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Spices Boost Flavor; Lower Blood Sugar Levels
If you've been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, your doctor has probably encouraged you to curb your consumption of soft drinks and sweets. While it's important to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, you don't have to settle for eating flavorless foods.
A number of tasty herbal seasonings, spices and plant foods can actually help lower blood glucose levels. In some cases, regular consumption can lead to reductions in blood sugar levels that are equivalent to those achieved with prescription drugs.
In an article published in the medical journal Diabetes Care, scientists at the Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Md., reported that daily consumption of less than a half-teaspoon of cinnamon produced significant reductions in blood-sugar levels.
Led by Dr. Richard Anderson, the scientists recruited 60 men and women with type-2 diabetes to participate in a study designed to test the glucose-lowering effects of cinnamon. Half of the study participants were given capsules containing 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon daily, while the other half received placebo capsules.
In just under six weeks, the volunteers taking the cinnamon capsules experienced a 20 percent reduction in their fasting glucose levels. The group taking the placebo pills showed no decrease in its blood-sugar levels.
Cinnamon also had an impressive impact on the volunteers' cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Study participants who received the cinnamon capsules saw their triglyceride levels fall at least 25 percent, while their total cholesterol levels fell 12 percent to 26 percent.
Although its precise mechanism of action isn't fully understood, cinnamon appears to increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. Scientists also speculate that because the spice slows stomach emptying, it helps reduce the rise in blood glucose that typically follows meals, especially in individuals with type-2 diabetes.
Earlier this year, Anderson and his research team reported that, like cinnamon, bay leaves appear to enhance the glucose-lowering actions of insulin. In a study of 40 volunteers with type-2 diabetes, the researchers tested the effects of ground bay leaves on blood-sugar levels.
The results of the study, published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Biochemical Nutrition, revealed that volunteers consuming 1 to 3 grams of ground bay leaves daily experienced reductions in blood-glucose levels ranging from 21 percent to 26 percent.
The scientists also noted major improvements in the subjects' cholesterol profiles. After consuming ground bay leaves for 30 days, blood tests revealed that the volunteers' total cholesterol levels had declined at least 21 percent and triglyceride levels were as much as a third lower.
In a study published in the journal Plant Foods and Human Nutrition, researchers reported their findings that diabetic rats fed turmeric, a yellow spice used to flavor curry powder, experienced dramatic reductions in blood-sugar levels. In another study, turmeric was found to delay the development and progression of diabetic cataracts in rodents.
If you're looking for a refreshing beverage that doesn't send your blood sugar soaring, black tea is an excellent choice. The results of a study conducted by researchers at King's College London suggest that consumption of black tea may help stimulate insulin production by the pancreas and produce a measurable reduction in blood-glucose levels.
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts found that natural compounds in plant-based beverages like black tea and red wine appear to block the activity of alpha glucosidase, an enzyme that triggers the absorption of glucose by the small intestine. Drinking either of these beverages with meals may help reduce the rise in blood sugar levels that typically occurs after eating.
While herbs, spices and tea can impact blood sugar levels shortly after consumption, their long-term benefits may be even more important. Because they're rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds called polyphenols, they can help protect the entire body from complications related to diabetes and high blood-sugar levels, including heart disease and stroke.
Fortunately, herbs, spices and teas are well tolerated by most folks, with very few adverse side effects. Still, if you have type-2 diabetes or if you're at risk for the disease, it's important to work closely with your doctor to manage your blood-sugar levels, especially if you're planning to make major changes to your diet.
Rallie McAllister is a board-certified family physician, speaker and the author of several books, including "Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim." Her Website is www.rallieonhealth.com. To find out more about Rallie McAllister, M.D., and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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