India is supposed to be the diabetes capital of the world – we have the dubious distinction of having the most number of diabetics in the world. This is in spite of the fact that there are several reasons why it can be easier to manage or prevent diabetes given our Indian diets and eating habits.
Indian Diets and Eating Habits
- We Indians have whole wheat rotis rather than bread made from refined flour. Whole grains are recommended for diabetics
- We eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables in our meals. This is also advisable
- Typically in rice or roti we do not add salt; lowering salt consumption is also good for diabetes
- We eat different types of beans and lentils – rajma, chana, daals are known to help control blood fats and naturally help manage the condition
- Whereas in the West, a meal is frequently preceded by an alcoholic beverage and accompanied by a sweetened soft drink, with a regular Indian meal, there is no tradition of taking any alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage except water. This is another advantage.
- We Indians also don’t eat out as much as our western counterparts – healthy, home-cooked meals of daal, roti, and subzi are certainly better than a restaurant meal that is tasty but also laden with unhealthy fats, refined sugar and salt.
Carbs and Blood Sugar
People with diabetes either do not make enough insulin or their body's cannot properly use the insulin that is made. Insulin is a hormone that gets the sugar from your bloodstream into your cells. Without insulin, the sugar stays in your blood, which ultimately damages your body and organs. Carbohydrates, found in foods such as bread, rice, fruit and milk, are broken down into sugar. Controlling the amount of carbs you eat throughout the day can help you gain control of your blood sugar.
However, easier access to convenience foods and the exigencies of modern living have caused urban Indians to make some unfortunate lifestyle changes. This is what should be avoided:
- Do not fall into the lure of convenience foods from a package, heat-and-eat meals, order in pizzas and oily, salty Indo-Chinese takeaways
- Avoid that Pepsi or a Coke or whatever sweetened beverage that promises to make you cooler, smarter, more attractive. There is no nutritional value at all here; only empty calories
- Avoid mithai, store bought cakes, cookies and biscuits – they are loaded with refined flour and sugar. For sweet at the end of the meal, have a seasonal fruit – sweet, delicious and healthy!
- Avoid our beloved Indian snacks – samosas, kachoris, chaat, farsans…. These are usually fried in hydrogenated fats, and contain refined flours. They may be tasty but are as unhealthy as any western fast food item
- Also avoid the so called diet-snacks available in the market – there are no rules or regulations governing this. Anyone can label their snack ‘healthy’, ‘diet’ or ‘low-cal’ there is nothing to prevent them from doing so – it is up to the consumer to be alert to the ingredients, calorie counts, cooking mediums and nutritional value of a convenience food
Things to include in a diabetes diet
It goes without saying that you should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains in the diet. It is also important to use healthy oils and to avoid hydrogenated fats such as Dalda. Here is what Indians can easily include in the diet for effective diabetes management:
- Karela or bitter gourd (also known as bitter melon) is also good for natural diabetes management
- Garlic, especially raw and freshly crushed is known to help lower blood sugar naturally and is rich in potassium, zinc and sulphur.
- Onions, particularly raw onions are helpful for natural diabetes control
- Lower sugar intake and where possible, replace refined sugar with gud (jaggery) or honey
- Fenugreek or methi helps shore up the immune system and naturally controls diabetes. Add to subzis, pulaos, paranthas and chutneys. The seeds can be powdered at mixed with wheat flour as well
- There is evidence to show that saturated fatty acids are replaced with Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids and Polyunsaturated fatty acids, there is a positive impact oninsulin sensitivity. Flaxseed, nuts and so on are helpful
- Cinnamon is also thought to improve serum glucose and help with cholesterol and triglycerides
- Web MD recommends spinach, green beans and oats for a diabetic diet. Indian diets do typically contain beans and spinach – find ways to increase their proportions in the diet. Oats can be consumed in a form of breakfast porridge
- Non vegetarians should include lean meat and fish in the diet to get healthy protein and good quality fats. Meat is also a good source of other nutrients that help to mebtabolise carbs and enable proper functioning of insulin
Remember it is also important to supplement a healthy diabetes diet with regular exercise. Weight control itself is an important tool for diabetes management and control.