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Can you control your diabetes with diet, herbs and supplements? The short answer is yes-you can.

Can you control your diabetes with diet, herbs and supplements? 

Diabetes has been known for a very long time.  The term “diabetes” comes from the Greek word for “siphon” or drain—because the Greeks understood the symptoms and viewed the frequent urination or “draining” as an early sign of diabetes.

Looking back on some of the early herbal treatments of diabetes, we can see that the early physicians were trying to replace some of the essential nutrients along with maintaining blood sugars—they didn’t know they were doing it, but they probably saw some improvement in their patients. In 1921, Canadian researchers Frederick Banting, and his assistant Charles Best discovered that injecting a diabetic dog with substances from the pancreas allowed the dog to survive—eventually, insulin was discovered. Further research described the two types of diabetes—Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) and Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM).  Insulin was purified from pig and beef sources and patients were able to begin to control their conditions. The 1950’s brought the development of the first hypoglycemic (blood sugar-lowering) agents, the sulfonylureas—these stimulated the pancreas to produce more insulin.  Since then, we’ve seen the development of recombinant human insulin, more classes of hypoglycemics, home glucometers and urine test strips.  All of these have made it easier to control your diabetes.

While insulin and drugs to control blood sugar are important and often vital tools to control your diabetes, many diabetic patients can control their diabetes with diet, herbs and supplements. As always, diet is very important in controlling any disorder—but especially diabetes.

The first “rule” of a diabetes-controlling diet is to eat foods with a low glycemic index.  You can get lists of low glycemic foods —but a simpler way to go is to go for whole, unprocessed foods with complex carbohydrates. This includes whole grain foods such as brown rice, buckwheat (and kasha), quinoa and whole-wheat pastas; vegetables such as broccoli, onions, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms and red peppers; fruits such as prunes, peaches, grapefruit and plums; legumes such as beans, lentils and peas.

I always recommend unprocessed foods—this generally means that if it comes in a box and is advertised as being “quick” or easy, stay away.  Many of the processed foods add vitamins—but this adds to the cost and is usually incomplete (meaning that the whole, unprocessed food generally has a greater quantity and quality of nutrients and a greater variety of nutrients).  Granted, it takes a bit more time to cook the unprocessed foods, but, you can cook a pot of beans when you have the time, use what you need and freeze the rest!  The same goes for rice, buckwheat, quinoa and other legumes. One more advice: you can soak rice, beans and other legumes in water overnight which significantly reduces the time for cooking.

The second “rule” is to eat high fiber foods—if you are following the first “rule”, this pretty much takes care of itself—the whole grain foods, plus the vegetables, fruit and legumes are all high fiber.  You should have at least 35-50 grams of fiber each day.  Ideally, we should have bowel movements after every meal—really.  This doesn’t happen with most people—because most people don’t eat enough fiber.  Along with a high fiber diet, make sure you drink lots and lots of pure water. As an aside, drinking lots of water can also help reduce ankle and leg swelling that some people experience because they sit for long periods of time.

The third “rule” is to avoid simple sugars—this means the sweets, the desserts—and—the high fructose corn syrup. The products with high fructose corn syrup should especially be avoided as there is new information that the fructose increases insulin resistance, increases blood triglycerides, increases a hormone (leptin) that is involved in weight gain and has been shown to impair memory in animals.

The fourth “rule” is to eat high quality protein – this is protein that is high in nutrients and protein, low in saturated fat and cholesterol. High quality proteins include corn, wheat, nuts, wild rice, leafy greens (spinach, kale and chard), fish (bass, tuna, mackeral, salmon and trout), seafood (lobster, scallops and crab) and poultry (skinless chicken and turkey).

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  • Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/widnr/6549287735/