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Diabetes Revisited - Part 2.

Byline: Mariam Alireza

LAST week, I promised to write about ways to control blood sugar levels and improve insulin responses in diabetes type-2 in order to reduce medication and improve fitness. The principal culprit in triggering diabetes type-2 is insulin resistance. The condition mainly affects overweight and obese individuals with fat concentration around the waist as well as those who are genetically predisposed, middle-aged, hypertensive, and with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One of these factors or all combined contributes to diabetes. The condition is characterized by high blood insulin due to fat engorged cells denying insulin reception. Lingering insulin disrupts the sugar regulating mechanism, giving way to the onset of diabetes type-2. To reverse the condition, healthy lifestyles of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, stress reduction, and weight control should be embraced. How is this done?

Regular blood works should be performed to check blood sugar and insulin rushes. The following steps sound easy if it were not for temptation and inactivity. Unfortunately, modern diets of junk and harmful foods and sugar-laden drinks make good health an illusion. Let us see what a healthy food regimen is.

To start with, your diet should address your blood sugar count. You are encouraged to eat good amounts of nutrient-rich whole fruits and non-starchy vegetables, like cabbage, asparagus, squash, dark leafy greens, and mushrooms to minimize sugar elevations. Chromium in broccoli, apples, yam, eggs, chicken, and peanuts should be included to regulate insulin and sugar levels. Fiber-rich whole grains are healthy carbohydrates to slow down insulin rushes. Though you are allowed low-fat dairy products, solid fats like butter, margarine, and hydrogenated fats should be substituted with lighter oils (canola, sesame, virgin oil) for cooking. Nuts and seeds, in handfuls only, offer beneficial fats. You are advised to consume fish more often, omega-3 rich cold water fish in particular, along with skinless poultry and very little lean red meat. Legumes like beans and lentils are important to balance blood sugar. Water and unsweetened herbal infusions should replace calorie-dense drinks like sugar-loaded sodas, smoothies, coffee, fatty milk shakes, ice-creams, snacks, desserts, and bonbons. While healthy carbohydrates should not exceed 40 percent of the diet, proteins and fats should share the remaining 60 percent. Remember, moderation in portion sizes is a key factor to controlling your blood count. In very small portions, the forbidden becomes an allowance once in a while.

We discussed what to eat and what to avoid, but there are other factors to consider such as the glycemic index (GI). Recently, experts are lending special attention to the GI; it measures the speed of carbohydrate conversion into sugar in the blood. The scale is from 0 to 100. Low on the index scale (1-10) are soybeans, sprouts, some nuts, leafy greens, grapefruit, tomatoes, raw carrots, cabbage, lentils, oranges, and apples, followed by chickpeas, whole grains, and yams. On the other hand, closer to 100 foods like pure sugar, French fries, over-cooked refined grains and pastas, and boiled skinned potatoes lead to rapid blood sugar elevation and insulin rushes (read "How does a Low Glycemic Index work," Arab News, December 6, 2006). While emphasis should be on foods of 10 and below and moderate portions of 11 to 19, you should not overindulge in huge portions of low-GI foods.

The good news is that some herbs, spices, and vegetables can control blood sugar and even drive it down.

Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum (Arabic, hulba), is known for lowering fasting and after-meal blood sugar counts. It also detoxifies the body. It can be used in bakery goods or made into an infusion.

Shardunika, Gymnema silvestre, is an Indian medicinal leafy green herb known for its power to eliminate sugar cravings and regulate blood sugar.

Cinnamon, a spice with antioxidant powers, mimics insulin, relieves oxidative stress and regulates blood sugar. A teaspoon, three times daily, is effective. Other herbs, antioxidants, fruits, and vegetables that help control blood sugar levels are American ginseng, garlic, ginger, resveratrol (mimics insulin), pomegranate, goji berries, and bitter melon (kerala).

Turmeric, Curcuma lunga, a popular yellow root used in Indian and Arabian cuisines, is a powerful multi-functional antioxidant with anti-inflammatory action; controls blood sugar; and enhances mental performances. It can be added to yogurt, soups, and stews or taken as a supplement.

Sugar substitutes (aspartame) and sweeteners (syrups, corn sugar) are unhealthy for everyone, diabetics in particular. Stevia, a natural sweetener, is a less harmful substitute.

The following nutrients are very important to metabolize and lower blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent damage to nerves and heart: Alpha-lipoic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, chromium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C and E (read "If Jack can do it so can you," Arab News, January 31, 2007).

A critical factor in controlling blood glucose levels and preventing diabetes and weight gain is regular 45-minute aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, cycling) six times weekly along with muscle building. Muscle mass and weight loss contribute to blood sugar control, thus preventing and reversing diabetes. Studies show that exercise is the single most effective approach to managing diabetes and heart disease.

Stress acts on the adrenal glands and disrupts insulin response, making it difficult to control blood sugar. Stress-reducing techniques like yoga, meditation, and prayer can lower levels of stress and blood glucose.

The above holistic approaches are the healthiest and least harmful to control blood sugar and fat levels, giving health and energy to remain disease-free. Such steps reverse diabetic tendencies and reduce dependency on medication and insulin. Smart eating is the way to health.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Mar 14, 2009
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