By Morgan A. McLaughlin McFarland
For those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, dietary changes can often play an important role in controlling blood sugar, reducing risk and improving overall health.
The prospect of completely changing eating habits can sound daunting. When we seek to decrease our chances of getting diabetes by changing our eating habits, we often fear the worst. We assume we'll be stuck with a boring, flavorless diet that revolves around the things we can't eat, rather than the things we can.
Not true! A blood sugar-friendly diet can actually be full of color and flavor, especially if you include these ten tasty risk-reducers:
Black or Green Tea
Finding out you're at risk for Type 2 diabetes may mean saying goodbye to sugary sweet tea. But black and green tea can stay on your daily menu!
Clinical research confirms what many cultures have long known – that tea can have a significant positive impact on health. One Japanese study found a 33 percent reduction in the rate of Type 2 diabetes among adults who drank six or more cups of green tea daily. Don't care for green tea? Black tea also offers protection from diabetes. In 2012, a study of 50 countries' tea drinking habits found that regularly drinking black tea reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes across populations.
If tea isn't your cup of, well, tea, coffee also offers significant health benefits for those looking to decrease the risk or severity of Type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have shown that drinking four cups of coffee a day may decrease the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 50 percent. The components in coffee—caffeine, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid—protect the insulin-producing pancreative cells from damage.
For those concerned about ingesting that much caffeine, never fear: decaffeinated coffee actually contains more caffeic acid, the coffee component that provided the most protection for pancreatic cells, than caffeinated coffee. Just be wary of artificial coffee creamers, which often contain large amounts of saturated fat and added sugars.
When it comes to chocolate, then the darker, the better. (At least if your goal is to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.)
Cocoa contains natural antioxidants called flavonols, but not all cocoa flavonols are created the same. The flavonols found in dark chocolate, called cocoaoligomeric procyanidins (CPs), can reduce the risk of diabetes. CPs also curb weight gain, which further lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
In one study of the effects of dark chocolate, the subjects continued to maintain their weight or even lose weight despite a high fat diet. Not only that, but their ability to tolerate glucose actually improved, leading to a lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes. For a satisfying treat that also provides some protection against diabetes, skip sugary white and milk chocolate and instead enjoy the rich, bittersweet flavor of a high-cocoa dark chocolate.
Those at risk for Type 2 diabetes know that sugar is usually a no-no, so they instead turn to artificial sweeteners. But many artificial sweeteners carry their own mild health risks and can leave behind a bitter aftertaste.
Instead, consider dates and date sugar! Dates provide a naturally sweet alternative to high GI table sugar. Loaded with important nutrients like potassium, iron, calcium, manganese and copper, dates are also an excellent source of dietary fiber. They contain anti-inflammatory tannins.
Dates' low glycemic index—42 for a 60 gram serving—makes them an ideal snack for those with Type 2 diabetes. A 2011 study found that all five varieties of dates shared this low GI, having little long-term impact on blood sugar.
Date sugar, a minimally processed sweetener made from dried dates, can be substituted for white or brown sugar in most recipes, though like all sugars, should be used in moderation. Date sugar retains the nutritional value of dates while providing maximum sweetness. More sweet, lower GI? What's not to love about dates!
An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but apples and other fruits high in quercetin—a naturally-occurring plant flavonoid—can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
A study of Finnish men found a 20 percent reduction of Type 2 diabetes risk, along with a decrease in the rate of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Quercetin may also help fight Alzheimer's disease and improve respiratory health. Quercetin is found in berries, leafy greens, raw onions and, of course, apples.
If you want all the health benefits of quercetin, make sure to also eat the peel, which contains the quercetin, along with much of the apple's fiber and other nutrients. Remember that fiber also plays an important role in controlling blood sugar, making apples a fantastic go-to snack.
Lingonberries, Blueberries, and Grapes
Apples aren't the only fruit with the power to reduce the risk of diabetes. Several varieties of berries have a positive impact on diabetes risk. A 2014 Swedish study suggested that lingonberries can help control weight and maintain blood sugar, even in the face of a high-fat diet. That's well worth another trip to IKEA!
Another study showed a decrease in Type 2 diabetes in those who ate regular servings of whole fruit, particularly blueberries and grapes, which are also high in quercetin. Loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, these small fruits pack a huge nutritional punch, and they're easy to prepare. Toss them in a smoothie, mix with a whole grain breakfast cereal or snack on them whole; just be sure to include the quercetin-rich outer peel for maximum health benefit!
Cutting back on fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates doesn't have to mean eating bland, tasteless food. In fact, many spices actually offer additional health benefits for those at risk for diabetes — thus providing an opportunity to try new and exciting dishes from around the world.
Turmeric, a bright yellow spice used to boost the color and flavor of foods from curry to mustard, can also help prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes in at-risk individuals.
Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, aids in lowering blood sugar and decreasing insulin resistance. One nine-month study of curcumin in at-risk groups found a significant reduction in the onset of Type 2 diabetes in the group taking curcumin; while 16.2 percent of the at-risk placebo group developed Type 2 diabetes, no participant in the curcumin group developed it. This versatile spice deserves further study and a place in your spice cabinet.
Speaking of spices, cinnamon adds additional flavor to blood sugar management. Regularly including cinnamon in your diet helps maintain a healthy blood sugar level and reduces the risk of complications from diabetes and cardiovascular disease. One study found that one to six grams of cinnamon daily significantly reduces blood sugar, as well as reduces triglycerides, LDL cholesterol level, and total cholesterol level.
Cinnamon can be integrated into prepared dishes or taken as a supplement. Try sprinkling some on apple slices or mixed berries or adding a dash to a smoothie or other sweet treat for an extra boost of diabetes protection!
Twenty-nine million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, and 86 million more are pre-diabetic — at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. While no magic bullet can guarantee pre-diabetes won't develop into full-blown Type 2 diabetes, changes in diet and exercise can dramatically decrease that risk. Incorporating fun, delicious foods into your daily routine can not only improve your health, but also your outlook!
Many of the same foods that help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes—such as chocolate, whole fruits and black or green tea—have been shown to elevate mood and improve alertness. A happier, healthier you can start with just one
bite or sip, and it's never too late to start!
Brooks Kent, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, WellStar Diabetes Educator – www.wellstar.org