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Type 2 diabetes stems from insufficient insulin production. Stripped of this key hormone, your blood sugar can reach dangerous heights, hiking your risk of serious complications. Fortunately, dietary tweaks can go a long way when it comes to managing blood glucose levels, an expert has shared.
Claire Lynch, a diabetes expert from Plant Based Health Professionals, explained that any whole plant foods are “beneficial in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes”.
She said: “We must think about the ‘food package’, that is, what the food we are eating contains as a whole – what else it comes with – rather than just one or two specified nutrients it contains, such as iron or protein.”
According to the expert, that’s exactly what makes plant foods great candidates because they contain a variety of goodies, ranging from fibre to nutrients, while keeping their calorie content low.
However, fibre is especially potent when it comes to diabetes because of its ability to control blood sugar levels.
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Lynch said: “Fibre is fermented and digested by our gut microbes, and this process produces short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are known to reduce blood glucose spikes after a meal.
“Some of these SCFAs also lower the fat in your blood which reduces insulin resistance, and they even directly improve the function of the cells in the pancreas which make insulin.”
In case you aren’t aware, insulin resistance happens when your cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains.
While a variety of plant foods can boost your daily fibre intake, the expert shared three options “worth mentioning in relation to diabetes”.
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Tofu and soy protein
She said: “Soy protein is beneficial to diabetes risk and progression due to both what it does and what it does not contain.
“Soy protein contains no cholesterol, but is a rich source of the ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats and flavonoids which lower diabetes risk due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, enabling improvements in blood glucose and insulin resistance.”
What’s more, from tofu to soya milk and soya beans to tempeh, there are plenty of different products to choose from.
Legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas)
Lynch said: “Legume consumption is consistently associated with better blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.
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“This is thought to be largely due to the rich fibre content – both soluble and insoluble.
“The soluble fibre has been shown to reduce the blood glucose peak after a meal due to the gelling effect of the fibre in the gut, whilst insoluble fibre has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity.”
The variety of legumes also lends the food for different dishes – whether you want to enjoy them warm or cold.
Lynch said: “The beneficial effect of berries on insulin sensitivity is well documented.
“It is also known that the negative oxidative effect of a less healthy meal can be much improved by the inclusion of berries in the meal, which should, in turn, improve insulin resistance.”
The expert explained the effects of berries are, once again, likely to be attributed to the high fibre content.
However, the fruits also contain an abundance of beneficial phytonutrients and anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants.
The expert added: “To help improve diabetes, we need to consider what we might want to eat along with what we might want to avoid.
“Considering swaps and ‘crowding out’ certain foods is a more positive way to think about your dietary changes than restriction.”
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