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Diabetic Diet: FAQs

Your diabetes questions answered

Is it true that cinnamon helps reduce blood sugar?

Indeed, some research suggests that spicing up your diet with cinnamon may improve blood-glucose levels. In a 2003 study of 60 men and women with type 2 diabetes published in Diabetes Care, consuming as little as 1 gram (approximately 1/2 teaspoon) of cinnamon daily, for 40 days, was associated with significantly lowered (up to 29 percent lower) blood-glucose levels. Cinnamon intake also was linked with reduced levels of blood triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Exactly how cinnamon may improve blood glucose and blood cholesterol isn’t known; however, researchers believe that components in cinnamon may improve the sensitivity of the receptors for insulin, a hormone that causes glucose to move out of the blood into tissues of the body where it’s needed as fuel. Cinnamon also contains antioxidants that neutralize tissue-damaging free radicals in the body. That said, it’s important to take this sweet news with, well, a grain of salt. A 2006 study in the Journal of Nutrition reported that consuming a daily dose of cinnamon equal to the amount that appeared effective in lowering glucose in the Diabetes Care study did not seem to improve glucose or cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to determine whether supplementing foods with cinnamon truly improves blood-glucose levels. In the meantime, spicing things up a bit can’t hurt and besides, cinnamon is delicious. Stir hot tea or coffee with a cinnamon stick; add a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon to a bowl of warm oatmeal. And remember: following an overall healthy diet and exercising regularly are the most effective things you can do to keep glucose levels in healthy range.

Are there any dietary supplements that could help reduce my risk?

Though preliminary studies suggest that some nutrients, including chromium, magnesium and vanadium, may play a role in glucose metabolism, “no one vitamin or mineral has been conclusively shown to have much of a beneficial effect on blood-glucose levels,” says Marion Franz, M.S., R.D., a nutrition-and-health consultant and diabetes educator in Minneapolis (who contributed an introduction to The EatingWell Diabetes Cookbook).

“Your best bet is to eat a variety of healthful foods. If you feel you need a supplement, take any of the one-a-day formulas available over the counter. Check to be sure none of the vitamins or minerals is greater than 100% in the supplement,” Franz says.

What is "prediabetes" and what role does diet play in it?

Prediabetes describes “borderline-high” blood glucose levels that consistently fall between what is considered a healthy, normal level and a high level that meets the diagnostic criteria for diabetes. Let’s look at some numbers that might help you understand this a little better. One common blood-glucose test is the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, a measure of glucose in the blood after a period of fasting (after a meal, blood sugar increases significantly). Normal glucose levels with this test would be less than 100 mg/dl and diabetic levels would be greater than 126 mg/dl. Anything between 100 mg/dl and 126 mg/dl falls into a risky range of prediabetes—so called because people with this level of “impaired glucose responses” are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years. They also are at an increased risk for heart disease. And the condition is not all that uncommon: 54 million Americans have blood-sugar levels corresponding to a prediabetes diagnosis. The good news: A diagnosis of prediabetes doesn’t mean you’re doomed to develop the disease. In fact, if you see it as an urgent wake-up call, the diagnosis could motivate you to make positive lifestyle changes that may help reverse the course and bring your glucose levels back into healthy ranges. In one study of 3,234 overweight men and women, healthy lifestyle changes—eating a healthier diet that provided more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer high-calorie snack foods and desserts, combined with 30 minutes of physical activity five times per week—resulted in a 58% reduction of progression to type 2 diabetes.

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