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Prevention diet for diabetes

Rebecca Wood

Q: Help! My doctor tells me I'm pre-diabetic. What foods will help me from becoming insulin-dependent?

- Judy

A: Yes, there are specific foods and herbs that help reduce the impact of diabetes, as you'll see below. But please do more than add anti-diabetic foods to your diet because, if you don't address the cause of the problem, you'll lack the cure. Just as insulin doesn't cure diabetes, neither will natural remedies. By comparison, if your head aches because your hat is too tight, then aspirin may relieve the ache but first consider modifying the hat.

For diabetes prevention progressive nutritionists recommend moderate consumption of carbohydrates for diabetes prevention. Here's why. The body quickly turns extra carbohydrates into sugar. When there's too much sugar, insulin rises and when chronic it leads to diabetes.

Meg, a pre-diabetic client of mine, was eating a high-carbohydrate diet that she thought was healthy because it was organic. Well, healthy, she confessed, "except for chocolate." Meg typically had orange juice and toast for breakfast, a quesadilla or sandwich for lunch and pasta or pizza with a salad for dinner. And chocolate in between. We added more protein, quality fats and cooked green vegetables to her menu. The next week she reported only two minor chocolate indulgences but otherwise her emotional, mental and physical energy were steady, meaning that her blood sugar was more stable.

Unfortunately, most Americans are eating too many carbohydrates. It's not just sugary treats that are the problem. All breakfast cereal, bread, pasta and baked goods are predominately carbohydrate. Potatoes are high in carbohydrates as are all fruits and especially fruit juice. Additionally, common foods we regard as "protein" are higher in carbohydrates than protein (such as beans, nuts, milk and yogurt).

So regarding preventing diabetes, here's an exercise for you. Notice that when your meals don't provide enough protein, fats or leafy vegetables, you'll probably find yourself eating a second serving of pasta or a bowl of ice cream. Now notice how when you enjoy regular and balanced meals you feel better and your cravings typically subside. To a healthy diet, consider adding the following foods and herbs that help regulate blood sugar.

Bitter melon is technically a summer squash rather than a melon and similar in size and shape to a cucumber. Its lumpy, ridged skin and flesh is the color of pale jade. Bitter melon is a traditional Asian diabetic remedy. In clinical tests, bitter melon has been shown to inhibit glucose absorption and increase insulin flow and can have insulin-like effects. It is available in a supplement form and occasionally in the specialty produce departments of local grocers. Before cooking, remove and discard the seeds, slice or cube the vegetable and then salt it and set aside in a colander for 30 minutes for the salt to leach out its bitterness. Rinse, blot dry and use as you would a summer squash.

Fenugreek is a popular spice used throughout the Middle East and India. This legume is smaller than a grain of wheat, oddly shaped and mustard-yellow in color. It helps regulate sugar levels of non-insulin-dependent diabetics. Enjoy fenugreek as a tea, a spice (it's a common ingredient in curry) or sprout it and use it as you would alfalfa sprouts in salads and sandwiches.

Gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre) is an Ayurvedic herb that helps regulate sugar metabolism by neutralizing the craving for sweets, regenerating the pancreatic cells that secrete insulin and improving the uptake of glucose into cells. It is also noted for lowering serum cholesterol and triglycerides. Gurmar is available in supplement form.

Stevia is a South American herb that is 30 times sweeter than sugar and calorie-free. Stevia helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. It also suppresses dental bacteria and reduces mental and physical fatigue. I find stevia works best as a beverage sweetener. It's available in natural food stores in numerous forms: as a cut herb, in leaf form, as a liquid extract and blended with other sweeteners.

Onion family members include onions, garlic, scallions and leeks. All onion family members can help to regulate blood sugar.

Sunflower family roots include burdock, chicory, dandelions, Jerusalem artichokes and salsify. They contain inulin, a natural fructose that can help lower blood sugar. Burdock and Jerusalem artichokes can be found in the produce section of many natural food stores. Burdock, chicory, salsify and dandelion are common local weeds that may be foraged. Or purchase their seed from specialty seed companies and grow your own. As a dried herb, dandelion, chicory and burdock are also available in herb stores.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes and Onions

Serves 2

Jerusalem artichokes contains inulin, a natural fructose that can help lower blood sugar and are therefore an excellent food remedy for diabetics. This knobby tuber, which looks similar in size and color to ginger, has a sweet flavor and crisp texture. In addition to roasting you may steam, boil or stir-fry Jerusalem artichokes but take care as overcooking makes them mushy. They are available in most food stores.

1/2 pound (about 2 large) Jerusalem artichokes, cut

into large chunks but not peeled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Smear a shallow casserole dish with the butter. Add the Jerusalem artichokes, onion, salt, paprika and dill. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir once and continue baking for another 5 to 10 minutes or until when pierced with the tip of a knife the Jerusalem artichokes are tender but offer some resistance.