down the absorption of glucose. Berries also reduce the natural inflammation that occurs after consuming a high fat, high carbohydrate diet in overweight individuals.4 There is early evidence that daily consumption of strawberries can help reduce the risk for diabetic complications affecting the brain and the kidneys.5.
Blueberries are especially helpful for obese individuals and those with type 2 diabetes. Blueberries curb fat cell production and may help to protect from some of the long term complications seen in obesity and diabetes. Six Ways Blueberries Help Obesity
Incorporate legume-based cooking instead of a meat based diet. Why? Consumption of red meat is linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Legumes are nutrient-dense foods, rich in micronutrients. Consider their resume: potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc. Additionally, they provide an important source of protein. Because legumes are also rich in soluble and total fiber, as well as resistant starch, they generally score low on the glycemic index of these foods. They provide ample amounts of polyphenols, many of which are potent antioxidants. Not only do they reduce the “bad” (LDL cholesterol) when consumed regularly, they reduce the risk for diabetes. Just don’t eat them with white rice!
Researchers studied 3349 participants at high risk of cardiovascular disease but without type 2 diabetes for four years. They found at the end of the study that people who ate around three and a half servings per week of legumes slashed their risk for diabetes by 35 percent. 6 Even in overweight, type 2 diabetes patients, substituting legumes for red meat improves blood sugar control and lipids (cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol.7 Eating lentils, navy beans, and chick peas reduces the consumption of other food, improves satiety, and even lowers blood glucose after a second meal!8 Early studies suggest that legumes, such as yellow peas and soybeans9, also improves the profile of gut bacteria.
Cultivate a taste for leafy greens. Although low in calories, these foods offer many benefits. Eating one and a half extra servings of green leafy vegetables a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%.10 Not only do greens score low on the glycemic index, they are high in magnesium, a mineral which improves the ability of the cells to respond to insulin. Plus greens help to combat inflammation so common in obesity, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
Chopping them into soups is an easy way to enjoy them. The timing of when you eat your greens can make an even greater difference. Eating a serving of green leafy vegetables or non-starchy vegetables before the ingestion of carbohydrates (grains, potatoes) may help to significantly lower blood sugar into a more healthy range than if you eat your carbohydrates before your vegetables11,12
Whole Grain Goodness!
Emphasize organic, gluten-free whole grains for cereals. Not only does regular consumption of whole grains reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, in one study, women with type 2 diabetes, who ate the most bran, had a 35 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 28 percent reduction in death from all causes than women who ate the least amount of bran13 Whole grains and legumes provide resistant starches that improve insulin sensitivity and other aspects of health. True or False? Low Carb Diets Are Good for You!
Unless one has celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there is no reason to restrict gluten-containing cereals, but if one has a family history of type 1 diabetes or other risk factors that predisposes to type 1 diabetes (i.e. vitamin D deficiency), this author would advocate that non-gluten grains be emphasized. Why? Because a handful of studies provide early evidence that suggests that consuming gluten products may change the intestinal micro-flora so as to encourage the development of certain auto-immune diseases, including type 1 diabetes in susceptible persons14
A gluten-free diet may possibly reduce the development of type 1 diabetes. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, quinoa, corn, and teff do not contain gluten. Some endocrinologists believe there is a third type of diabetes that combines some of the features from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In this type of diabetes (known as type 1.5 diabetes) both features of insulin resistance and auto-immune destruction of the cells that produce insulin are present. Persons with type 1.5 diabetes might want to try gluten-free grains for a period of time to see if it helps. Individuals who want to try a gluten-free diet should ideally consult with a dietitian for help in menu plan. Only whole grains, preferably organic, should be used.
Since studies show that pesticides may increase the risk for obesity and diabetes15, we would recommend that organically-grown foods be purchased when possible. The less processed any grain is, the better on the blood sugar.
Whether you actually have type 2 diabetes, or pre-diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, these delightful foods will help you if you eat them regularly and in moderation. For more practical information on type 2 diabetes, see the these links.
- American Diabetes Association. “Improving diet quality reduces risk for type 2 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 June 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140614150313.htm
- Washington State University. “An apple a day could keep obesity away.” ScienceDaily. 29 September 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140929181156.htm
- Wedick NM, et al., Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Am J ClinNutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):925-33.
- Ellis, CL, et al., Attenuation of meal-induced inflammatory and thrombotic responses in overweight men and women after 6-week daily strawberry (Fragaria) intake. A randomized placebo-controlled trial. J AtherosclerThromb. 2011;18(4):318-27.
- Maher, P, et al., Fisetin Lowers Methylglyoxal Dependent Protein Glycation and Limits the Complications of Diabetes. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (6): e21226 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021226
- Nerea Becerra-Tomás et al, Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in adults: a prospective assessment from the PREDIMED study, Clinical Nutrition 2017. https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(17)30106-1/
- Hosseinpour-Niazi S, et al., Substitution of red meat with legumes in the therapeutic lifestyle change diet based on dietary advice improves cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight type 2 diabetes patients: a cross-over randomized clinical trial. Eur J ClinNutr. 2014 Oct 29.
- Mollard, RC, et al., The acute effects of a pulse-containing meal on glycemic responses and measures of satiety and satiation within and at a later meal. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug; 108(3):509-17.
- Zhou XL, et al., Soybean oligosaccharides alter colon short-chain fatty acid production and microbial population in vitro. J Anim Sci. 2012 Dec; 90 Suppl 4:37-9. doi: 10.2527/jas.50269.
- BMJ-British Medical Journal. “Green leafy vegetables reduce diabetes risk, study finds.” ScienceDaily. 20 August 2010. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100819214607.htm
- Imai S, et al., A simple meal plan of ‘eating vegetables before carbohydrates’ was more effective for achieving glycemic control than an exchange-based meal plan in Japanese patients with type 2 diabetes. Asia Pac J ClinNutri. 2011; 20(2): 161-8.
- Imai, S Effect of eating vegetables before carbohydrates on glucose excursions in patients with type 2 diabetes. J ClinBiochemNutri. 2014 Jan; 54(1):76-11.
- Mayo Clinic. “Microbiome changed by gluten increases incidences of type 1 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113182423.htm./
- Mayo Clinic. “Microbiome changed by gluten increases incidences of type 1 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113182423.htm
- Juan P, Adipose tissue concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adults from Southern Spain. Environmental Research, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2012.12.001.