How Can Nuts Help Manage & Prevent Diabetes?

How Can Nuts Help Manage & Prevent Diabetes?

Image by Phoebe Lapine

By Florencia Tagliavini, Nutritionist

The CDC estimates as of 2017 that 23.1 million people are diagnosed with diabetes and an additional 7 million are living with diabetes undiagnosed. That’s a lot of us!

How can we better manage and prevent diabetes in some cases?

Diet and lifestyle (stress, weight management, exercise, etc.) are huge contributors in preventing and treating diabetes.

If you are living with diabetes you probably know there are two important factors in caring for diabetes: blood sugar control and heart health. Diabetics are at a higher risk for heart disease, thus it’s important to maintain adequate blood lipids levels (HDL/LDL cholesterol & triglycerides) and blood pressure.  For many people with diabetes, healthy eating habits, weight management, and active living are enough to control their blood sugar levels and prevent the possible complications of the disease.

How can nuts help in this aspect?

Healthy eating habits are crucial to managing and preventing diabetes.

Nuts are high in a number of nutrients, including fiber, heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Their magnesium content has been shown to affect  the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood glucose levels.

Interestingly, many people with type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium. And, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, magnesium is one of the under-consumed nutrients.

Nuts also have a low glycemic index so they will not make your blood sugar rise quickly.  In fact, combining nuts with other carbohydrates that do have a higher glycemic index can help stabilize blood sugar post-prandial (after a meal).

Most nuts have a low impact on your carb count. Their combination of protein and fat is especially helpful when trying to manage blood sugar and can help curb cravings making them a healthy addition to your diet and especially if you replace them for higher glycemic index carbohydrates.

Research

Numerous studies done with different nuts and testing different markers have confirmed that nuts are a beneficial addition to a diet for managing and preventing diabetes. In summary, these studies conclude that daily intake of nuts can help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as manage type 2 diabetes by altering the amounts of healthy fats in the blood (lowering LDL levels which is the bad cholesterol, while raising HDL which is the good cholesterol), lowering levels of the C-reactive protein (a major marker of inflammation) as well as helping improve insulin sensitivity (a measure of how well your body processes glucose) and improving blood sugar control.

General healthy eating tips to help manage diabetes:

  • Limit foods that are high in added sugar.
  • Eat smaller portions. Spread out your carbohydrates throughout the day.
  • Make your carbs count by choosing whole grains, fruits and vegetables over  sugary drinks and refined, processed foods.
  • Eat a variety of whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables every day.
  • Eat less saturated fat and focus on healthy fat sources such as avocados,   olive and  canola oil, nuts and seeds.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol.
  • Use less salt.
  • Include nuts & seeds in your diet: Combining nuts with a high-carbohydrate food such as cereal, bread or fruit, will help lower blood glucose readings after eating compared to eating high-carb food alone. Also including nuts in your breakfast can aid in stabilizing blood glucose levels for the better part of the day.

Tip: Nut butters are great to use as spreads on a higher carb food like bread or fruit. Choose to make one of the fresh nut milks to include as part of your breakfast. There is no need to worry about which specific nut is best, they are all great to include in your diet. The recommendation is a handful of nuts (1 ounce) a day which will benefit heart health, blood pressure and glycemic control associated with diabetes.

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