For many people newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, life seems to turn into a series of “nos”: no sugar, no carbohydrates, no fat, no salt. While dietary changes are definitely necessary to manage diabetes, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have delicious, healthy food. Eating to manage Type 1 diabetes or prevent Type 2 diabetes should incorporate keeping blood sugar stable and managing weight. New research suggests there are four ways to make that happen.

Incorporate plenty of fiber into your diet

Many doctors have been recommending a high fiber diet to manage diabetes for many years, but recently a research team has figured out how the body uses a high-fiber diet to control the risk of diabetes. A French-Swedish team including researchers from CNRS, Inserm, and the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 (Unité Inserm 855 “Nutrition et Cerveau”) published the results of their study in the January 2014 issue of Cell and believes it will lead to new recommendations for both obesity and diabetes.

So how does a high-fiber diet protect against obesity and diabetes? In rats and mice, a high-fiber diet seemed to stimulate the expression of genes that helped synthesize glucose in the bloodstream. In short, the body responded to fiber-rich foods by processing them efficiently and effectively. The body also responded with an increased sensitivity to insulin. Both of these responses were not noted in rats and mice whose genes for synthesizing glucose had been repressed, and those rats and mice became obese.

This research also indicated that intestinal flora, the natural bacteria present in the gut, may play a role in helping the body process sugars.

The results of these studies seem to indicate that new nutritional guidelines should stress the importance of a fiber-rich diet in managing diabetes. Foods that are high in fiber include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Greens (kale, spinach, and lettuce)
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • And many more

Forget grazing

Doctors have long recommended taking six small meals a day (often referred to as “grazing”) to maintain a steady blood sugar level and lose weight for patients with Type 2 diabetes, but new research may change that. Dr Hana Kahleová, Diabetes Centre, Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague and colleagues conducted the research. They divided 54 patients into two groups. Each group ate the same number of calories, but one group spread the calories over six meals, while the other ate two large meals (breakfast and lunch). After 12 weeks on one type of meal schedule, they switched to the other schedule and followed that for 12 weeks.

While participants in both groups lost weight, the group who ate two meals lost more weight, decreased the fat content of their livers, and experienced a larger increase in insulin sensitivity. While the researchers recognize the significance of this study, they cautioned against making any sweeping recommendations:

“These results suggest that, for Type 2 diabetic patients on a calorie-restricted diet, eating larger breakfasts and lunches may be more beneficial than six smaller meals during the day…Further larger scale, long-term studies are essential before offering recommendations in terms of meal frequency.”

If you find it difficult to schedule and eat six healthy small meals a day, or you find it difficult to keep them small, talk to your doctor about switching to two larger meals for breakfast and lunch.

Go Greek

Research on the frequency and timing of meals continues at Linköping University in Sweden where researchers recommended another approach to weight loss and blood sugar management: black coffee for breakfast and a large, Mediterranean lunch with a glass of red wine.

Researchers placed 21 patients on each of three diets and then tested their blood glucose levels throughout the day. The three diets were a low-fat diet (with 55% of energy from carbohydrates), a high-fat diet (with 50% of energy from fat), and the Mediterranean diet with just a cup of coffee for breakfast and a large lunch. The Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on healthy fats from fish and olive oil and a daily glass of red wine resulted in the most stable blood glucose and no (short-term) rise in triglycerides. (Note that alcohol should always be avoided if it interferes with any medications you are on.)

Professor Fredrik Nystrom, one of the principle investigators in the study, believes that:

“[These] results give reason to reconsider both nutritional composition and meal arrangements for patients with diabetes.”

Control inflammation

Finally, in what seems like a novel approach to managing Type 2 diabetes, researchers at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology have found further evidence that diabetes is an inflammatory disease. Macrophages, inflammatory cells that inundate the pancreas in the early stages of disease, manufacture cytokines, which shut down insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, the end result of which is Type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, cytokine imbalance has also been shown to play a major part in depression. Having depression or diabetes increases your chance of developing the other condition, and this new study may offer insight on how to tackle both with diet.

What steps can you take to help curb inflammation in the body? Start by eliminating inflammatory foods such as gluten, sugar, dairy, and animal fats. Doing this may also result in less joint pain from inflammation and weight loss.

The next step is to incorporate inflammation-fighting foods into your diet. These include:

  • Healthy fats like those found in olives, olive oil, almonds, salmon, and avocadoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Blueberries and tart cherries (which also contains pain-fighting compounds)
  • Legumes such as kidney, pinto, and black beans
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale

As always, talk with your doctor before making any changes to manage your diabetes. This new research offers a great way to look to food to take charge of your health! What will you do?

Image by Bobbi Bowers via Flickr


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