Managing Your Blood Sugar
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
About 11 million Americans have diabetes, a disease that takes a heavy toll. Medical costs attributed to diabetes exceed $15 billion a year. Diabetes, which is associated with cardiovascular disease and kidney complications, claims over 130,000 lives a year.
Consumption of a low-fat, plant-based diet, coupled with regular exercise and weight loss, has been shown to reduce the risk of Type II diabetes (non-insulin dependant diabetes) and facilitate the successful management of Type II diabetes. A vegetarian diet, rich in legumes and slow-digesting whole grains, improves blood glucose control and provides long-term benefits for those individuals with Type II diabetes. Diabetes has been found to be 1.5 to 2 times higher in nonvegetarians compared with vegetarians.
A high percentage of Type II diabetics are overweight. The risk of diabetes increases especially in those with a high abdominal to hip body fat ratio. Bulky, fiber-rich meals have a lower caloric density, increase feelings of fullness and enable one to more easily lose weight. Weight reduction is associated with a reduction in blood pressure and blood lipid levels, and a decrease in insulin requirements. Since alcohol produces insulin resistance and elevated blood glucose levels its use cannot be recommended.
Anderson opened up new approaches to diabetic management with the development of high-fiber diets for the diabetic. He demonstrated that diabetic control is greatly improved by high-fiber diets composed of whole-grain cereals, vegetables and legumes in which 60 percent of the calories are in the form of carbohydrates and not more than 25% of the calories come from fat, with at least 50 grams of fiber. Many Type II diabetics experienced much better glucose control with greatly reduced medication after consuming a high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet for only a few weeks. This diet also produces lower blood lipid levels, hence it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, a major killer of persons with diabetes.
The blood glucose response after consuming a certain food, compared to that produced by glucose, determines its glycemic index (GI). Bread and potatoes have high GI values, while beans, lentils, pasta, rice and barley have low GI values. When diabetics were fed meals containing foods of low GI, their resulting blood glucose and insulin responses were 35-40% lower than those responses seen when foods of high GI were consumed.
Diabetics who are carbohydrate-sensitive are often advised to replace part of the carbohydrate in their diet with monounsaturated fat. This is achieved by eating such foods as olives and olive oil, almonds, avocados, pistachios and pecans. This high 'mono' diet helps to regulate blood glucose and insulin levels. An increased consumption of beans would also help lower elevated triglyceride levels.
Since chromium assists the work of insulin, a person with chromium deficiency experiences elevated blood glucose levels. Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and brewer's yeast are good sources of chromium. Magnesium deficiency may also play a role in insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, berries and some other fruits are good sources of magnesium, while fish, meat and egg are poor sources.
Some herbs also have hypoglycemic activity and may help in the management of diabetes. Garlic, onions, cumin, and fenugreek seeds all facilitate a reduction in blood sugar levels.
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New research from Duke University suggests that caffeine may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. When healthy coffee-drinkers were given 500 mg caffeine (the same caffeine as found in 4 cups of coffee), their blood pressures increased 3-4 mm Hg, the stress hormone epinephrine increased 32% during the day and they reported feeling more stressed out. The effects were undiminished throughout the evening until bedtime.