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Diabetes is a disease that has become an epidemic among adults worldwide.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, lifestyle modification is recommended in all cases.
A huge part of this is one’s diet. With new research emerging every other day, a plethora of information 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 for diabetes 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 bodies.
The food we eat is not in a form that the body can use to nourish 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:
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:
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.
Starch is a form of carbohydrate that provides the body with 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.Liu, Qiang. “Understanding starches and their role in foods.” Food carbohydrates: Chemistry, physical properties and applications 340 (2005).
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.Volpe, Stella Lucia. “Resistant Starch and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 20, no. 5 (2016): 59-60.
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 the accumulation of fat. The higher the blood glucose level, 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, etc. To avoid this situation, diabetic patients must avoid consuming foods that cause a sharp and rapid increase in their blood sugar levels.National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes Overview
To treat madhumeha or diabetes, here are some general principles that are recommended by ayurveda for diabetes. Some home remedies for diabetes include:
Food to avoid for diabetes:
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 from the Indian Kino tree. The diet for diabetes depends on a person’s age and body constitution.
Managing diabetes can be difficult as one needs to keep an eye on what one eats, but understanding some basic guidelines can help.
Fruits are considered extremely nutritious for the body because of their high fibre, antioxidants, vitamin, and mineral content. However, they also contain a very high amount of glucose, which concerns 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 do not indicate a direct link between specific fruits and the risk of type 2 diabetes.Park, Hyun Ah. “Fruit Intake to Prevent and Control Hypertension and Diabetes.” Korean Journal of F.amily Medicine 42, no. 1 (2021): 9.
According to ayurveda, the fruits that one can consume include orange, Jamun, watermelon, apple, Amalaki (gooseberry), and guava. Recommendation from Ayurveda for diabetes includes steering clear of fruit juices and consuming the whole fruit instead. The whole fruit has fibre which is extremely beneficial for the body and is also filling.
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.
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.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 vegetables help increase glucose tolerance is yet to be discovered, but it has often been attributed to the high quantities of antioxidants, fibre, and magnesium in vegetables.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.
The vegetables recommended by ayurveda for diabetes include green banana, tanduleyaka (spiny amaranth), bitter vegetables like bitter gourd (karela), methi leaves (fenugreek leaves) and coriander. Ayurveda for diabetes 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.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
While consuming triphala, be careful if you are already taking antidiabetic medication. Consult a physician in this case.
According to ayurveda, the following pulses must be consumed by people suffering from diabetes:
Ayurveda for diabetes recommends the consumption of cereals instead of processed food. These include rice, wheat, and barley.
Studies have revealed that the substitution of white rice with brown rice or whole grains lowers the risk of type-2 diabetes.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.
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 are beneficial for cardiac health. Research on people from Asia has revealed an inverse connection between fish consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes.Xun, Pengcheng, and Ka He. “Fish consumption and incidence diabetes: a meta-analysis of data from 438,000 individuals in 12 independent prospective cohorts with an average 11-year … Continue reading
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, etc.
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.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 are sustainable ways of fighting this disease.
|↑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: a 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.|
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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