Diabetes is when you have too much glucose in your blood. Insulin regulates the amount of glucose in the blood, and people with Type 1 – often diagnosed in childhood – can't make any insulin.
Those with type 2 diabetes, meanwhile, which is typically diagnosed in over-30s, can't make enough insulin or it doesn't work very effectively.
If you have diabetes, you are at risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, nerve damage, depression, Alzheimer's disease, autoimmune disease and eye problems including the potential loss of vision or blindness.
Catching diabetes early and effective management of it is crucial if you want to radically reduce your chances of complications. Outside of conventional care, you can achieve a lot by taking regular exercise and following a diabetes diet plan.
Fight Diabetes with Diet
Cutting out sugar is essential. Omitting processed and convenience foods is also critical, as they are low in nutrients, contain unhealthy trans fats, excess refined table salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates, artificial ingredients, additives and preservatives that lead to blood sugar spikes, obesity, poor gut health, inflammation and consequently disease.
You also need to consider the glycemic load (GL) in your food, which is the measure of the number of carbohydrates it contains and how quickly they release sugar into your bloodstream.
Carb-rich, sugary, processed foods fall into this category, along with white grains such as white rice, pasta and bread. So, trade white grains for whole grains like brown rice, bread and pasta to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Better still, ditch the grains altogether.
Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potatoes, parsnips and pumpkin also have a higher GL than non-starchy ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat starchy vegetables at all, necessary, as they are highly nutritious and can improve gut health. You just need to be mindful of how much you include them in your diet.
If you want the best for you and your body, you need to ‘feed’ it, nurturing it with nutrients it can use to buffer the effects of diabetes, helping you to perform at your best, feel energised, and better your chances of avoiding complications.
Stock up on foods that slow your digestion and blood sugar absorption, such as high-fibre foods and healthy proteins like beans, pulses, fish and lean meat.
Eat adequate amounts of healthy fats like avocados, cold-pressed olive oil, avocado oil, nuts and seeds.
Load up on a brightly-coloured array of vegetables and fruit, abundant with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to improve cellular function, boost immunity, and counteract and reduce inflammation, all of which can help to lessen your chances of further health complications.
Without further ado then, here are 9 diabetes-fighting superfoods!
1) Oily fish
Oily fish is a healthy form of protein and the best source of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA which research has shown to reduce inflammation, aid heart and brain health, and also help to reduce insulin resistance.
Oily fish contains small amounts of vitamin D, a potent anti-inflammatory with a multitude of health benefits. It may help to improve insulin sensitivity and encourage pancreatic beta cells to function correctly, and low vitamin D status can be a risk factor for diabetes.
Depression can be a complication of diabetes and appears to be lower in populations where people eat large amounts of fish. Low levels of omega-3 affect the brain’s dopamine systems, which can alter our mood.
Although research is mixed, low levels of EPA and DHA are linked to depression, and fish oil supplementation has improved symptoms in depressed patients. Helpfully, UnoCardio 1000 supplies both ultra-pure fish oil and vitamin D.
2) Olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils around. Rich in antioxidants, olive oil is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat providing many health benefits.
In one small study, olive oil consumption improved the insulin response in obese diabetic women. Another small, preliminary study also showed olive oil to reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood glucose levels.
It’s best to use a raw, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Only cook it at lower temperatures and drizzle it over salads and cooked vegetables.
3) Hemp seeds
Aside from being a great source of omega-3 fats, hemp seeds are high in zinc, a potent antioxidant which is essential for overall immunity, brain function and disease prevention.
People with diabetes often have lowered zinc status, as they lose most of it in their urine, resulting in less in the blood. Research also suggests that those with higher levels of zinc have a lower risk of diabetes.
The pooling of data from 25 studies on the effect of zinc supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes, showed it to improve glycaemic control, while significantly lowering both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reducing blood pressure.
In addition, zinc may protect against retinopathy and enhance lipid peroxidation, preventing cell damage.
This fantastic, fibre-rich fruit is a wonderful source of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and is full of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins and the powerful antioxidant vitamin E.
Avocados contain soluble fibre which slows digestion, helping to regulate blood sugar balance, increasing the sensitivity of tissues to insulin.
They also provide lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals which are concentrated in the eyes to support vision, and folate to help decrease the risk of depression.
Adding some avocado to your plate will help keep you feeling fuller for longer. It will also aid weight loss, which can, in turn, help to improve insulin sensitivity.
5) Legumes and beans including chickpeas and lentils
In a 2012 trial, eating legumes as part of a low-GI diet improved both glycaemic control and reduced calculated coronary heart disease risk in those with type 2 diabetes.
Not only can beans and legumes help to manage diabetes, but they can also help to prevent it, as well as metabolic syndrome.
Legumes are high in fibre and are an excellent source of plant protein; they are low on the GI scale compared to other starchy vegetables, satisfy hunger and are nutrient dense.
6) Psyllium husks
These are traditionally used to aid digestion and constipation. Psyllium husks also provide lots of soluble fibre to help regulate blood sugar and are particularly useful at this due to their gel-forming fibres.
A study on 34 men with type 2 diabetes gave them 5.1 grams of psyllium husks twice daily for eight weeks, reducing their all-day blood sugar levels by 11%. It also lowered their LDL cholesterol concentrations by 13%.
More recent studies support the use of psyllium husks as a therapeutic supplement for type 2 diabetes. You can find psyllium husks in most good health food stores. Simply stir it into water or a liquid of choice and drink before meals.
Check with your GP as to how long you should leave between drinking psyllium husks and taking your medication.
Spinach is high in magnesium, which is commonly deficient in people with diabetes. Magnesium is involved in many enzymatic reactions throughout the body and is an integral part of the regulation of insulin signalling and cellular glucose uptake.
There also appears to be a link between decreased magnesium levels and retinopathy.
Other foods high in magnesium include nuts, particularly almonds, legumes such as butter beans, seeds including linseeds, pumpkin and chia seeds, brown rice and other whole grains, buckwheat, quinoa and avocados.
If you’re concerned that your levels are low, it may be a good time to consider a magnesium supplement.
Berries are brimming with antioxidants to help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which is chronically higher for people with diabetes.
They have a lower glycemic index than several other fruits, are a good source of fibre and provide a host of nutrients including vitamin C.
Blueberries are exceptionally brilliant as they contain anthocyanin, which gives them their colour while delivering some of the nutritional value.
Blueberries provide vitamins and minerals that protect against heart disease and cognitive decline and help to regulate blood pressure.
You can try berries in supplement form, too. Choose Berries Best, a nutritious, doctor-formulated blend of organic berry fruits such as blueberry, lycium berry and blackberry.
Berries Best is a tremendous source of vitamin C, just 40 calories per serving and only 2 grams of sugar (no added sugar).
Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and fibre and provide the most omega-3 fats of any nut. They contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which helps to improve cardiovascular health and lower inflammation, with neuroprotective qualities – a well-needed addition to a diabetic diet due to the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Consuming walnuts may reduce the risk of diabetes and can also help to regulate blood sugar as part of a fibre-rich diet.
This is not a definitive list of diabetes superfoods by any means, but it’s a good start. To remain as healthy as possible, eat a wholesome diet, avoiding inflammatory processed and sugary foods. Consume plenty of fibre, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, healthy fats and proteins and make sure you get enough exercise.
Before making any significant dietary changes, or if you decide to take any supplements, check with your GP to ensure they don’t interfere with any prescribed medications or medical advice.
This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.