Breakfast Ideas for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Sugary cereals, bagels covered in cream cheese, and high-fat bacon breakfasts are the subjects of many food fantasies. However, they are all poor choices for people with diabetes.

Diabetes management requires attention to sugar and carbohydrates. To optimize heart health, people with diabetes should also steer clear of high-fat foods that have little nutritional value.

This does not mean that people with diabetes have to have dull breakfasts. A number of classic breakfasts are excellent choices. A few minor tweaks to traditional breakfasts can make many of them healthful even for people with type 2 diabetes.

Classic breakfasts for type 2 diabetes

Breakfasts high in fiber, but low in added sugar, carbohydrates, and salt are excellent choices for people with diabetes. Nutrient-dense foods support feelings of fullness, which can help stop people snacking on unhealthful options.

Some healthful breakfast options include the following:

Smoothies

[blueberry chia seed smoothie]
Smoothies with berries and chia seeds are a delicious and nutritious way to start the morning.

Fruit juices contain rapidly absorbed sugar and, sometimes, artificial sweeteners that can either trigger blood sugar spikes or affect insulin sensitivity and gut bacteria. Smoothies offer the same sweet taste as juice but contain lots of nutrients that help fight hunger.

There are many ways to include different nutrients in a smoothie. Load up on the fiber by using spinach, kale, or avocado in a smoothie. Layer on sweetness by adding frozen berries, bananas, apples, or peaches.

Make sure to include some fat or protein to make the smoothie as filling as possible. This will also slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates.

Adding a scoop of a protein powder or one-half of a cup of Greek yogurt can make a smoothie even more satisfying.

Try this diabetes-friendly smoothie:

  • Blend two cups of frozen raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries with an avocado, and one-half of a cup of kale.
  • Add water to thin the consistency.
  • Use chia seeds to add good fat and extra fiber to the smoothie. They won’t change the taste when balanced with fruit or yogurt.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is rich in fiber, which means it can slow blood sugar absorption, ease digestion, and fight hunger. It also contains almost 5.5 grams (g) of protein per cup of cooked oatmeal, making it a nutrient-dense breakfast option.

Sprinkle with cinnamon for flavor, but avoid loading oatmeal with honey or brown sugar. Instead, sweeten the oatmeal with raspberries, blueberries, or cherries. Fresh fruit is best.

Walnuts can add omega-3 heart healthful fats, protein and texture for an even more nourishing breakfast.

Eggs

A large-sized boiled egg contains about 6 to 7 g of protein. Eggs may also help fight diabetes. According to a 2015 study, middle-aged and older men who ate the most eggs were 38 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least eggs.

Another study found that people with diabetes who ate eggs daily could reduce their body fat and BMI, without increasing hemoglobin A1c levels.

A hard-boiled egg seasoned with black or cayenne pepper is an ideal on-the-go breakfast snack. To increase fiber intake, people with diabetes can try a spinach or kale omelet.

Poached eggs are also a good option, and can be layered on sweet potato “toast.” People with diabetes who crave toast can use sprouted grain bread.

Instead of seasoning omelets and other egg breakfasts with salt, people should try peppers, such as cayenne or diced jalapeños instead.

Cereal

Many popular bowls of cereal are incredibly high in sugar, including those that are marketed as “healthful.” Muesli with unsweetened almond milk, however, offers a fiber-rich, low sugar alternative. Use the 5-5 rule when navigating the cereal aisle: aim for at least 5 g of fiber and less than 5 g of sugar per serving.

Yogurt

[greek yogurt and berries]
People who like sweet foods can try adding berries to their greek yogurt.

Unsweetened yogurt is a perfectly healthful breakfast for people with diabetes. Greek yogurt, which contains about-about 10 g of protein per 100 g, is even better. For those people who prefer sweet foods, sprinkle on some raspberries or blueberries and some pumpkin seeds. This is a protein-rich breakfast that also offers some fiber and some good fats.

Fruit

Fruit can be a good option for breakfast, but large quantities of fruit can cause blood sugar spikes. On its own, most fruit isn’t very filling either.

Avocados are a major exception, offering about-about 10 g of fiber per cup. Rich in heart-healthful fats, these hearty fruits offer a filling breakfast. People with diabetes can try filling an avocado with low-salt cottage cheese or an egg.

Diabetes-friendly takes on classic breakfasts

Sizzling bacon and sausage might smell great, but they are high in cholesterol and salt. This makes them bad choices for people with diabetes.

White bread toast, English muffins, and bagels are low in nutrients, but high in carbohydrates. Gooey cinnamon rolls can lead people to diabetes to a sugar-induced crash.

If someone with diabetes is craving an indulgent breakfast, they can try one of these options instead.

Bacon and sausage alternatives

Meat substitutes such as tofu and other plant-based proteins taste surprisingly similar to bacon and sausage, especially when mixed into another dish. Before trying a meat alternative, however, people with diabetes should check the salt content.

For a modern take on the classic bacon, lettuce, and tomato breakfast sandwich, people can try layering vegetarian bacon and ripe tomatoes on sprouted or whole grain bread.

Bread

Not all bread is bad for people with diabetes. The problem is that white bread is low in nutrients, and can elevate blood sugar. Sprouted grain and sourdough bread are the best bread choices for fiber, probiotic content, and digestibility. However, some people with diabetes may find that any type of bread spikes their blood sugar levels

[almond butter]
Almond butter will increase the nutritional value of having the toast for breakfast.

To increase the nutritional value of bread, people can consider one of the following breakfasts:

  • Avocado sweet potato toast: Slice a sweet potato long-wise into one-quarter inch thick slices. Fully toast the slices and spread the avocado, adding a poached egg on top if desired. Increase the flavor by adding jalapeño slices or cayenne pepper.
  • Bagel substitute: Try toasted sprouted grain bread with peanut or almond butter. Raspberries or walnuts taste great on top.

Pastry alternatives

People with diabetes who love pastries can find a number of sugar-free alternative recipes online. With these, it is important to check the ingredients carefully and keep portions small.

When diabetes is otherwise well-controlled, it’s fine to enjoy small pastries as an occasional breakfast treat. People should balance a sweet breakfast with foods that are high in fiber and, or protein, such as avocado or almonds. This will help control blood sugar.

Simple breakfast rules

A healthful breakfast for people with diabetes does not have to be limited to a small number of recipes. A few guidelines can help people to eat well no matter what their taste preferences are:

  • Maximize protein intake. Protein can help people feel full. It also enables the development of healthy tissue and muscles. Nuts, legumes, and animal products, such as dairy and meat are excellent sources of protein.
  • Fiber can combat blood sugar spikes, support feelings of fullness, and encourage digestive health. Most vegetables, many fruits, nuts, seeds, wheat bran, and oat bran are rich in fiber.
  • Sugar isn’t just found in food, be careful of beverages too. Water is a more healthful choice than juice and other sweetened drinks. Sodas and sweetened coffees and teas can cause blood sugar to surge, so limit sweeteners.
  • Eating two smaller morning meals 2-3 hours apart can reduce blood sugar level changes while supporting a healthy weight. Many people with diabetes thrive on a diet that includes five to seven small meals a day.
  • High-sodium diets can undermine heart health and elevate blood pressure. People with diabetes should be especially cautious about salt intake. Most salt comes from packaged foods, so it is better to stick to fresh and home-cooked foods instead. Potassium-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, and bananas will help to offset sodium’s effects on health.
  • Watch portion size. A healthful breakfast can cause unhealthy weight gain when consumed in large quantities. People with diabetes should read the package or label to determine appropriate serving size.

Food as Medicine: Shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, Amaryllidaceae)

Overview

Shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, syn. A. ascalonicum, Amaryllidaceae) is a variety of the common onion (A. cepa).1 Shallots grow natively in the mountains of central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and parts of Siberia and China, and they gradually spread throughout Europe as international trade expanded.2 It is a herbaceous plant with alternating foliar leaves that sheath at the base to create the superficial impression that they originate from an above-ground stem.1 Shallot bulbs, which are bunched in groups that resemble large garlic (A. sativum) bulbs, are the portion of the plant commonly used.3 While edible, the above-ground stems and leaves generally are discarded. France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the United States are major commercial producers of shallots, and many other countries throughout Southeast Asia and Africa also cultivate and export them.1,2

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Of all the onion varieties, shallots contain the highest amount of total flavonols, which have been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and cellular oxidation.4 Many of these bioactive components have been isolated and studied in vitro for their potential protective effects against chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.5 One such flavonol is quercetin, which is one of the many phenolic compounds found in many fruits and vegetables that exhibit biological activities.6 Quercetin is reportedly more bioavailable from the dry skin of shallots rather than the flesh, where it is mainly found in the form of quercetin glycosides (quercetin glycosides can be broken down in the body to produce quercetin).7 When metabolized, quercetin forms metabolites that are less biologically potent than quercetin glycosides, but these metabolites still retain some anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to protect against inflammation-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD).5

Antioxidants are a group of bioactive compounds that, among other activities, reduce free radical damage to lipids and DNA by reactive oxygen species (ROSs). Antioxidants either accept or donate an electron to stabilize ROS and to reduce their damaging capabilities. Phenolic compounds such as flavonols, carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments that give some plants their orange, yellow, and red colors), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiols, and tocopherols (vitamin E) are all examples of antioxidant molecules.8

Flavonols have been widely shown to have potent antioxidant activity in vitro and in vivo. Flavonols have also been extensively studied for their actions on inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells in vitro. The antioxidant capacity and the anti-proliferative ability of flavonols change depending on how these compounds are metabolized. When tested in liver and colon cell lines designed to mimic human metabolism, the antioxidant activity of the flavonols found in shallots was retained more than the antioxidant activity of the flavonols found in other onion varieties.8

Shallots and other Allium crops have high concentrations of organosulfides, which are sulfur-containing phytonutrients that are metabolized by the enzyme alliinase when the plant tissue is ruptured (e.g., from cooking, chewing, or crushing).9,10 These compounds give Allium plants their recognizable flavor and pungency, with different species differing in flavor and pungency due to variations in the concentrations of types of organosulfides.9 Organosulfides are highly bioavailable in animal models, preserved through metabolism, and can be detected in the blood at dose-dependent concentrations.10 As a result, their antioxidant activity is retained. In humans, their bioavailability is unknown, so further investigation is needed to determine whether biologically active concentrations of organosulfides can be achieved through traditional dietary intake or through pharmacological interventions.10

Finally, isoliquiritigenin is a flavonoid found in high concentration in shallots. Like organosulfides, isoliquiritigenin is highly bioavailable.11 Isoliquiritigenin absorption is dose-dependent and varies depending on tissue type.

Historical and Commercial Uses

There is little information regarding the historical medicinal uses of shallot, which was originally named Allium ascalonicum after its popularity in the city of Ascalon, Syria, but Allium crops generally were used to treat gastrointestinal issues and tumors and known for their anti-microbial properties.12 The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder mentioned the shallot as one of six types of onions known to the Greeks in his 77 CE encyclopedia Naturalis Historia.1 By 1554, shallots were grown in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany and Baldassare Pisanelli, a 17th-century doctor in Italy, described the shallot as “a delicious food that stimulates the appetite when it is hot and makes tasty to drink.”4 Cultivation of shallots spread to England from France by 1663, and shallots became a common crop in the United States by 1806.1 Today, shallots are used for culinary purposes: cooked in stews and soups, diced raw in salads or to accompany meats, or pickled.1

Modern Research

There are limited data regarding the effect of shallots as a whole food on the disease, but specific phytonutrients from shallot have been isolated and studied for their activities and effects on different disease states.

Cancer Prevention

Plants in the genus Allium, including shallot, have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of gastric cancer in humans. A meta-analysis of epidemiological studies showed that the consumption of 20 grams daily of Allium vegetables (equivalent to the weight of one garlic bulb) reduced the incidence of gastric cancer in individuals when compared to those who consumed lower amounts.13 Similarly, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) in conjunction with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) published a comprehensive report of the existing literature on diet and cancer that found strong evidence to support shallot’s inhibiting effect on cancer cell lines.14 In addition to reducing the risk of gastric cancer, Allium vegetables were also credited with reducing the risk of all cancers.14 However, the WCRF/AICR report recommended a higher dosage of Allium vegetables (100 grams daily) to reduce the risk of gastric and other cancers than that specified by the previously mentioned meta-analysis.13,14

Individual phytonutrients present in shallots have been studied for their capabilities to inhibit the initiation, promotion, and progression of certain types of cancer.  Isoliquiritigenin, for example, has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of the metastatic potential of human prostate cancer cells.15 This essentially results in the cell’s ability to “turn off” growth in order to prevent the uncontrolled cell growth and division important for tumor survival. Isoliquiritigenin has also been shown to induce apoptosis (normal, pre-programmed cell death) via mitochondrial-mediated effects.16,17 Similar apoptotic effects were observed when hepatoma, gastric, and melanoma cancer cell lines were treated with isoliquiritigenin.16,17 In addition, treatment with isoliquiritigenin in human lung cancer cells resulted in cell cycle arrest, which inhibited cancer cell growth and proliferation.18 Studies that monitor in vivo effects of isoliquiritigenin are needed to further explore the anti-tumor potential of this compound.

Isoliquiritigenin has the potential to act as a safe alternative to commonly used chemotherapies. In a mouse study, renal carcinoma was treated with isoliquiritigenin, which suppressed pulmonary metastases without the leukocytopenia and weight loss associated with the administration of the commonly used chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil.19 More studies are needed to determine the dosage at which isoliquiritigenin is effective and safe in humans, but this phytochemical may offer a promising alternative to approved chemotherapies that are associated with harmful side effects.

Organosulfides also contribute to the antioxidant activity of shallots.10 These compounds have been studied in vitro for their ability to halt cell cycle progression, induce apoptosis, and inhibit angiogenesis of tumor cells.10 Similar effects have been observed in vivo, in which organosulfides have been linked to the inhibition of skin carcinogenesis and prevention of both carcinogen-induced colon cancer and carcinogen-induced esophageal tumors in rats.10 In a clinical trial involving the administration of a high dose of metabolized organosulfides (200 mg per day) over a five-year period, researchers observed a 22% lower incidence of all cancers and a 47.3% lower incidence of gastric cancer in these individuals compared to those who did not receive treatment.10 No adverse effects were observed with this high-dose treatment, highlighting the safety of these compounds. However, further research into the efficacy of these metabolites for cancer chemoprevention is needed.

Diabetes

Shallot as a whole food has been studied for its hypoglycemic activity. In a mouse study, juiced shallot bulbs were administered orally.20 The blood glucose levels of mice treated with shallot bulb juice were found to be 13.3% lower in the treatment group, compared to an increase of 1.57% in the control group and the end of the 15-day study period. Another animal study compared the glucose-lowering effects of a shallot bulb extract and the commonly prescribed blood glucose-lowering drug, metformin, in rats.21 The reduction of blood glucose observed with shallot bulb extract treatment was similar to that observed with metformin. In addition, treatment with the shallot extract significantly inhibited the metabolism of ingested carbohydrates and increased the cellular absorption of circulating blood glucose.

Another animal study compared the antioxidant and hypolipidemic properties of the shallot bulb extract and metformin in diabetic rats.22 In the group treated with the shallot bulb extract, the following increases in phase II antioxidant enzyme activity were observed compared to the control group: superoxide dismutase by 65%, glutathione peroxidase by 43%, and catalase by 55%. Metformin only slightly increased superoxide dismutase activity by 8% when compared to the control group. When comparing lipid profiles, the shallot bulb extract affected only very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which was reduced by 24% in comparison to the control group. Treatment with metformin was half as effective, reducing VLDL by only 12%.

Anti-Inflammatory

A high daily intake of flavonoids from fruits and vegetables is associated with an approximately 50% reduction in mortality from CVD compared to consuming low amounts.8 As quercetin is metabolized by the human body, it retains the ability to function as an anti-inflammatory agent and inhibits the expression of adhesion molecules on the surface of endothelial cells.5 (The presence of adhesion molecules on the surface of endothelial cells can contribute to vascular inflammation and the formation of atherosclerotic lesions.5) By reducing these effects and by reducing the damage caused by oxidative stress, flavonols can act as anti-inflammatory agents to further reduce the risk for inflammatory-related diseases such as certain types of cancer, diabetes, and CVD.23

Antimicrobial

Allium plants are well-known for their disease resistance, which has been attributed in part to the antimicrobial activity of saponins present within these plants.24 These same properties have also been applied to human pathogens. Exposure to antibiotic-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis to shallot bulb extract resulted in bacterial death.25 Organosulfides have specifically been studied for their anti-fungal properties against several genera of human pathogens including Candida, Cryptococcus, Trichophyton, Epidermophyton, and Microsporum.12 Organosulfides have also been shown to be effective against many bacteria, including Bacillus spp., Enterococcus spp., Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella Typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, and Vibrio cholera. Organosulfides have synergistic effects when combined with antibiotics and broad-spectrum fungicides.

Nutrient Profile26

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1/4 cup chopped shallot [approx. 40 grams])

29 calories

1 g protein

6.72 g carbohydrate

0 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1/4 cup chopped shallot [approx. 40 grams])

Good source of:

Vitamin B-6: 0.14 mg (7% DV)

Manganese: 0.12 mg (6% DV)

Vitamin C: 3.2 mg (5.3% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g (5.2% DV)

Also, provides:

Potassium: 134 mg (3.8% DV)

Folate: 14 mcg (3.5% DV)

Iron: 0.5 mg (2.8% DV)

Phosphorus: 24 mg (2.4% DV)

Magnesium: 8 mg (2% DV)

Calcium: 15 mg (1.5% DV)

Thiamin: 0.02 mg (1.3% DV)

Trace amounts:

Riboflavin: 0.01 mg (0.6% DV)

Niacin: 0.08 mg (0.4% DV)

Vitamin K: 0.3 mcg (0.4% DV)

Vitamin A: 2 IU (0.04% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.02 mg (0.01% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Kumquat-Shallot Vinaigrette

Courtesy of Catherine Applegate

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 5 kumquats

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the kumquats in a jar or bowl.
  2. Grate the zest from two kumquats into the dressing. Halve and seed all kumquats, leaving the peel intact, and juice them into the dressing. Add the juiced kumquats into the jar or bowl.
  3. Mix all ingredients together with a whisk or by putting a lid on the jar and shaking it vigorously.
  4. Refrigerate in an airtight container for a few hours before use.
  5. Serve dressing over a roasted beet or fresh green salad, or use as a sauce over chicken, pork, or fish.

References

  1. Peterson J. The Allium species (onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots). Staple Food Domest Plants Anim. 1987;2:249-271.
  2. Shallots over the world. Shallot.com. Available at: http://www.shallot.com/shallot-en/facts/shallots-over-the-world.aspx. Accessed January 25, 2017.
  3. Goldman IL. Onions and other Allium plants. Encycl Food Cult. 1994;(1963):8-14.
  4. Fattorusso EF, Iorizzi MAI, Lanzotti VIL, Taglialatela-Scafati O. Chemical composition of shallot (Allium ascalonicum Hort .). J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50:5686-5690.
  5. Lotito SB, Zhang WJ, Yang CS, Crozier A, Frei B. Metabolic conversion of dietary flavonoids alters their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011;51:454-463.
  6. Bonaccorsi P, Caristi C, Gargiulli C, Leuzzi U. Flavonol glucosides in Allium species: A comparative study by means of HPLC – DAD – ESI-MS – MS. Food Chem. 2008;107:1668-1673.
  7. Wiczkowski W, Romaszko J, Bucinski A, et al. Quercetin from shallots (Allium cepa L. var. aggregatum) is more bioavailable than its glucosides. J Nutr. 2008;138:885-888.
  8. Yang J, Meyers KJ, Van Der Heide J, Liu RH. Varietal differences in phenolic content and antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of onions. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52:6787-6793.
  9. Vazquez-Prieto MA, Miatello RM. Organosulfur compounds and cardiovascular disease. Mol Aspects Med. 2010;31(6):540-545.
  10. Powolny AA, Singh SV. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett. 2008;269:305-314.
  11. Cuendet M, Guo J, Luo Y, et al. Cancer chemopreventive activity and metabolism of isoliquiritigenin, a compound found in licorice. Cancer Prev Res. 2010;3(2):221-233.
  12. Lanzotti V, Scala F, Bonanomi G. Compounds from Allium species with cytotoxic and antimicrobial activity. Phytochem Rev. 2014;13:769-791.
  13. Zhou Y, Zhuang WEN, Hu WEN, Liu GJ, Wu TAIX, Wu XT. Consumption of large amounts of Allium vegetables reduces the risk of gastric cancer in a meta-analysis. Gastroenterology. 2011;141:80-89.
  14. World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.
  15. Kwon GT, Cho HJ, Chung WY, Park KK, Moon A, Park JH. Isoliquiritigenin inhibits migration and invasion of prostate cancer cells: possible mediation by decreased JNK/AP-1 signaling. J Nutr Biochem. 2009;20:663-676.
  16. Jung JI, Chung E, Seon MR, et al. Isoliquiritigenin (ISL) inhibits ErbB3 signaling in prostate cancer cells. BioFactors. 2006;28:159-168.
  17. Jung JI, Lim SS, Choi HJ, et al. Isoliquiritigenin induces apoptosis by depolarizing mitochondrial membranes in prostate cancer cells. J Nutr Biochem. 2006;17:689-696.
  18. Ii T, Satomi Y, Katoh D, et al. Induction of cell cycle arrest and p21 (CIP1/WAF1) expression in human lung cancer cells by isoliquiritigenin. Cancer Lett. 2004;207:27-35.
  19. Yamazaki S, Morita T, Endo H, et al. Isoliquiritigenin suppresses pulmonary metastasis of mouse renal cell carcinoma. Cancer Lett. 2002;183:23-30.
  20. Luangpirom A, Kourchampa W, Junaimuang T, Somsapt P, Sritragool O. Effect of shallot (Allium ascalonicum L.) bulb juice on hypoglycemia and sperm quality in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. Int J Bioflux Soc. 2013;5(1):49-54.
  21. Moradabadi L, Kouhsari SM, Sani MF. Hypoglycemic effects of three medicinal plants in experimental diabetes: Inhibition of rat intestinal α -glucosidase and enhanced pancreatic insulin and cardiac glut-4 mRNAs expression. Iran J Pharm Res. 2013;12(3):387-397.
  22. Sani MF, Kouhsari SM, Moradabadi L. Effects of three medicinal plants extracts in experimental diabetes: Antioxidant enzymes activities and plasma lipids profiles in comparison with metformin. Iran J Pharm Res. 2012;11(3):897-903.
  23. Murthy NS, Mukherjee S, Ray G, Ray A. Dietary factors and cancer chemoprevention: An overview of obesity-related malignancies. J Postgr Med. 2009;55(1):45-55.
  24. Teshima Y, Ikeda T, Imada K, et al. Identification and biological activity of antifungal saponins from shallot (Allium cepa L. aggregatum group). J Agric Food Chem. 2013;61(31):7440-7445.
  25. Amin M, Segatoleslami S, Hashemzadeh M. Antimycobacterial activity of the partial purified extract of Allium ascalonicum. Jundishpar J Microbiol. 2009;2(4):144-147.
  26. Basic Report: 11677, Shallots, raw. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3314. Accessed January 25, 2017.

How Should I Organize My Diet To Help My Diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the most commonly occurring long-term medical conditions in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2014, over 422 million people worldwide have diabetes. Diabetes complications can include blindness, kidney problems, and heart disease.

Similar to many long-term diseases, complications may be prevented with proper management of the condition.

“Diet is one of the key elements in managing diabetes,” Amparo Gonzalez, RN, CDE, of the Johnson and Johnson Diabetes Institute. “People with diabetes need to manage the amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and overall calories they eat daily.”

“When it comes to diet, it’s also important to remember moderation and portion control are essential.”

The basics of diabetes

The two major types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

A girl holding a glucometer.
Making the right food choices is important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes often develops early in life, and the cause is not fully understood. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system damages the cells that make a hormone called insulin. The result is insufficient insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight. It can develop in both children and adults. People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or the insulin they do produce is not used efficiently.

Fortunately, both types of diabetes can be managed through medication and lifestyle choices, such as healthy eating. Making healthy food choices and limiting unsuitable foods is a large part of a diabetes treatment plan.

Important goals for managing diabetes through diet include controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

The role of diet in diabetes

After eating, food breaks down into glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar and a major source of energy for the body.

In response to an increase in glucose levels, the body releases insulin. Insulin is an essential hormone because it allows the cells in the body to absorb glucose. It also plays a role in helping the body store protein and fat.

In people who have diabetes, their body may stop making insulin, not make sufficient levels of insulin, or may not use insulin efficiently. Without proper insulin production and use, glucose may not be absorbed by the cells. Instead, glucose levels rise in the bloodstream.

There are a couple of problems when blood sugar levels in the bloodstream become high. The cells don’t get the energy they need, and fatigue can occur.

High blood sugar levels over time can also damage blood vessels in the body. When the blood vessels become damaged, various complications can occur, such as kidney and heart disease, and vision loss.

The good news is that by making the right choices, people can manage their diabetes more effectively, keep glucose levels steady, and lower the risk of possible complications.

How does food affect blood sugar levels?

Different foods affect blood sugar levels differently. The three macronutrients the body uses are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates affect glucose levels the most. When eaten alone, protein and fat do not have a significant impact on glucose levels.

It’s important to remember that many foods contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Since food can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, it’s essential to make good food choices and monitor carbohydrate intake.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for people with diabetes. Several individual factors play a role in dietary choices, including whether a person is overweight, has kidney disease, and whether they have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

It’s always best to get nutritional advice from a registered dietitian. The guide below provides some general dietary guidelines to help manage diabetes.

Suitable food choices for people with diabetes

It’s difficult to state recommendations for an exact number of grams of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, a person with diabetes should eat.

A glucometer with fruit, vegetables, and grains.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good choices for people with diabetes.

According to dietary guidelines released by the American Diabetic Association (ADA), there is no conclusive evidence supporting an ideal amount of carbohydrates or other nutrients for people with diabetes.

Instead, an emphasis is placed on choosing healthy foods, including:

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates differ from simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly. They also often contain fiber, and they do not affect blood sugar levels as significantly as simple carbohydrates.

Foods containing complex carbohydrates include:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Sweet potatoes

Lean protein

The ADA guidelines do not provide a specific protein intake recommendation for blood sugar control. Again, the focus is on healthy choices.

People with diabetes should keep in mind that some sources of protein can be high in fat, which can contribute to weight gain.

The ADA recommend lean sources of protein including:

  • Fish (herring, sardines, salmon, tuna)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, soy nuts)
  • Lentils

Healthy fats

Fat is an essential nutrient. Certain types of fat, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are considered healthy fats. More important than the quantity of fat is the type of fat eaten, however.

Suitable fat choices include:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed

Unsuitable food choices for people with diabetes

People with diabetes should also be aware of food choices that can cause spikes in blood sugar and contribute to being overweight. When choosing foods, it’s helpful to limit those listed below.

A selection of foods that are bad for people with diabetes.
People with diabetes should limit refined carbohydrates and foods containing hidden sugars.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates may include foods containing processed sugar or refined grains. Most refined carbohydrates have their fiber removed and have limited nutritional value. They also lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Refined carbohydrates to be limited include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Cereal with added sugar

Trans fat and saturated fat

Excessive amounts of saturated fats and any amount of trans fats are unhealthy for everyone. They can raise “bad” cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.

Foods that are high in trans fat and saturated fat include:

  • Fried food
  • Chips
  • Commercially baked cookies and cakes
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Food containing partially hydrogenated oil

Hidden sugar

People with diabetes should also be aware of foods with hidden sugar. Some foods may look healthy but have a high sugar content on closer inspection.

Always check food labels to determine the sugar and carbohydrate content.

Foods that often contain hidden sugar include:

  • Yogurt
  • Granola
  • Canned fruit packed in syrup
  • Canned pasta sauce
  • Frozen dinners
  • Bottled condiments

Daily and weekly menu planning tips

People with diabetes may benefit from daily and weekly meal planning. Meal planning can help someone choose foods that keep glucose levels steady and help them maintain a healthy weight. Meal planning should also include keeping track of what is eaten.

There are three main ways for people to track what they eat: carbohydrate counting, glycemic index, and the plate method.

Plate method: Divide the plate into three categories. Half the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables. One-fourth should consist of whole grains and complex starchy food. The remaining fourth of the plate should contain lean protein.

Carb counting: Carbohydrate counting involves planning how many grams of carbohydrates are eaten with each meal and snack.

Glycemic index: The glycemic index categorizes food by how much it increases blood sugar. Foods that have a high glycemic index raise blood sugar more than foods with a low glycemic index. Meal planning using the glycemic index involves choosing foods that are low or medium on the glycemic index.

Whether planning daily or weekly menus, it’s also important for people with diabetes to keep the following in mind:

  • Eating at regularly set times
  • Avoiding skipping meals as it can affect blood sugar levels
  • Spacing meals and snacks out to prevent large changes in blood sugar levels
  • Eating a wide range of foods
  • Thinking about the size of servings
  • Avoiding carbohydrate-only meals that can cause higher blood sugar spikes

Nine Diabetes Superfoods and How to Prepare Them

Diabetes is a disease that causes elevated blood sugar levels due to a lack of insulin, the body’s inability to use insulin, or both.

Poorly managed diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels and nerve cells, which may lead to foot problems and a condition called neuropathy. High blood sugar levels can also cause damage to the eyes and kidneys, and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Foods that can help manage blood sugar

People with diabetes should first make sure that they have a regular eating routine. Having a source of fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat with each meal helps to control blood sugar levels throughout the day.

People should limit quick-digesting carbohydrates like white bread and pasta. Instead, they should opt for slower-digesting carbohydrates with extra nutrients like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and berries. These cause a smaller spike in blood sugar.

Nine diabetes superfoods

Here are nine examples of foods that can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet for people with diabetes.

1. Walnuts

Hands holding walnuts.
Walnuts contain fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

The combination of fiber, protein and healthy fats in walnuts makes them a great alternative to simple carbohydrate snacks like chips or crackers.

The fatty acids in walnuts can increase good cholesterol while decreasing harmful cholesterol. This may reduce the risk of heart disease or heart attack. People with diabetes are at a greater risk for these conditions.

People whose diets include large amounts of nuts put on less weight than those that do not, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Weight loss can help to reduce blood sugars.

  • Add crushed walnuts to yogurt, oats, or salad
  • Make a trail mix treat with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate chips

2. Avocado

The avocado is the only fruit that is a good source of healthy fat. Avocados also provide about 20 different vitamins and minerals and are especially high in potassium, vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene.

Eating foods that contain healthy fats may help increase fullness. Eating fat slows the digestion of carbohydrates, which helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable.

Avocado is high in fiber too, with half a fruit containing 6-7 grams. According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intake is associated with a significantly lower risk for diabetes.

Eating high-fiber foods can also reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve weight loss, and make insulin more efficient.

  • Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter
  • Use avocado instead of mayonnaise in chicken or egg salad

3. Ezekiel bread

A loaf of Ezekiel bread.
Ezekiel bread has a higher protein and nutrient content than other bread.

Ezekiel bread and other sprouted grain bread are less processed than standard white and whole wheat bread. The grains in Ezekiel bread are soaked and sprouted, allowing for higher protein and nutrient content. Bread made from sprouted grains tends to contain more B vitamins, fiber, folate, and vitamin C than other bread.

Ezekiel bread is often found in the freezer section. Sprouted grain bread have a denser consistency and are best when toasted.

  • Toast Ezekiel bread and top with avocado, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and black pepper
  • People can also find sprouted grain bagels, English muffins, pizza crust, and tortillas

4. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium. The body needs magnesium for over 300 processes, including breaking down food for energy.

A lack of magnesium is linked to insulin resistance, a main cause of diabetes. For every 100-milligram-a-day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes falls by around 15 percent.

Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds contain 74 milligrams of magnesium. This is around a quarter of the recommended daily amount.

  • Brush pumpkin seeds with olive oil, season with cumin, and bake until brown and toasted
  • Make pumpkin seed butter by blending whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth

5. Strawberries

One study found that fisetin, a substance contained in strawberries, prevented both kidney and brain complications in mice with diabetes.

Other human studies have suggested that a higher intake of berries lowers the risk of diabetes.

One cup of fresh strawberries contains 160 percent of an adult’s daily needs for vitamin C at only 50 calories. Several studies have shown a link between lack of vitamin C and diabetes.

  • Make a superfood salad by mixing strawberries, spinach, and walnuts
  • Add frozen strawberries to a smoothie with milk and peanut butter

6. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium.

High-fiber diets are linked with stable blood sugar levels and a lower risk of developing diabetes. Despite this, most adults are still not meeting their daily fiber needs.

Just 1 ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50.

  • Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt, cereal, and oats.
  • Chia can be a substitute for eggs in baking. Mix 1 tablespoon of chia with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes. The seeds will absorb the water and form a gel that can be used instead of an egg.

7. Ginger

A cup of ginger tea.
Ginger may reduce fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Anti-inflammatory diets and foods can help to treat and relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term diseases like diabetes. Plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants are at the top of the anti-inflammatory foods list.

Ginger has been shown to be high in antioxidants and healthy compounds that enhance its anti-inflammatory powers.

Studies on ginger and diabetes are limited. However, research has shown that ginger reduces fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

  • Steep peeled fresh ginger in boiling water to make ginger tea
  • Add fresh or dried ginger to a stir-fry or homemade salad dressing

8. Spinach

Low potassium intake is linked with a higher risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.

Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary potassium, with 839 milligrams per cup when cooked. One cup of banana has about 539 milligrams of potassium.

  • Throw a handful of spinach into a smoothie
  • Add spinach to sandwiches instead of iceberg lettuce

9. Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been shown in some studies to lower blood sugars in people with diabetes, though not all studies agree. Participants in one study who took a high dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 percent to 8.0 percent. Participants who took a low dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 to 8.2 percent. Participants who did not take cinnamon saw no change.

  • Try cinnamon on sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, and butternut squash
  • Stir cinnamon into tea or warm milk

Example superfood meal plan

Breakfast

  • Toasted Ezekiel bread (complex carbohydrate)
  • Avocado (healthy fat)
  • Spinach (antioxidants)
  • Hard-boiled egg (lean protein and healthy fat)

Lunch

  • Leafy greens
  • Quinoa (complex carbohydrate and lean protein)
  • Roasted beets (antioxidants)
  • Lean protein (like tuna or chicken)

Snack

  • Chopped apple (complex carb)
  • Walnut and pumpkin seed mix (healthy fat and lean protein)

Dinner

  • Salmon (lean protein and healthy fat)
  • Fresh ginger (antioxidants)
  • Sweet potato (complex carb) topped with cinnamon
  • A choice of veggie

Best Snacks For People With Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes can lead to a wide range of symptoms including high blood pressure, circulation issues, kidney damage, blindness, and skin problems. But the right diet can help manage these symptoms.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes can keep blood sugar in check. They may also help reduce the severity of diabetes symptoms such as high blood pressure.

Eating right can feel daunting, particularly at first, but people with diabetes can continue enjoying a wide range of snacks.

Foods high in protein

High-protein foods include nuts, legumes, animal products such as eggs and cheese, and alternatives to meat such as tofu and mushrooms.

[bowls of humous]
Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, makes an excellent protein-rich snack.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes that are satisfying and rich in protein include:

  • roasted chickpeas
  • apples or celery with almond butter
  • almonds, walnuts, or pistachios
  • trail mix, particularly if it doesn’t contain sweetened ingredients
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • turkey or smoked salmon roll-ups
  • plain yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt
  • low-sodium cottage cheese mixed with fresh fruit
  • diced avocado and cherry tomatoes
  • snap peas or other raw veggies with hummus

Several of these options can work well as both sweet and savory snacks. Honey-roasted chickpeas provide a good balance of sweet and savory. Nuts can be paired with slices of cheese or dried fruit. Adding nuts or fruit can also make yogurt sweeter or more savory.

For the turkey roll-ups, people can use thinly sliced turkey or lettuce to replace the pita. Adding hummus and vegetables makes for a hearty snack.

High-fiber snacks

Vegetables, legumes, and nuts are excellent sources of fiber. Whole grains, oats, and some fruits are as well.

People with diabetes can try some of these high-fiber snacks:

[yogurt with granola and figs]
Plain yogurt with oats and fruit, such as figs, is a high-fiber snack that can help a person feel full longer.
  • smoothies blended with high-fiber, non-starchy vegetables
  • sprouted, whole-grain bread
  • whole-grain or bean pasta
  • oatmeal, mixed with fresh berries or sliced banana for additional sweetness and fiber
  • avocado slices
  • figs dipped into Greek yogurt
  • kale or spinach chips, which can satisfy a chip craving without the added sodium and fat
  • carrots dipped in hummus offer protein and fiber in a low-sodium snack
  • sweet potato foods, including baked sweet potato fries, cooked whole sweet potatoes, or sweet potato toast

To sub sweet potatoes for toast, people should toast thinly sliced sweet potato for three or four cycles and top with regular choices of toppings.

People who dislike spinach, kale, or wheat grass can hide their tastes by adding sweet or citrusy fruits such as oranges and mangoes to smoothies while still getting high-fiber nutrition.

Whole-grain bread and bean pasta are an excellent way to manage carbohydrate cravings. To increase their nutritional value, people can try adding almond butter to whole-grain bread or eating high-fiber bean pasta mixed with vegetables.

Snacks for diabetes: The basics

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes promote feelings of fullness, reducing any urges to snack on unhealthy packaged foods and sweets. There are healthful foods in every food group, so there’s no need to feel like diabetes means foregoing enjoyable food.

No single snack is perfect, and no food can provide perfect nutrition. That is why it is important to eat a wide variety of foods and to try a range of snacks.

Healthful snacks for people with diabetes will offer one or more of the following benefits:

High fiber

High-carbohydrate diets can elevate blood sugar levels. Fiber, which is a carbohydrate, is an exception to this rule, however.

[oats on a wooden spoon]
Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which helps control blood sugar levels.

Fiber comes in two main varieties, both of which are good for people with diabetes.

Soluble fiber is found in high levels in oat bran, legumes, and some fruits. This type of fiber controls blood sugar levels and can lower cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber is found in high levels in wheat bran and many fruits and vegetables. It can relieve constipation and may reduce the risk of cancer.

Because fiber is digested slowly, it can increase feelings of fullness. This makes it an ideal snack component that can prevent overeating.

People with diabetes should consume 25 grams (g) or more of dietary fiber each day.

Low sugar

Sugary foods can elevate blood sugar and cause weight gain. Sweets such as cookies, cupcakes, and candy are obvious sources of high sugar.

People with diabetes also need to be mindful of carbohydrates, such as those found in bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, and many other foods. Carbohydrates aren’t bad on their own, but keeping carb intake low can control blood sugar.

Drinks such as soda, sweetened fruit juices, and alcohol also contain high levels of sugar. Adding these beverages to an otherwise healthful snack can cause blood sugar levels to spike.

High protein

Protein supports feelings of fullness between meals. It is the body’s building block, supporting healthy muscles, organs, and skin.

While everyone needs protein in their diet, protein is particularly important for people who are physically active or who lift weights. The average person needs at least 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight per day. This works out at 56 g a day for the average man and 46 g a day for the average woman.

However, research generally suggests that people should consume even more than these minimal amounts. A 2005 study found that women who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of total calories a day ate 441 fewer calories per day. They also lost weight during the 12 weeks. There was no follow-up to confirm if those women maintained the weight loss, however.

Increasing protein intake may support healthy weight loss and reduce unhealthy snacking.

Low sodium

[man pondering his options at the supermarket by stroking his chin]
A large percentage of sodium intake comes from salt added to processed foods, so reading the nutritional label is important.

A low-sodium diet can lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

While reducing the use of table salt can help, as much as 75 percent of sodium intake comes from salt processed foods rather than adding salt to meals.

Portion control

No matter how healthful a snack is, eating too much of it can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This may disrupt blood sugar levels.

Consulting a snack’s nutrition facts makes it easier for people to eat a single serving. Nutrition facts also provide information about calorie, protein, sugar, and carbohydrate content.

Other tips for healthful snacking

Healthful snacking with diabetes is not just about choosing the right foods. Knowing which foods to avoid, how to manage cravings, and how fluid intake affects appetite is also vital.

The following strategies support healthful snacking with diabetes. People should aim to:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Thirst can feel like hunger, and drinking water can support feelings of fullness.
  • Limit consumption of sodas, sweetened juices, and other sweetened drinks. Coffee and tea are fine in moderation, but adding sugar, cream, and other flavoring agents can elevate blood sugar.
  • Limit processed and prepackaged foods. This is the simplest way to reduce sodium and sugar intake. Stick to the refrigerated sections of the grocery store and avoid most of the freezer sections.
  • Space meals evenly throughout the day to avoid blood sugar dips and spikes. It is preferable to eat five to seven small snacks or meals instead of three large meals.
  • Avoid fried foods, particularly fried meats.

Drinking Beetroot Juice Before Exercising Boosts Brain Performance

A number of studies have shown that physical activity can have positive effects on the brain, particularly in later life. New research has found that it may be possible to bolster these effects, simply by drinking beetroot juice before exercising.
[Beetroot and beetroot juice]
Researchers suggest that drinking beetroot before exercising may aid brain performance for older adults.

Researchers found that older adults who consumed beetroot juice prior to engaging in moderately intense exercise demonstrated greater connectivity in brain regions associated with motor function, compared with adults who did not drink beetroot juice before exercising.

The research team – including co-author W. Jack Rejeski of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC – says that the increased brain connectivity is seen among the adults who drank beetroot juice was comparable to the connectivity seen in younger adults.

Rejeski and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

Beetroot – often referred to as “beet” – is a root vegetable best known for dominating plates of food with its bright purple juice. In recent years, beetroot has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, which include reduced blood pressure and increased exercise performance.

Such benefits have been attributed to the high nitrate content in beetroot. When consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which studies have shown can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.

Studies have demonstrated that exercise alone can benefit the brain. For their study, Rejeski and team set out to investigate whether beetroot juice might boost the brain benefits of physical activity.

Beetroot juice helped strengthen brain’s somatomotor cortex

The study comprised 26 participants, aged 55 years and older, who had high blood pressure. None of the participants engaged in regular exercise, and they were taking up to two medications to help lower their blood pressure.

All subjects were required to engage in 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill three times per week for 6 weeks. One hour before each session, half of the participants consumed a beetroot juice supplement containing 560 milligrams of nitrate, while the remaining participants consumed a placebo low in nitrates.

At the end of the 6 weeks, the researchers measured participants’ brain functioning using MRI.

The team found that subjects who consumed the beetroot juice supplement prior to exercising demonstrated a structurally stronger somatomotor cortex – a brain region that helps to control body movement – compared with participants who consumed the placebo.

Furthermore, subjects who drank the beetroot juice supplement also showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with motor control, cognitive functioning, emotion, and other brain functions. Such connectivity is usually seen in the brains of younger individuals, the team notes.

The researchers explain that the somatomotor cortex receives and processes signals from the muscles. As such, physical activity should strengthen this process.

They suggest that beetroot juice strengthens the somatomotor cortex further through its nitrate content; its conversion into nitric oxide boosts the delivery of oxygen to the brain.

“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” says Rejeski.

While further research is required to replicate their results, the researchers believe that their study suggests that what we eat in later life may play an important role in brain health and mobility.

“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain. But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beetroot juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”

Beetroot: Health Benefits

Beetroot, also known as a beet, has been gaining in popularity as a new super food due to recent studies claiming that beets and beetroot juice can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.

New products incorporating this highly nutritious food are appearing everywhere, and they include juices and drinks.

Beetroot or table beets are from the same family as sugar beets, but they are genetically and nutritionally different. Sugar beets are white in color and commonly used for extracting sugar and sweetening manufactured foods. Sugar cannot be obtained from beets, which are mostly red or gold in color.

Health benefits of consuming beetroot

Beetroot
Beetroot has been gaining in popularity as a new super food.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Many studies indicate that eating more plant foods, like beetroot, decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Heart health and blood pressure: A 2008 study published in Hypertension examined the effects of ingesting 500 milliliters of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion.

Researchers hypothesized this was likely due to the high nitrate levels contained in beet juice and that the high nitrate vegetables could prove to be a low-cost and effective way to treat cardiovascular conditions and blood pressure.

Another study conducted in 2010 found similar results, concluding that drinking beetroot juice lowered blood pressure considerably on a dose-dependent basis.

Dementia: Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, slowing the progression of dementia in older adults.

According to Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest’s Translational Science Center, blood flow to certain areas of the brain decrease with age and leads to a decline in cognition and possible dementia. Consuming beetroot juice as part of a high nitrate diet can improve the blood flow and oxygenation to these areas that are lacking.

Diabetes: Beets contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which may help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown a decrease in symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy in people with diabetes.

However, a meta-analysis suggests that the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid for symptomatic peripheral neuropathy may be restricted to intravenous administration of the acid.The authors conclude: “It is unclear if the significant improvements seen after 3 to 5 weeks of oral administration at a dosage of more than 600 milligrams a day are clinically relevant.”

Digestion and regularity: Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Inflammation: Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

Exercise and athletic performance: Beetroot juice supplementation has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, suggesting that increased dietary nitrate intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise. The quality of life for those with cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic diseases, who find the activities of daily living physically difficult because of lack of oxygenation, could be improved.

Beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8 percent, or 11 seconds, in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7 percent, or 45 seconds, in a 16.1-kilometer time trial.

Nutritional breakdown of beetroot

Beetroot and beet juice are good sources of various nutrients.

One cup of raw beets contains:

  • 58 calories
  • 13 grams of carbohydrate, including 9 grams of sugar and 4 grams of fiber
  • 2 grams of protein

Depending on the brand, a 296-milliliter bottle of beet juice can contain:

  • 44 calories
  • 11 grams of carbohydrate, including 1 gram of fiber and 8 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein

It is important to check the label of packaged juices, however, to check for added sugars.

Beetroot provides 1 percent of the daily needs for vitamin A, 2 percent of calcium, 11 percent of vitamin C and 6 percent of iron.

Vitamin C, an antioxidant, plays a key role in creating collagen and some neurotransmitters, and in the metabolism of proteins. Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, the protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues. It is needed for growth, development, and cell function. A lack of iron leads to s certain type of anemia.

It is a rich source of folate and manganese. It also contains thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

Folate is important for a healthy metabolism encourages healthy skin and hair, and protects the mouth from soreness and ulceration. Folic acid is recommended during pregnancy and studies suggest that it contributes to a healthy birth weight and prevents congenital heart defects and other problems such as neural tubal defects in the newborn.

Manganese occurs in small amounts in the body, but it is needed for a range of functions. A lack of manganese can contribute to infertility, bone malformation, weakness, and seizures.

Beets are high in dietary nitrate, which is believed to benefit the cardiovascular system and may protect against cancer.

How to incorporate more beetroot into your diet

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled, or eaten raw.

Beetroot salad
Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Make your own beetroot juice by peeling beetroot and blending with a combination of fresh orange, mint and pineapple or apples, lemon, and ginger. Blend and strain.
  • Grate raw beets and add them to coleslaw or your favorite salad.
  • Top roasted beets with goat cheese for a perfect pairing.
  • Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Slice raw beets and serve them with lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili powder.

When choosing a beetroot, make sure it is heavy for its size and without surface damage. If the green tops are still on, they should look fresh, not wilted. These are also edible.

Beetroots are not only red. There are also golden beets and white beets. They are widely available in grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

To store beets for a few days, refrigerate them in a tightly sealed bag.

If you grow beetroot and need to keep them for longer, cut off the leaves and stalks, leaving about 2 inches of length. Keep them in a box of sand in a garage or shed, somewhere that is cool but frost-free.

Potential health risks of consuming beetroot

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.

A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate (nitroglycerine) or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.

Drinking beetroot juice may cause red urine or stool.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Cardamom Health Benefits

What Is Cardamom

Scientific Name: Elettaria cardamomum

Other Names: Amomum cardamomum, Bai Dou Kou, Black Cardamom, Cardamome de Malabar, Cardamome Noire, , Cardamome Verte, Cardamomo, Cardomom, Cardomomi Fructus, Ela, Elettaria cardamomum, Green Cardamom, Huile Essentielle de Cardamome, Indian Cardamom.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a plant that is native to India, Bhutan and Nepal in the ginger family Zingiberaceae, that is highly valued as an expensive culinary spice next only to saffron and vanilla. Cardamom fruits or seeds are primarily used as the flavouring for drinks, bake goods and confection. Cardamom is also valued for its traditional use in herbal medicine, providing health benefits for those suffering from stomach problems, liver and gallbladder ailments, and as a stimulant. Other species that is closely related to genus Amomum in the ginger family are likewise called cardamom. These cardamom species have larger and darker fruits and have somewhat coarser taste and aroma.

Plant Description

Cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum) is a herbaceous perennial plant usually found in the wild in India and Sri Lanka but has since been cultivated in other tropical areas. Cardamom is a clumping plant of up 20 leafy shoots arising from the rhizome. The shoots are composed of overlapping leaf sheaths, lanceolate in shape with dark green color. The clump of leaves can reach up to 6 meters in height. Some shoots produce flowers on a drooping pinnacle. The flowers are both male and female and are pale green in color. The cardamom fruits are pale green to yellow in color but turn into brown when dried and contain 15 to 20 small aromatic seeds about 3 mm in length which are highly valued as flavoring.

Cardamom, Nutrient value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient Database)
Proximates NV %RDA
Energy 311 Kcal 15.5%
Carbohydrates 68.47 g 52.5%
Protein 10.76 g 19%
Total Fat 6.7 g 23%
Dietary Fiber 28 g 70%
Vitamins

Niacin 1.102 mg 7%
Pyridoxine 0.230 mg 18%
Riboflavin 0.182 mg 14%
Thiamin 0.198 mg 16.5%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Vitamin C 21 mg 35%
Minerals

Calcium 383 mg 38%
Iron 14.0 mg 78%
Magnesium 229 mg 57%
Phosphorus 178 mg 32%
Sodium 18 mg 1%
Zinc 7.5 mg 50%
Copper 0.4 mg 19%
Percent daily values are based on 2000 Kcal diets.

Traditional Health Benefits Of Cardamom

Cardamom being native in South India and Sri Lanka, it has a long history of use in Ayurveda medicine. When the Chinese discovered this spice, it was brought to China and likewise applied in traditional Chinese medicine.

Cardamom has long been used as an effective herbal remedy for digestion problems including intestinal spasms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, liver and gallbladder complaints.

Other traditional uses and health benefits of Cardamon include the treatment of;

Bronchitis
Cold
Constipation
Cough
Gallbladder problems
Gas
Heartburn
Intestinal spasms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Liver problems
Loss of appetite
Preventing infections
Sore mouth and throat
Urinary problems

In recent years, claimed health benefits of Cardamom include its strong antioxidant property and an effective body detoxification agent,

Cardamom being rich in minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium maintains cell and body fluids that help control heart rate and blood pressure. It also contains copper and iron that is important in the production of red blood cells.

Cardamom is also rich in vitamins including riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C and contains essential oils that improve overall health.

Cardamom promotes urination that improves kidney function by eliminating excess calcium, urea, and other toxins. It is also used in the treatment of genital and urinary infections. Cardamom is also believed to improve sexual performance.

Other health benefits of cardamom are its use in the treatment of gum problems and in preventing bad breath. It is also used as an antiseptic and antimicrobial.

Scientific Studies Of Cardamom Health Benefits

Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum).The Indigenous Drug Research Center, RNT Medical College, Udaipur, India conducted a study on  Elettaria cardamomum  (Small cardamom) fruit powder to evaluate its antihypertensive potential and its effect on some of the cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with stage 1 hypertension.
Results have shown that administration of 3 g of cardamom powder to patients with primary hypertension of stage 1 for a period of 12 weeks demonstrated a significantly (p<0.001) decreased systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure and significantly (p<0.05) increased fibrinolytic activity at the end of 12th week. The total antioxidant status was also significantly (p<0.05) increased by 90% at the end of 3 months.
Additionally, all study subjects experienced a feeling of well-being without any side-effects. Thus, the present study demonstrates that small cardamom effectively reduces blood pressure, enhances fibrinolysis and improves antioxidant status, without significantly altering blood lipids and fibrinogen levels in stage 1 hypertensive individuals. (Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics. December 2009).

Protective effect of Eleteria cardamomum (L.) Maton against Pan masala induced damage in the lung of male Swiss mice.

In a study conducted in Ranchi University India, the potential ameliorating properties of cardamom Elettaria cardamomum (E. cardamomum) L. Maton against pan masala induced damage in the lung of male Swiss mice was investigated.  Results have shown that the lungs of pan masala treated group showed adenocarcinoma, edema, and inflammation with increased activity of acid phosphatase, alkaline phosphatase, and lactate dehydrogenase. While the deleterious effects were seen to be less in cardamom treated group and the enzymatic activity also decreased significantly (P<0.05) in the ameliorating group. This study suggests that cardamom supplementation may decrease the damage to the lungs of pan masala treated subjects. (Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, July 2013)

Chemopreventive effects of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum L.) on chemically induced skin carcinogenesis in Swiss albino mice.

The potential of cardamom as a chemopreventive agent was investigated in a study done in the College of Health Sciences, University of Hail, Saudi Arabia. The study was done on mice treated orally with 0.5 mg of cardamom powder in suspension continuously at pre-, peri-, and post-initiation stages of papilloma genesis compared with the control group. It was observed that the treatment of cardamom suspension by oral gavage for 15 days resulted in a significant decrease in the lipid peroxidation level of the liver (P < .01). In addition, the reduced glutathione level was significantly elevated in comparison with the control group (P < .05) following cardamom suspension treatment. These findings indicate the potential of cardamom as a chemopreventive agent against two-stage skin cancer (Journal of Medicinal Food, June 2012).

Antioxidative effects of the spice cardamom against non-melanoma skin cancer by modulating nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 and NF-κB signaling pathways.

Cardamom,  a dietary phytoproduct, has been commonly used in cuisines for flavor and has numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion and stimulating metabolism and having antitumorigenic effects.  A study done in Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata, India, investigated the efficacy of dietary cardamom against 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced skin papilloma to genesis in Swiss albino mice that closely resembles human NMSC. Results from the oral administration of cardamom to DMBA-treated mice up-regulated the phase II detoxification enzymes, such as glutathione-S-transferase and glutathione peroxidase, probably via activation of nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 transcription factor in ‘DMBA+CARD’ mice. Furthermore, reduced glutathione, glutathione reductase, superoxide dismutase and catalase were also up-regulated by cardamom in the same ‘DMBA+CARD’ group of mice compared with DMBA-treated mice. Cardamom ingestion in DMBA-treated mice blocked NF-κB activation and down-regulated cyclo-oxygenase-2 expression. As a consequence, both the size and the number of skin papillomas generated on the skin due to the DMBA treatment were reduced in the ‘DMBA+CARD’ group. Thus, the results of the study suggest that cardamom has a potential to become a pivotal chemopreventive agent to prevent papilloma genesis on the skin (British Journal of Nutrition, Sept 2012)

Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is traditionally used in various gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neuronal disorders.
A study was done in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan have using Cardamom crude extract in guinea-pig, mice and rabbits suggested that cardamom exhibits gut excitatory and inhibitory effects mediated through cholinergic and Ca++ antagonist mechanisms respectively and lower BP via a combination of both pathways. The diuretic and sedative effects may offer added value in its use in hypertension and epilepsy. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, February 2008).

Cardamom extract as an inhibitor of human platelet aggregation.

The Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, India, investigated the protective effects of cardamom extract against platelet aggregation and lipid peroxidation.  In the study, a sample from the blood of healthy volunteers was taken and the platelets were subjected to stimulation with a variety of agonists including ADP, epinephrine, collagen, calcium ionophore and ristocetin.  Results have shown that the inhibitory effects of cardamom against lipid peroxidation and platelet aggregation were dose dependent and time dependent and an increase in the concentration of the aqueous extract of cardamom results to significantly decreased MDA formation.(Phytotheraphy Research, May 2005)

Allergic contact dermatitis from cardamom.

Cardamom is a popular traditional flavoring agent for baked goods and confectionery.  A case is presented of a confectioner with a chronic hand dermatitis and positive patch test reactions to cardamom and certain terpenoid compounds present in the dried ripe seeds of cardamom. Dermatitis from skin exposure to cardamom has to the best of our knowledge not been reported.

Cardamom Side Effects And Warnings

Cardamom may be considered safe for most people in food amounts and there were no reported side effects from its consumption.

Cardamom is considered safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers if taken in food amounts. But caution should be taken if to be taken in large doses as there are no sufficient studies that determine its full effects.

Large doses of cardamom have been found to trigger gallstone colic that causes spasmodic pain.

Cardamom may trigger an allergic reaction for sensitive people. Severe side effects include difficulty in breathing, hive, swelling of skin and heaviness of chest.

Cardamom Availability And Preparation

Where To Buy Cardamom

Cardamom comes in several forms depending upon how the cardamom seed pods are treated. Cardamom is usually available in most grocery stores along with the other spices;

Green cardamom pods are the preferred form of this spice in its native country, India. This fancier cardamom has been picked while still immature and sun-dried to preserve its bright green color. Green cardamom pods are harder to find and more expensive than the other forms of cardamom in part because of their superior ability to retain aroma and flavor longer. This premium form of cardamom is all connoisseurs will use in any recipe which calls for cardamom.

Cardamom seed has had the outer pod, or cardamom fruit, removed so that only the pure seeds remain. This form of cardamom spice is sometimes called cardamom-decort, which simply means the seeds have been removed from the pods or hulled. The seeds are crushed or ground prior to use, which provides plenty of cardamom flavor at a more economical price, substitute 12 seeds for every whole pod called for in a recipe.

Black cardamom is the seed pods of closely related species that also are aromatic and have an appearance similar to that of true cardamom. Although, black cardamom is not a suitable substitute in recipes that call for cardamom. Its flavor is much earthier with sweetness and a flowery accent that is different from that of true cardamoms. It is an ingredient used in some African cooking and abroad to add a bacon-like a flavor to some vegetarian dishes.

Ground cardamom is convenient to have for baking and other applications where the spice needs to be ground. Freshness and thus flavor are of course compromised when cardamom is pre-ground because it loses flavor soon after grinding. To appreciate cardamom’s true flavor we suggest grinding it before use in a spice mill, electric coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.

White cardamom that was commonly available in the North America and Europe had been bleached to achieve its color or lack of it. It is used in baking and some desserts because its color helps keep light colored batters, sauces, and confections speck free. The bleaching process also destroyed much of the cardamom’s flavor leading to white cardamom’s decline in popularity.

Cardamom – The Queen of Spices

Cardamom is the Queen of Spices and has grown lavishly under the tropical canopy on hillsides in the Ghat Mountains on the Malabar Coast of southern India to be harvested by hand and shipped around the world.  The cardamom familiar to India and the western world is called green cardamom and it, along with several other types such as giant cardamom, black cardamom, and bastard cardamom, have been used for cooking, perfumery, incense, and medicine since very early in history.

Ancient Egyptians used it frequently for perfume along with frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon and cassia, and had a recipe for an ointment called “Oil of Lilies” that included the scent from 1000 lilies. It is often mentioned as one of the ingredients of the ancient incense kyphi. Cardamom essential oil is one of the oldest essential oils known in perfumery and in the apothecary. Cardamom is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla.

Why is cardamom called the Queen of the Spices? Maybe it is its association with queens. The large-leaved plant with purple and white flowers had a place in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The terraced garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife who was homesick. Cleopatra burnt cardamom incense whenever Mark Antony visited.

Eletteria cardamomum is the popular green cardamom and has an exotic aroma with warm, spicy and highly aromatic nuances.  There is an initial sharp camphor note, somewhat like eucalyptus, that quickly evolves to a sweet, spicy-woody, balsamic scent that can have lovely floral tones.  It can be long-lasting in a blend and must be used with skill so that it doesn’t overwhelm a perfume or add too much sharpness. The warmth and sweetness of cardamom can provide a lovely backdrop to floral perfumes such as Muguet and rose scents. It also warms Oriental perfume bases and is used in the heart notes of chypres perfumes. Although it is called the Queen of Spices, it is a favorite ingredient in masculine scents. Cardamom is available as an essential oil but there is also a solvent-extracted absolute and a CO2 extraction.

In the company of the King of Spices, black pepper, cardamom was an important commodity of the early spice trade that also transported frankincense, myrrh and other resins and precious aromatics. Caravans with as many as 4,000 camels would carry treasures of the East in the form of spices to markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome.  Later traders would sail ships along the Indian Coast and through the Red Sea into Egypt and thus through the rest of the world. The Spice Route was second in importance only to the Silk Road and the spices it transported were often as valuable, or more so, than gold or precious metals. In addition to Arab and Portuguese traders, the Vikings discovered cardamom on one of their raids and brought it back to Scandinavia where they enjoyed it in festival cakes.  According to The Economist the spice trade, founded on spices like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, has been the foundation of the world economy’s oldest, deepest, and most aromatic roots.

cardamom-botany

Cardamom plants require very warm and humid climates and are perfect understory plants for humid mountainsides. As a member of the Ginger family, they also have tall leaves, thick rhizomes, and a unique flower. The flower stalk or panicle comes out from the base of the plant and in the Malabar variety will grow along the ground but there is also a Mysore variety that has vertical panicles. Cardamom plants will bear seeds in pods clustered near the ground and continue bearing for 10-15 years. The seeds need to be gathered at exactly the right time if too early the pods will shrivel and if too late they will shatter. They are then dried, traditionally in the sun but sometimes by fire or in traditional hot houses. The pods are naturally green and, if dried correctly, will retain a green color.  However, some markets prefer a light colored pod and producers will bleach cardamom pods to achieve a creamy or golden yellow color to the husk. Outside of India and Asia, Guatemala is a big producer of much of the world’s cardamom.

The Queen of Spices is best used in sweet dishes such as pastries, cakes, and baked goods; however, it is often used in some meat dishes and curries where the spices are mild. It’s an important ingredient in the spice mix garam masala.  There is a Bedouin coffee called Gahwah that is made with freshly crushed green pods and often combined with mace, nutmeg, and/or saffron. In many Arabic countries, cardamom is symbolic of welcoming (traditionally male) guests; there is a ritual to making the coffee and cardamom is closely associated with hospitality. The green coffee beans are first roasted and powdered with mortar and pestle then the cardamom pods are broken and dropped into the pot with the coffee.  Often the blend may be as much as half cardamom and half coffee or more.  Its common use with coffee in hot climates reflects the belief in the cooling properties of the spice. It is believed that Arabs consume one-half of the world’s cardamom annually.

Cardamom is frequently used to aid in digestion, and is often consumed after a meal as a breath freshener and digestive aid; it may even prevent tooth decay. The seeds have a distinctive tingling feel on the tongue when chewed and a tenacious sweet aroma.  Many people chew cardamom to freshen the breath and, in Sweden, it is thought to mask the residual aroma of too many alcoholic drinks. It’s used in over 30 traditional Chinese medicines and is a famous Ayurveda medicinal plant for digestive disorders, for detoxifying, stimulating the senses and may benefit those suffering from asthma or bronchitis.

It is called Ela “golden grains of paradise” in Sanskrit and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts,  as well as during the Vedic period (about 3000 BC). Cardamom has been used for thousands of years for its sexual powers. It is known in many cultures to have aphrodisiac properties and is included in the ingredients to be poured in “the sacrificial fire on the occasion of a Hindu marriage ceremony.” Asian cultures use cardamom as nature’s Viagra- to cure impotency and premature ejaculation.

The 1001 Arabian Nights makes frequent reference to cardamom’s use as an aphrodisiac. One might associate it with Venus but it is more closely allied with Mars due to its warming and stimulating effect.   But it is Mars exhibiting a lighter, feminine side with sweet heat.  It is frequently found in women’s love charms, or perhaps more accurately ‘lust charms’. Ancient Romans used cardamom to stimulate desire.  Does cardamom sweeten the words of love and soften the heart of the other?  Add some cardamom spice to your life and find out!

Avocados Can Help to Treat Metabolic Syndrome, says review

A new review of studies looking at the health effects of avocados finds that there is “satisfactory clinical evidence” that the fruit can help to treat metabolic syndrome.
[A selection of avocados]
Researchers suggest that avocado may help to tackle metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of risk factors that can raise the risk of other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Risk factors include abdominal obesity, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – or “good” cholesterol – high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar.

The presence of at least three of these risk factors warrants a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.

According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome affects around 23 percent of adults in the United States.

Adopting a healthful diet is considered one of the best ways to prevent or treat metabolic syndrome. The new review – recently published in the journal Phytotherapy Research – suggests that avocados should form a part of this diet.

Avocados are a fruit from the avocado tree, or Persea Americana, which is native to Mexico and Central and South America.

A number of studies have documented the possible health benefits of avocado. A study reported by Medical News Today in 2014, for example, found that eating half an avocado with lunch may aid weight loss, while more recent research linked the fruit to reduced levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad” cholesterol.

These benefits have been attributed to the bioactive components of avocados, which include carotenoids, fatty acids, minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc, and vitamins A, B, C, and E.

For their review, co-author Hossein Hosseinzadeh, of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran, and colleagues set out to determine how these components might help to combat the risk factors of metabolic syndrome.

Avocado has the strongest effect on cholesterol levels

To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the results of various in vivo, in vitro, and clinical studies that investigated the effects of avocado on metabolic health.

Hosseinzadeh and colleagues found that the fruit has the strongest impact on lipid levels – that is, levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

As an example, the team points to one study of 67 adults, of whom 30 had a healthy lipid profile and 37 had mild hypercholesterolemia. After adhering to an avocado-enriched diet for 1 week, both groups showed significant reductions in total and LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

“The reported mechanism of this effect was regulating of the hydrolysis of certain lipoproteins and their selective uptake and metabolism by different tissues such as liver and pancreas,” explain the authors.

“Another possible mechanism could be related to the marked proliferation of the liver smooth endoplasmic reticulum which is known to be associated with induction of enzymes involved in lipid biosynthesis.”

An ‘herbal dietary supplement’ to help treat metabolic syndrome

The review also uncovered evidence that avocado is beneficial for weight loss. The researchers cite one study that found overweight or obese adults who ate one avocado every day for 6 weeks experienced significant decreases in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and the percentage of body fat.

Additionally, the team identified a number of studies associating avocado intake with reductions in blood pressure among patients with hypertension, and evidence suggests that the fruit might also help to reduce atherosclerosis – the narrowing or hardening of arteries caused by a buildup of plaque.

Notably, Hosseinzadeh and colleagues found that it is not just the flesh of the avocado that can benefit metabolic health – the peel, seed, and leaves of the fruit may also help.

One study published in 2014, for example, found that a daily dose of oil extracted from avocado leaves led to reductions in total and LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Overall, the researchers conclude that avocado may be effective for the treatment of risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, though further research is warranted. They write:

“In this review article, satisfactory clinical evidence suggested that avocado can be used as herbal dietary supplements for treatment of different components of [metabolic syndrome].

Although, avocado like other herbal products is safe and generally better tolerated than synthetic medications, there is limited scientific evidence to evaluate different side effects because of contaminants, or interactions with drugs. Besides, further studies need to be accomplished on the metabolic effects of different parts of avocado for other possible mechanisms.”