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What Foods To Have And Which To Avoid If You Have Diabetes?

Increased intake of processed food, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, and a sedentary lifestyle leads to diabetes. Lifestyle modifications, especially regulating one's diet, play a huge role in fighting this disease. However, a lot of confusing information exists which leads to several questions. Are fruits good or bad for diabetic patients? Should one consume rice? Are there any particular foods that are specifically harmful? We have tried to answer these and much more.

diabetes foods
Noni-Ingredient-Kapiva

Diabetes is a disease that has become an epidemic among adults across the world.[1]Kharroubi, Akram T., and Hisham M. Darwish. “Diabetes mellitus: The epidemic of the century.” World journal of diabetes 6, no. 6 (2015): 850. Diabetes mellitus or type-2 diabetes is in most cases a lifestyle disease that is characterized by hyperglycemia (high levels of glucose in the blood) caused by defects in the secretion and action of the hormone insulin. Diabetic patients are treated with medication and insulin; however, almost in all cases lifestyle modification is recommended.

A huge part of this is one’s diet. With new research emerging every other day, there is a plethora of information that can leave one utterly confused about dietary choices.While medical research recommends a certain kind of diet based on science, there is also the ancient wisdom of ayurveda which takes a holistic approach when it comes to treating diabetes or madhumeha. Since diet plays such a huge role in understanding and treating diabetes, it is important that we understand how food is digested in our body.

How Does Digestion Work?

The food that we eat is not in a form which the body can use for nourishing itself. It needs to be broken down into smaller particles so that we can absorb the nutrients and discard the waste matter. This is essentially what happens during digestion. The complex chemical process by which food is broken down differs according to what kind of food we consume (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and so on). The following is a basic outline of the digestive process:

  • Mouth: Food particles are broken down as we chew and grind them using our teeth. It mixes with the digestive juices in our saliva that soften the food and aid in breaking it down.
  • Oesophagus: This is a tube-like structure through which food passes to our stomach.
  • Stomach: Glands produce digestive juices with vital enzymes which break down the food.
  • Pancreas: This organ produces digestive juice/enzymes that aid in the breakdown of food in the small intestine. It is the pancreas that secretes the hormone insulin.
  • Liver: It secretes bile that helps in the breakdown of fat.
  • Gallbladder: Bile is stored in the gallbladder. Bile moves to the small intestine through the gallbladder
  • Small intestine: This is where food mixes with bile and the pancreatic juices. Vital nutrients and water are absorbed by the body. The small intestine also contains bacteria that helps the body digest carbohydrates.
  • Large intestine: Whatever is discarded by the small intestine moves to the large intestine. Here, more water is absorbed into the bloodstream from the GI (gastrointestinal) tract. The bacteria here further breaks down food into nutrients. The remaining waste matter forms stool that is discarded via the anus.

What Does Ayurveda Say About Digestion?

According to ayurveda, the pitta (burning power) within our body is the main driving force behind digestion. It breaks down food and segregates it into rasa (the part that can be used by the body) and mala (waste matter). The vata element helps in the movement of the food, from the mouth down to the alimentary canal. The kapha element helps in the lubrication of food and its breakdown of the food into smaller particles. Here are the steps involved in the digestive process according to ayurveda:

  • The prana vata draws the food into the alimentary canal.
  • In the stomach, the food is softened. The agni or enzymes in the amashaya (stomach) break down the food.
  • The sara bhaga (useful substances) nourish the body in the form of rasa, while the kitta bhaga forms the waste or the mala.

Why Do We Need Proteins And Carbohydrates?

Our body needs both carbohydrates and proteins to remain healthy and function well. They each have a unique role to play in our overall well-being. Let us see how.

  • Proteins are the building blocks of our body.
  • Proteins help us fight infection.
  • Excess protein is used up to give us energy.
  • Proteins help us fight infection
  • Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy.
  • Many foods with carbs (such as fruits) also provide the body with fibre.[2]National Institute on Aging, “Important Nutrients to Know: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats,”

What Is Starch? What Role Does It Play In Diabetes?

Starch is a form of carbohydrate that provides the body the metabolic energy to perform all its essential functions. Resistant starch or starch that is slowly digested resists digestion in the small intestine. This results in increased fermentation by the bacteria in the large intestine, this is similar to what happens when we consume food containing fibre.[3]Liu, Qiang. “Understanding starches and their role in foods.” Food carbohydrates: Chemistry, physical properties and applications 340 (2005).

How Does Resistant Starch Help In Diabetes?

The slow absorption of glucose in resistant starch helps people suffering from type 2 diabetes or diabetes mellitus because it prevents a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. Resistant starch can be consumed from plant-based sources such as black beans, potatoes (in limited quantity), brown rice, barley, and corn.[4]Volpe, Stella Lucia. “Resistant Starch and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 20, no. 5 (2016): 59-60.

What Role Does Diet Play In Managing Diabetes?

To understand why people suffering from diabetes need to watch what they eat, we need to look at how glucose is digested in the body. When we consume foods containing carbohydrates or glucose such as bread or rice, they are digested by the stomach and the small intestine and absorbed as glucose. This leads to a spike in our blood glucose levels. The pancreas now secretes a hormone called insulin that helps regulate the blood glucose level by stimulating the body to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Often this extra glucose is stored as fat. Insulin also hinders the breakdown of fats to facilitate accumulation of fat. The higher the level of blood glucose, the more insulin our body needs.

When one suffers from diabetes, it is this process that is hampered. Either the body produces too little insulin or the body becomes resistant to insulin and in both cases the glucose level in the bloodstream remains high. High blood glucose level is extremely dangerous for the body and causes heart disease, kidney disease, eye troubles, and so on. To avoid this situation, diabetic patients must avoid consuming foods that cause a sharp and rapid increase in their blood sugar levels.[5]National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes Overview

What Does Ayurveda Recommend For Diabetes?

To treat madhumeha or diabetes, here are some general principles that ayurveda recommends:

  • Eat freshly prepared warm meals
  • Eat as per a fixed timetable
  • Include broken wheat or daliya, and cooked vegetables in your diet
  • Include barley, bitter melon in your diet
  • Eat food made from mugda (green gram), and purana sali (old rice)
  • Moderate levels of exercise

One must avoid:

  • Refrigerated, spicy, oily fried food containing excess salt
  • Curd, paneer, cheese, sweets, and sour food
  • Decrease the quantity of the following foods: potato, cauliflower, green peas, rajma, chickpea, peanuts, and refined white flour
  • Taking a nap during the day
  • Cold weather and cold water

A few plants have been traditionally used in treating diabetes naturally. These include fenugreek or methi seeds, amla (Indian gooseberry), bitter melon, turmeric, and water extract of the Indian Kino tree. The diet for diabetes depends on a person’s age and body constitution.

Tips For Planning A Diabetes-Friendly Diet

Managing diabetes can be difficult as one needs to keep an eye on what one eats, but an understanding of some basic guidelines can help.

1. Fruits

Fruits are considered extremely nutritious for the body because of their high fibre, antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content. However, they also contain a very high amount of glucose, which is a concern for those suffering from diabetes. Recent research has proved that consuming fruits in moderation had no negative impact on glycemic control (the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar). Research has shown that the differences in the glycemic index of fruits does not indicate a direct link between specific fruits and the risk of type 2 diabetes.[6]Park, Hyun Ah. “Fruit Intake to Prevent and Control Hypertension and Diabetes.” Korean Journal of F.amily Medicine 42, no. 1 (2021): 9.

What Does Ayurveda Say About Fruits?

According to ayurveda, the fruits that one can consume include orange, jamun, watermelon, apple, amalaki (gooseberry), guava. Ayurveda recommends that we steer clear of fruit juices and consume the whole fruit instead. The whole fruit has fibre which is extremely beneficial for the body and is also filling.

Precaution

It is important to note that one can have any kind of fruit they want as long as one remains within the recommended limits for fruit intake, which is about 200 grams per day, that is, two servings per day. A small piece of whole fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. However, just two tablespoons of dry fruits like raisins have 15 grams. So, be careful about your portion size.

2. Vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables with less than 5 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams of their weight, are a very healthy food group and should be a part of our diet.The American Diabetes Association recommends that non-starchy vegetables must comprise half of our plate’s contents.[7]American Diabetes Association, “Eating Good to Feel Good.”

In a study on Chinese women, it was observed that consumption of cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, tomatoes and other vegetables have an inverse relation with the risk of type-2 diabetes. How exactly vegetables help in increasing glucose tolerance is yet to be discovered but it has often been attributed to the high quantities of antioxidants, fibre, and magnesium in vegetables.[8]Villegas, Raquel, Xiao Ou Shu, Yu-Tang Gao, Gong Yang, Tom Elasy, Honglan Li, and Wei Zheng. “Vegetable but not fruit consumption reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in Chinese women.” … Continue reading

Common greens that can be consumed include amaranth, artichoke, asparagus,beans, bean sprouts,carrots, celery, cauliflower, cucumber, daikon, brinjal, mushroom, okra, zucchini, tomatoes, and turnips.

What Does Ayurveda Say About Vegetables?

The vegetables that ayurveda recommends for patients with diabetes include green banana, tanduleyaka (spiny amaranth), bitter vegetables like bitter gourd (karela), and methi leaves (fenugreek leaves) and coriander. Ayurveda recommends that diabetic people must cook their vegetables and consume them; these should not be eaten raw. Triphala can also help people with diabetes as triphala reduces blood glucose levels.[9]Phimarn, Wiraphol, Bunleu Sungthong, and Hiroyuki Itabe. “Effects of Triphala on Lipid and Glucose Profiles and Anthropometric Parameters: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Evidence-Based … Continue reading

Precaution

While consuming triphala, be careful if you are already taking antidiabetic medication. Consult a physician in this case.

3. Pulses

According to ayurveda, the following pulses must be consumed by people suffering from diabetes:

  • Horse gram or kulattha
  • Red gram/pigeon pea or adhaki
  • Green gram mudga

4. Cereals

Ayurveda recommends the consumption of cereals instead of processed food. These include rice, wheat, and barley.

5. Rice

Studies have revealed that substitution of white rice with brown rice or whole grains lowers the risk of type-2 diabetes.[10]Sun, Qi, Donna Spiegelman, Rob M. van Dam, Michelle D. Holmes, Vasanti S. Malik, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and … Continue reading Refined white rice is produced by getting rid of the outer bran and the germ portions, leaving only the white endosperm. This process lowers the amount of fibre, polyphenols, and micronutrients such as magnesium present in rice.

6. Meat

Fish and seafood: As per the American Diabetes Association, one must include fish twice a week in one’s diet. The high omega-3 fatty acid levels in fish is beneficial for cardiac health. Research on people from Asia has revealed an inverse connection between fish consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes.[11]Xun, Pengcheng, and Ka He. “Fish consumption and incidence diabetes: meta-analysis of data from 438,000 individuals in 12 independent prospective cohorts with an average 11-year … Continue reading

7. Poultry

People with diabetes can consume poultry. However, one must try and stick to the skinless variety to reduce the intake of saturated fats. The products one can consume include whole eggs, chicken,duck, pheasant, and so on.

8. Red Meat

Red meat has a high level of saturated fat.Processed red meat is also high in sodium and is best avoided by diabetic people. A study on middle-aged and elderly women revealed that consumption of processed red meat can be linked to an increased risk of type-2 diabetes.[12]Song, Yiqing, JoAnn E. Manson, Julie E. Buring, and Simin Liu. “A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women: the women’s health … Continue reading Try and choose the leanest cuts to minimize the damage if you must consume red meat.

It is important to note that diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease. While medication and other forms of treatment can help, lifestyle modifications and diet regulation is a sustainable way of fighting this disease.

References

References
1 Kharroubi, Akram T., and Hisham M. Darwish. “Diabetes mellitus: The epidemic of the century.” World journal of diabetes 6, no. 6 (2015): 850.
2 National Institute on Aging, “Important Nutrients to Know: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats,”
3 Liu, Qiang. “Understanding starches and their role in foods.” Food carbohydrates: Chemistry, physical properties and applications 340 (2005).
4 Volpe, Stella Lucia. “Resistant Starch and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 20, no. 5 (2016): 59-60.
5 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes Overview
6 Park, Hyun Ah. “Fruit Intake to Prevent and Control Hypertension and Diabetes.” Korean Journal of F.amily Medicine 42, no. 1 (2021): 9.
7 American Diabetes Association, “Eating Good to Feel Good.”
8 Villegas, Raquel, Xiao Ou Shu, Yu-Tang Gao, Gong Yang, Tom Elasy, Honglan Li, and Wei Zheng. “Vegetable but not fruit consumption reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in Chinese women.” The Journal of nutrition 138, no. 3 (2008): 574-580.
9 Phimarn, Wiraphol, Bunleu Sungthong, and Hiroyuki Itabe. “Effects of Triphala on Lipid and Glucose Profiles and Anthropometric Parameters: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine 26 (2021): 2515690X211011038.
10 Sun, Qi, Donna Spiegelman, Rob M. van Dam, Michelle D. Holmes, Vasanti S. Malik, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women.” Archives of internal medicine 170, no. 11 (2010): 961-969.
11 Xun, Pengcheng, and Ka He. “Fish consumption and incidence diabetes: meta-analysis of data from 438,000 individuals in 12 independent prospective cohorts with an average 11-year follow-up.” Diabetes care 35, no. 4 (2012): 930-938.
12 Song, Yiqing, JoAnn E. Manson, Julie E. Buring, and Simin Liu. “A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women: the women’s health study.” Diabetes care 27, no. 9 (2004): 2108-2115.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information pertaining to your personal needs please see a qualified health practitioner.

About the Author

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Dr. Aswathy E.S. (KAA Expert)

Dr. Aswathy has 10+ years of experience as an Ayurvedic consultant and medical officer in different nursing homes and hospitals. She has a deep knowledge of classical texts, Ayurvedic treatments, and Panchkarma. Dr. Aswathy is proficient in diagnosis through traditional Ayurvedic means and plans treatment that is specific to an individual’s constitution.

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