Almost one in 3 Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes, according to Diabetes Canada. For the millions of people living with prediabetes, this means their blood sugar is higher than it should be, and so are their odds of developing this disease. While the rate of diabetes in this country is rising quickly, many of the risk factors, including heavy weight, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, can be reduced by choosing a healthier overall diet.
Certain foods are particularly helpful in giving you more control over the condition – or avoiding diabetes altogether.
Just a half-cup of lentils will give you almost eight grams of fibre. That’s more than you’d get from two cups of brown rice. Fibre is a true friend, because it can actually lower your blood glucose level – as well as your bad cholesterol – while making you feel full. Insoluble fibre in particular seems to lower the risk of diabetes. This past April, researchers at the University of Guelph reported on the difference it makes to blood sugar when you replace just half your potatoes or rice with lentils. (Hint: It’s significant.) Lentils are also a protein food, with a three-quarter cup serving providing the same amount of protein as a five-ounce steak!
If you’re eating to prevent or control diabetes, get to know the glycemic index (GI). Foods with a lower GI won’t spike your blood sugar as much as those that are higher on the scale. Stick with these, and you can reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes, or reduce complications if you already have the disease. Not only are apples a low-GI fruit, they offer plenty of fibre and flavonoids. (Don’t peel the skin!) An apple a day may literally keep the insulin away: Research from the Women’s Health Study in the U.S. suggests that eating apples regularly may be protective against diabetes.
3. Sourdough bread (over other types of bread)
Tangy sourdough bread dough is fermented from wild yeast and bacteria cultures. Sourdough bread is lower on the glycemic index than regular wheat bread, so it’s long been considered the better choice if you want to avoid sugar spikes after your sandwiches. The acid produced by the bacteria help keep the bread fresher longer. And that’s not all: Compared to regular wholegrain bread, the sourdough method has been shown to retain more of the phytonutrients (chemical compounds that are good for us, such as flavonoids). Keep in mind, however, if you choose to eat sourdough bread, do so in moderation. While it may be better for you than other types of bread, it is still carbohydrate-heavy and does raise your glucose levels.
Your diabetes-fighting diet should include lots of vegetables, like leafy greens, while avoiding the starchier veggies that rank high on the GI, such as potatoes. Beets are a best bet, with benefits supported by many studies. For example, drinking beet juice has been associated with reduced blood pressure, something that many people with diabetes struggle with. Beet juice is high in inorganic nitrate, a substance that helps dilate blood vessels and could explain the healthier blood pressure. Beets are also rich in metabolites, molecules that support cell function. Metabolites tend to be lower in people with insulin resistance. Beets may even lower chronic inflammation. Many researchers are looking into the potential therapeutic benefits of beets. (We’re just looking for tasty ways to cook them.)
5. Peanut butter
Nuts are known to reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, so you can’t go wrong snacking on almonds, walnuts and pistachios. High-protein peanuts are another promising pick because they’re low on the glycemic index and packed with nutrients. A Brazilian study of obese women found that when they had peanut butter at breakfast, they had lower blood sugar and reduced appetite, effects that lasted for hours. Peanuts are high in healthy oils, which also help reduce cholesterol. Choose peanut butter that’s pure, with no added sugar or salt.
6. Grapeseed Oil
Speaking of healthy oils, we think grape is great. At Ohio State University, nutrition researchers are suggesting that grapeseed oil – and other cooking oils that are high in linoleic acid, a type of fatty acid – can help prevent cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. Do be sure to keep grapeseed oil in the refrigerator, as it can spoil quickly. (Don’t worry if it looks cloudy – that’s a temporary effect from the chill.)
Beautiful barley belongs in more than just your soup! This tasty grain can be added to salads, served as a hot breakfast cereal, and even made into risotto. It can also be eaten on its own as a side dish, or made into boricha, a traditional Korean tea. According to researchers at Lund University’s Food for Health Science Centre in Sweden, barley’s unique blend of dietary fibres has special benefits for the cardiovascular system. When these fibres enter the digestive system, they trigger the release of hormones that help to improve metabolism, control appetite and reduce chronic inflammation. In an experiment, people who ate barley bread and were tested afterwards had improved insulin sensitivity and decreased blood sugar. Raise your glass (of boricha) to barley!
A version of this story was published on Oct. 18, 2018