Every 17 seconds, a person in the United States is diagnosed with diabetes. Currently, almost 26 million Americans have diabetes and of these, 7 million Americans do not know they have the disease. Diabetes is a serious disease in which blood glucose or blood sugar levels are above the normal range. Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Most people with diabetes have type 2, and now more young people, and adults have the disease because many are overweight or obese. To add, there is an estimated 79 million Americans over age 20 who have prediabetes. Which means their blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be called diabetes. People with prediabetes are more likely to develop diabetes within 10 years and they are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. If diabetes is not managaed, it can lead to series complications and problems such as heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney disease, and nerve damage. But people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower their risk of complications. Research shows that eating well and exercise are at least two keys to success for diabetes control.
Maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with diabetes. A healthy meal plan can make all the difference to a person struggling to keep their blood sugar under control. Two interesting foods that have grown in popularity as natural remedies to lower blood sugars are a fiber called inulin, and nopal, or prickly pear cactus.
Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods, and it plays an important role in the digestive process for everyone. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate (just like sugars and starches) but since it is not broken down by the human body, or digested it does not contribute any calories and has no effect on blood glucose levels. Fiber helps move foods along the digestive tract and adds bulk to stool to speed its passage through the bowel and promote regular bowel movements. But fiber also delays sugar absorption, helping to better control blood sugar levels. In addition, fiber binds with cholesterol and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Lastly, fiber helps prevent constipation and reduces the risk of certain intestinal disorders. The goal for all Americans is to consume at least 25 grams to 35 grams of fiber per day. Foods examples that contain fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas. It is recommended and important that individuals with or at risk for diabetes stay away from foods with simple sugars like candy, sugary drinks like soda or juice, white bread, cakes and pastries. These foods have “empty calories”, no nutritional value and can cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels.
But what if you could get some extra fiber in your daily meal plan another way?
Inulin might be a way. Inulin or chicory root fiber is a kind of fiber that is being added to food products. It has been stated that inulin may have health benefits similar to those of fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But how does it work? Inulin is a type of fructo-oligosaccharide, or FOS, that helps to feed the “friendly” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Inulin is not digested or absorbed in the stomach. It goes to the bowels where bacteria are able to use it to grow. Inulin is a “prebiotic”. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut which is associated with improving bowel function and general health. Inulin has been used for and may be good for the management of high blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides. It is also used for weight loss, constipation, controlling blood sugars naturally and as a food additive to improve taste. Inulin can be found in many supplements but easy to use and convenient when it is in a powder form.
Another natural remedy that has had a lot of attention on its effects on blood sugar levels is nopal or prickly pear cactus, a member of the cactus family native to Mexico. It has been a staple of the Mexican diet for centuries. It has been used since ancient times as both a food and as a medicine for its health benefits. The fleshy pads are eaten as vegetables and are high in fiber and nutrients like vitamins A, C, K, B6 and riboflavin. Riboflavin is a B vitamin. It can be found in many foods especially in green vegetables. Nopal contains about 13 percent of the daily value for vitamin A and vitamin C. It also has 14 percent of the daily value for calcium, 11 percent of the daily value for magnesium and 5 percent of the daily value for vitamin B-6. Nopal contains both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers. Nopal may help lower blood glucose and cholesterol. The ingredients may slow carbohydrate absorption and decrease lipid absorption in the digestive tract. Nopal may help lower blood glucose when it is cooked or taken as a dietary supplement. Nopal also contains pectin and phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring plant chemicals that provide plants with their color, odor and flavor. Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple), whole grains/cereals, and beans containing phytochemicals may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Being able to purchase inulin and nopal in an organic powder form together makes it simple to try in your diet a variety of ways. Try using it in teas, smoothies, in yogurts, baked goods or on top of cereals for a healthy and energizing start to your day. But be sure to consult with your diabetes care team before starting any nutritional supplement.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)
Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
EScholarship: University of California: Nutrition Bytes: Medicinal Use of the Latin Food Staple Nopales: The Prickly Pear Cactus
Applications of inulin and Oligofructose in health and nutrition.