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If you have been told you are prediabetic, or if you are already overweight or there's just a lot of diabetes in your family, one of the surprisingly helpful things you can do is to eat nuts such as almonds or pistachios.

Two new studies tell us that eating tree nuts, such as pistachio nuts and almonds, may stop the progression of prediabetes to full-blown type 2 diabetes, without causing weight gain.

Researchers from Spain and the United States reported their findings at the 2014 European Congress on Obesity. One of the presenters, Dr. Mònica Bulló, a physician and researcher with the human nutrition unit at Virgili University, Reus, Spain, told a Medscape reporter "I would advise people to eat a handful of nuts whenever they can."

Pistachio Power to Fight Diabetes

Dr. Bulló's and her colleagues recruited 49 overweight or obese volunteers to eat 57 grams (2 ounces, or about 100 kernels) of pistachio nuts every day for 4 months. At the end of the experiment, the volunteers had significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels, insulin levels, and insulin resistance.

Typically, just about anything that really lowers blood sugar levels in prediabetic subjects also increases weight. Fat cells become storage depots for excess glucose in the bloodstream. In this study, however, even though the volunteers added about 310 calories to their daily diets, they didn't gain weight. This result is consistent with many other studies of the use of tree nuts such as pistachios and almonds as a supportive therapy of metabolic disease.

American Researchers Fight Prediabetes with Almonds

Also at the conference, Dr. Sze Yen Tan, a PhD nutritionist at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, made a poster presentation of the results of a 4-week study of 137 adult volunteers with prediabetes. The volunteers were divided into two two groups. One group was asked to eat 43 grams (1-1/2 ounces) of almonds every day. The other was not. 

At the end of the 28 day experiment, the test participants who ate almonds reported feeling fuller at meals and had lower postprandial (after-meal) blood glucose levels.

The significance of lower post-prandial blood sugar levels is that they are an indication that there is a better match between the ability of the pancreas to "dump" a large amount of insulin quickly to get blood sugar levels back to normal quickly. Muscle, liver, and fat cells then don't have to shut down receptor sites for insulin to keep themselves from being flooded with sugar. And when these cells don't shut down insulin receptor sites, they don't become "insulin resistant," setting off a vicious cycle of higher production of insulin and lower response to insulin that eventually causes beta cell depletion, also known as pancreatic burnout.

In Dr. Tan's experiment, despite the fact the volunteers were consuming an additional 245 calories a day, they didn't gain weight.

Why It Makes Sense to "Go Nuts" If You Are Prediabetic

There are at least 80 studies of using nuts to treat metabolic diseases in the published medical literature.

There are consistent finding that eating more calories in the form of tree nuts does not cause weight gain.

There have even been several studies that found that volunteers lost weight despite eating more calories from almonds. Studies tend to confirm that eating nuts lowers blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure levels, and has favorable effects on cholesterol and triglycerides.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Salas-Salvadó J, Bulló M, Estruch R, Ros E, Covas MI, Ibarrola-Jurado N, Corella D, Arós F, Gómez-Gracia E, Ruiz-Gutiérrez V, Romaguera D, Lapetra J, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Basora J, Muñoz MA, Sorlí JV, Martínez-González MA. Prevention of diabetes with Mediterranean diets: a subgroup analysis of a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Jan 7.160(1):1-10. doi: 10.7326/M13-1725.
  • Salas-Salvadó J, Guasch-Ferré M, Bulló M, Sabaté J. Nuts in the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jun 4. pii: ajcn.071530. [Epub ahead of print]PMID: 24898227.
  • Photo courtesy of Andrew Malone by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/andrewmalone/5408810798/
  • Photo courtesy of Iain Buchanan by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/jaeden/111015656

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