Our Nutritionist Elizabeth Somer discussing diabetes

One in nine. That’s how many people have diabetes. One in four of them don’t know they have it Many - 86 million Americans - already are in the beginning stages, called pre-diabetes, where blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with the full-blown disease. Even this early stage damages the heart and blood vessels leading to heart disease and stroke. Yet there are no symptoms. That means lots of healthy-looking people are walking around with blood-sugar time bombs waiting to go off. It’s a silent disease and a national epidemic. The number of people with diabetes has doubled in the past thirty years and the numbers continue to rise. (1)

In a nutshell, diabetes is a condition where the body either produces too little of the hormone insulin (called Type 1 diabetes) or the tissues don’t respond to insulin (called Type 2 diabetes). It’s insulin’s job to funnel excess sugar out of the blood and into the tissues. But, if the tissues are insensitive to insulin, blood sugar levels stay high. Sugar is a crystal, so large amounts floating in the blood are like tiny pieces of glass, damaging blood vessels and increasing the risk for a wealth of health problems, from heart or kidney disease to vision loss.

Type 2 is by far the most common, accounting for 95% of all cases. This form of diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle - eight out of every ten are overweight first, then develop the disease. Three of the biggest factors that tip the scales in favor of diabetes are 1) being overweight, 2) being inactive, and 3) getting older. Certain aspects of the diet, over and above the weight issue, also contribute to risk, such as high saturated fat and/or low fiber diets. The good news is: Just losing weight often is enough to lower, if not eliminate, the risk. (3)

The diet guidelines for preventing or treating diabetes are similar to guidelines for eating healthfully. Your diet should be based on 100% whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, calcium-rich milk products, extra-lean meats like chicken breast, and seafood. Every bite should count, so choose unprocessed foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients, and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, refined grains, added sugars, and sodium. Balance calories in with calories out from exercise to maintain an ideal body weight and you’re well on your way to staying healthy, with or without diabetes.

Watermelon is a great inclusion in the diabetic diet. It is a source of vitamins, such as vitamins A and C; minerals, such as potassium; and fiber. It’s low in calories, since 92% of watermelon is just good-for-you water, so it’s a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without overindulging in excess sugar and calories.

Granted, watermelon has a high glycemic index (GI) score of 72, but this natural, unprocessed fruit remains a healthful food because of another factor called the “glycemic load.” This factor compares a food’s GI score with the amount of calories and carbs in the food,. The glycemic load is a much better indicator of a food’s ability to prevent or contribute to disease, since a food that has a large amount of carbs AND dramatically raises blood sugar levels obviously increases the chances of weight gain more than a food that might temporarily raise blood sugar levels, but has few calories. For example, a potato has a high glycemic score and it packs a bunch of carbs, while watermelon has a high GI score, but few calories or carbs. The former will increase the chances of those extra calories being funneled into fat cells, but watermelon just fills you up, without filling you out. (Ever hear of anyone getting fat on watermelon? Not!)

Sprinkling watermelon with a touch of cinnamon or mixing the two into a smoothie have extra benefits for blood sugar. Cinnamon, and to a lesser extent cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, enhances insulin’s ability to move sugar out of the blood and into the muscles where it can be used for energy. As little as 1 gram a day or about a 1 /2 teaspoon is enough to do the trick. (4-10) (e.g. Take a look at our Watermelon Oat Crumble recipe)

1. http://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfactsheet/
2. Pre-Diabetes. American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org/pre-diabetes.jsp
3. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the US in 2002. care.diabetesjournals.org/cgi Raloff J: Coffee, spices, and wine. Science News 2004;165:282-284.
4. Verspohl E, Bauer K, Neddermann E: Antidiabetic effect of Cinnamomum cassia and Cinnamomum zeylanicum in vivo and in vitro. Phytotherapy Research 2005;19:203-206.
5. Anderson R, Broadhurst C, Polansky M, et al: Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type-A polymer from cinnamon with insulin-like biological activity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2004;52:65-70.
6. Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan M, et al: Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003;26:3215-3218.
7. Broadhurst C, Polansky M, Anderson R: Insulin-like biological activity of culinary and medicinal plant aqueous extracts in vitro. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2000; 48:849-852.
8. Imparl-Radosevich J, Deas S, Polansky M, et al: Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon. Hormone Research 1998;50:177-182.
9. Abdali D, Samson S, Groer A: How effective are antioxidant supplements in obesity and diabetes? Medical Principals and Practices 2015;March 14th.
10. Hafizur R, Hameed Z, Shukrana M, et al: Cinnamic acid exerts anti-diabetic activity by improving glucose tolerance in vivo and by stimulating insulin secretion in vitro Phytomedicine 2015;22:297-300.

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