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Getting nutty with diabetes

Sometimes it's good to be a little bit nutty, especially when it comes to your health.

Nuts have made headlines in recent years about their benefits for heart health, but did you know these hard-shelled treats can also play a role in preventing diabetes? Over the past few years, researchers and scientists have come around on the benefits of adding nuts to your daily diet, and many of them think you should, too.

What's in a nut?

If you're following an exchange diet, you probably already know that a serving of nuts counts as a fat exchange. Though calorie dense, most nut varieties contain monounsaturated fat--making them a healthier option than exchanges containing saturated fats--which is one reason why nuts are lauded for heart-healthy qualities. Other good thing in nuts include the following:

  1. High in fiber
  2. Very low glycemic index
  3. Good source of Riboflavin, Magnesium and Manganese and vitamin E

Additionally, specific kinds of nuts come with their own nutritional super powers. For example: 

Almonds are high in calcium. According to a report from Men's Health magazine, a quarter cup of almonds has almost as much calcium as a quarter cup of milk.

Cashews and pistachios contain essential minerals like magnesium, copper, phosphorous and iron.

Walnuts and pecans are known as a good source of Omega-3 fatty acid; as a handful of walnuts contain the same amount of the heart healthy nutrient as a three-ounce serving of salmon.

Nuts and diabetes

In recent years, science and nutritional research has led way to some interesting studies regarding nuts and diabetes. Experts at the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto found that when adults with type 2 diabetes swapped a morning whole-grain muffin for a serving of unsalted nuts, they saw lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol.

During the study, 117 adult participants were given 475 calories worth of either nuts or a healthy whole grain muffin, which represented about a quarter of their daily calorie intake. After 90 days, researchers saw that the participants who noshed on nuts every morning had about .2 percent lower levels of blood glucose levels than those who are the muffins. The study's authors suggest the healthy fats in the nuts might have given the participant an edge over the carbohydrates. The study results were published in the August 2011 edition of the journal Diabetes Care.

Though the study results seem encouraging, Dr. Cyril Kendall told Reuters Health that researchers "should be focusing on overall diet and lifestyle." Kendall also revealed to Reuters that the people involved in the study were already taking diabetes medication and typically maintained healthy blood sugar readings, so it's not likely that nuts are key to diabetes control or management though they can complement a healthy diet.

How to work nuts into your daily diet

Janet de Jesus, a nutrition expert specialist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommends that people who want to get the maximum benefit from adding nuts to their diet enjoy them in moderation. She told CNN.com that a good way to include nuts into your diet is to consume four or five servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes each week.

"Unsalted nuts, like walnuts and almonds, can be built into a healthful diet as long as you watch the amount you eat, because nuts are high in calories [around 160--200 calories per ounce]," de Jesus said.

There are several ways you can reach these goals. De Jesus suggests trying them tossed with vegetables, pasta, or rice dishes or adding them to a salad. Another way to incorporate nuts into your diet is to swap out a carbohydrate snack for nuts. Try them instead of a whole grain muffin or baked crackers.

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