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

Legumes May Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health concern in the United States and across the globe. New research shows that a high consumption of legumes significantly reduces the risk of developing the disease.
[various types of legumes]
A new study suggests that a high consumption of legumes can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 35 percent.

The legume family consists of plants such as alfalfa, clover, peas, peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and various types of beans.

As a food group, they are believed to be particularly nutritious and healthful. One of the reasons for this is that they contain a high level of B vitamins, which help the body to make energy and regulate its metabolism.

Additionally, legumes are high in fiber and contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They also comprise a variety of so-called phytochemicals – bioactive compounds that further improve the body’s metabolism and have been suggested to protect against heart disease and diabetes.

Finally, legumes are also considered to be a “low glycemic index food,” which means that blood sugar levels increase very slowly after they are consumed.

To make people aware of the many health benefits of legumes, the year 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Pulses are a subgroup of legumes.

Because of their various health benefits, it has been suggested that legumes protect against the onset of type 2 diabetes – a serious illness that affects around 29 million people in the U.S. and more than 400 million adults worldwide. However, little research has been carried out to test this hypothesis.

Therefore, researchers from the Unit of Human Nutrition at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, together with other investigators from the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, set out to investigate the association between legume consumption and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study also analyzes the effects of substituting legumes with other foods rich in proteins and carbohydrates, and the findings were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

High intake of lentils lowers risk of type 2 diabetes by 33 percent

The team investigated 3,349 participants in the PREDIMED study who did not have type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study. The researchers collected information on their diets at the start of the study and every year throughout the median follow-up period of 4.3 years.

Individuals with a lower cumulative consumption of legumes had approximately 1.5 weekly servings of 60 grams of raw legumes, or 12.73 grams per day. A higher legume consumption was defined as 28.75 daily grams of legumes, or the equivalent of 3.35 servings per week.

Using Cox regression models, the researchers analyzed the association between the incidence of type 2 diabetes and the average consumption of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, and fresh peas.

Overall, during the follow-up period, the team identified 266 new cases of type 2 diabetes.

The study revealed that those with a higher intake of legumes were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who consumed a smaller amount of legumes. Of all the legumes studied, lentils had the strongest association with a low risk of type 2 diabetes.

In fact, individuals with a high consumption of lentils (defined as almost one weekly serving) were 33 percent less likely to develop diabetes compared with their low-consumption counterparts – that is, the participants who had less than half a serving per week.

Additionally, the researchers found that replacing half a serving per day of legumes with an equivalent portion of protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods including bread, eggs, rice, or potatoes also correlated with a reduced risk of diabetes.

The authors conclude that:

“A frequent consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits on type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults at high cardiovascular risk.”

Mushrooms: Health Benefits

Mushrooms, though classified as vegetables in the food world, are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom and although they are not vegetables, mushrooms provide several important nutrients.

It’s common knowledge that the key to getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet is to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables – the more color, the better. However, this philosophy tends to leave mushrooms in the dark. In many cases, if a food lacks color, it also, in turn, lacks necessary nutrients. However, mushrooms – which are commonly white – prove quite the contrary.

Possible health benefits of consuming mushrooms

Mushrooms
Mushrooms, though classified as vegetables in the food world, are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom.

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

Countless studies have suggested that increasing consumption of naturally-grown foods like mushrooms decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

1) Cancer

Mushrooms contain just as high an antioxidant capacity as carrots, tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, and zucchini.

Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. It plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.

The vitamin D in mushrooms has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. The folate in mushrooms plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.

2) Diabetes

Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels. One cup of grilled portabella mushrooms and one cup of stir-fried shiitake mushrooms both provide about 3 grams of fiber.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.

3) Heart health

The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in mushrooms all contribute to cardiovascular health. Potassium and sodium work together in the body to help regulate blood pressure. Consuming mushrooms, which are high in potassium and low in sodium helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, an intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5%.

4) Immunity

Selenium has also been found to improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T-cells. The beta-glucan fibers found in the cell walls of mushrooms stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming.

5) Weight management and satiety

Dietary fiber plays an important role in weight management by functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system. Mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls: beta-glucans and chitin which increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller longer and thereby lowering your overall calorie intake.

Nutritional profile of mushrooms

Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and calories and have often been referred to as “functional foods.” In addition to providing basic nutrition, they help prevent chronic disease due to the presence of antioxidants and beneficial dietary fibers such as chitin and beta-glucans.

One cup of chopped or sliced raw white mushrooms contains 15 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2.2 grams of protein, 2.3 grams of carbohydrate (including 0.7 grams of fiber and 1.4 grams of sugar). Although there are a large variety of mushrooms available, most provide the same amount of the same nutrients per serving, regardless of their shape or size.

Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins such as riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and niacin. They are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. Mushrooms also provide several minerals that may be difficult to obtain in the diet, such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus.

Beta-glucans are a type of fiber that is found in the cell walls of many types of mushrooms. Recently, beta-glucans have been the subject of extensive studies that have examined their role in improving insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of obesity and providing an immunity boost.

How to incorporate more mushrooms into your diet

When buying mushrooms at the market, chose ones that are firm, dry, and unbruised. Avoid mushrooms that appear slimy or withered. Store mushrooms in the refrigerator and do not wash or trim them until ready for use.

Stuffed mushrooms
Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking.

Quick tips:

  • Sauté any type of mushroom with onions for a quick and tasty side dish
  • Add raw sliced crimini mushrooms or white mushrooms to top any salad
  • Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking
  • Add sliced mushrooms to omelets, breakfast scrambles and quiches
  • Grill portabella mushrooms and use them on sandwiches or in wraps.

Potential health risks of consuming mushrooms

Although wild mushrooms have been part of the human diet for several centuries, uncultivated wild mushrooms may pose a risk to those unable to distinguish between those safe and dangerous for consumption.

Eating wild mushrooms that are toxic to humans can cause severe illness and sometimes even death. Studies have also shown that some wild mushrooms contain high levels of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals.

In order to avoid these dangers, it is best to consume mushrooms that have been cultivated under appropriate conditions.

Consuming beta-glucans is believed to be safe for most people. However, since beta-glucans are capable of stimulating immune function, this may be a risk for those with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. Researchers have yet to conclude whether or not large amounts of beta-glucan intake has any negative effects on those suffering from these conditions.

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.