Eating For Your Illness: Type 2 Diabetes

January 11, 2024

Eating For Your Illness: Type 2 Diabetes
4:15 reading time

It’s probably safe to say that not all food is created equal.

It might seem obvious that 100 calories from an apple is not the same as 100 calories from a Coke. It may be less obvious that certain foods and food groups can improve symptoms related to specific illnesses.

Let’s take type 2 diabetes, for instance. According to The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the treatment of diabetes often includes early initiation of multiple drugs, with an estimated 88% of people using oral medications, insulin, or a combination of both. Metformin was prescribed in 53% of visits, and doctor visits in which multiple medications were prescribed increased from 41% to 58%.

In some cases, medications can deplete the nutrients we need for proper functioning. A 2021 study published in the World Journal of Diabetes links long–term Metformin use with B12 deficiency, a nutrient that plays a critical role in controlling metabolism.

Weight and diabetes are often grouped, and while some people who develop diabetes may be overweight, others are not. As with many other chronic illnesses, the foods that work to alleviate the symptoms of both conditions often overlap.

The pancreas is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels to manage our body’s stored energy resources. When the pancreas is overworked, stagnant, or depleted, body functions are altered. This can compromise our health by fostering hypoglycemia or diabetes.

Hypoglycemia, or an abnormal decrease in blood sugar levels, is an example of the mismanagement of energy stores. In the name of convenience, we often consume processed and refined flour and sugars that are stripped of their natural nutrients. The result of consuming these foods is that they are broken down quickly and enter the bloodstream almost immediately upon consumption. 

Our blood sugar levels rise and fall constantly due to the refinement of foods whose nutrients (if left intact) would have otherwise been incorporated into the body. This constant state of irregular blood sugar (often described as feeling extreme boosts of energy alternating with lethargy) interferes with our cells’ ability to uptake sugar from the blood and results in a greater risk for type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that there are many foods rich in the nutrients necessary for proper blood sugar regulation. Here are some examples:

Millet: A tiny grain native to Asia was very popular in Japan before rice cultivation. An effective alkalizing agent, millet is a whole grain non-acid forming food that is naturally free from gluten (the protein found in wheat) and can aid the function of both the spleen and pancreas. Out of all whole grains, it contains some of the highest protein content. Millet is very versatile; it can be used in creamy soups, stews and porridges, and stuffing and loaves. It has a sweet, nutty taste and beautiful yellow color that compliments most foods well.

Winter Squash (including pumpkin, butternut, buttercup, Hokkaido, kabocha, delicata, and acorn): An important source of carotenoids (any of a class of mainly yellow, orange, or red fat-soluble pigments, including carotene, which gives color to plant parts such as ripe tomatoes and autumn leaves) including lutein and zeaxanthin (“the eye vitamins”). These sweet, starchy vegetables are also a great source of fiber. Fiber is crucial in regulating blood sugar and slows the speed at which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. Winter squash lends itself well to oven-roasting and stewing and works well in soups, casseroles, and even desserts.

Carrots: Aside from being good for your eyesight, carrots contain a vast array of vitamins and minerals that are a good option for an individual with diabetes. Favored for their sweet flavor, carrots are a delicious vegetable both raw and roasted.

Tomatoes: Although technically a fruit, tomato products are one of the richest sources of lycopene, a nutrient known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. Tomatoes contribute to bone and heart health and are appropriate for diabetes management due to their immune-boosting function and ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Due to the lycopene, tomatoes are one of the few fruits or vegetables whose nutrients are absorbed more readily when cooked.

Leafy Greens: Dark leafy greens such as bok choy, collard greens, kale, and spinach are rich sources of chlorophyll, a component that helps plants absorb energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Leafy greens help with the management of diabetes because chlorophyll stimulates the body’s production of red blood cells; the better the blood cells, the more efficiently we can uptake sugar from the blood.

Chia seeds: Each seed is a tiny powerhouse of nutrition containing all 9 essential amino acids. Loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and protein (exceeding that of amaranth and quinoa), chia seeds sure pack a nutritious punch. Their protein-rich content keeps us feeling full for longer, and new studies show that chia seeds can lower triglycerides (the main components of body fat), raise HDL (“good” cholesterol), and reduce inflammation, insulin resistance, and stored belly fat.

An effective wellness plan includes a well-rounded approach to nutrition, sleep, body chemistry, and lifestyle. Ask yourself one simple question each morning. Am I eating for my condition or against it?  

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Posted by Keria Saucerman, MS, CSNc  

Keira is a Health Coach at Sarana Health, leading clients through the journey to wellness. A former professional hockey player turned certified holistic health coach and integrative nutritionist passionate about making healthy living simple and fun for everyone, her approach focuses on empowering individuals to take control of their health and well-being through motivational coaching, education, and behavioral change.

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Photo by Ron Lach

This article is for informational and educational use only and should not be considered a substitute for medical advice. Consult your health and wellness provider for more information.