Managing diabetes is about more than just monitoring your insulin levels. As with many things, your diet can play a significant part in maximizing your health.
While these tips won’t magically cure things, they will certainly help.
- Eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium – in addition to playing a major part in the breakdown of carbohydrates – probably influences the release and activity of insulin (a hormone that helps to control blood sugar levels). People with type 2 diabetes are often found to have low levels of magnesium in their blood.
Several studies (listed below) have recommended that those with diabetes eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods. Common sources include spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps most commonly taken (as supplements) in fish-oil capsule form; and have a number of benefits for everyone. A number of studies  have also found Omega-3 fatty acids to have a favourable effect on triglyceride levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water oily fish, fish-oil supplements, walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed.
- Favor low GI foods
As with the Omega-3 fatty acids above, a low GI diet (GI = Glycemic Index) can help to lower triglyceride levels. Other general benefits of a low-GI diet include a lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol levels whilst increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Specific benefits of a low GI diet for diabetics include lower blood glucose levels (resulting in a lower HbA1c) and potentially the need for less insulin.
There is a wealth of information available on low GI eating; and common sources include beans, lentils and whole-grain breads.
- Keep the carbs complex
Complex carbohydrates (aka ‘starches’) take a bit more work to break down than their simple counterparts, and offer a range of health benefits for diabetics and others alike. Of particular note is an ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels .
Examples of complex carb foods are wholegrain breads, pasta, rice, legumes, vegetables and fruit.
- Get your fiber
According to several recent studies , high-fibre diets and fibre supplementation both help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels; particularly in those with type 2 diabetes.
Whilst wholegrain cereals are thought to provide the greatest benefit , other sources such as fruits and vegetables also have several health benefits.
- Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Lipids and Glycemic Control in Type II Diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome and on Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Renal Disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and Osteoporosis
- Evaluation of metabolic effects of substitution of complex carbohydrates for saturated fat in individuals with obesity and NIDDM
BV Howard, WG Abbott and BA Swinburn
- Fiber Supplement Lowers Cardiovascular Risk in Type 2’s
- Fiber May Fight Diabetes
Further reading – studies
A number of studies have looked at elements of diet relating to those with (or at risk from) both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These include :
- Daily magnesium supplements improve glucose handling in elderly subjects. – abstract only
Paolisso G, Sgambato S, Gambardella A, Pizza G, Tesauro P, Varricchio M, D’Onofrio F.
- Magnesium and cardiovascular biology: an important link between cardiovascular risk factors and atherogenesis. – abstract only
Altura BM, Altura BT.
- Serum magnesium and ischaemic heart disease: findings from a national sample of US adults. – abstract only
- Intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber and risk of stroke among US men. – abstract only
Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Hernán MA, Giovannucci EL, Kawachi I, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC.
- Diabetes and Endometrial Cancer in the Iowa Women’s Health Study – abstract only
Kristin E. Anderson2, Elizabeth Anderson, Pamela J. Mink3, Ching Ping Hong, Lawrence H. Kushi, Thomas A. Sellers, DeAnn Lazovich and Aaron R. Folsom
Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention
- Untangling Results of Women’s Health Study
- Audio review of the NHS (Nurses’ Health Study)
- Glycemic Index in the Treatment of Diabetes: The Debate Continues
John L. Sievenpiper, MSc and Vladimir Vuksan, PhD
Further reading – sites
Personally, I love wading through medical journals. If, however, you don’t happen to share this strange obsession; the following sites are a little more down to Earth.
- American Diabetes Association (Nutrition & Recipes section)
This site contains some excellent articles on many aspects of nutrition for those with diabetes; it also links to some great books on the subject.
- South Dakota Diabetes Prevention and Control (recipes page)
Once you have an idea of which food sources are beneficial, you’re probably looking for a few recipes. Head over to SD Diabetes.
- Harvard School of Public Health (Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes)
If you’re fortunate enough to not have diabetes, this site has some great advice on keeping it that way.