Diabetes and Beans | What You Need To Know About The Impact On Your Health
When the American Diabetes Association (ADA) made a list of the top diabetes superfoods, beans appeared at the very top. Unfortunately, beans do not play a significant role in the average American diet. With their innumerous health benefits, clearly we all should find a way to start incorporating beans into our meals. And according to the ADA, the advantages of eating beans only multiply for people with diabetes.
To learn more about the specific nutrients that beans boast, and to discover how they are especially beneficial to people with diabetes, read on!
Diabetes and Diet
Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s insulin is ineffective at maaging blood glucose levels. This is a result of the body either being unable to produce the hormone insulin, or being unable to use insulin properly. Insulin enables glucose to move from the blood to the cells, where it will be used as fuel or storage. When there is too much glucose in the blood over a longer period of time, it can cause serious complications, such as heart and kidney problems.
Because glucose comes primarily from the food we eat, people with diabetes need to pay special attention to their diet, in order to avoid foods that may cause a blood sugar spike. A lot of times this means making significant lifestyle changes to avoid high-carb foods. Looking up a food’s value on the glycemic index is a great place to start. This resource estimates how a food may affect your blood sugar, with a lower number being more ideal for maintaining blood sugar levels.
In general, people with diabetes should cut out processed and refined foods, as well as those high in carbs, sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. Non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein sources should all be central to a diabetes friendly diet.
While the perfect diet will vary from individual to individual, everyone should up their consumption of beans.
Beans, including lentils and legumes, are absolutely bursting with nutrients. Fiber? Protein? Essential vitamins and minerals? Beans have them all. They are also tasty, simple to make, and easy to add into a wide variety of meals. Still not convinced?
Here are some of the many benefits of making beans a normal part of your diet:
Beans are a great source of carbohydrates.
The biggest issue many people with diabetes face in their diet is finding a balance in their carbohydrate consumption so that they get enough energy without spiking their blood sugar levels. For one, beans are a complex carbohydrate, so the body digests them at a slower rate. This keeps blood glucose at a healthy level and lessens the risk for unwanted blood sugar spikes.
Beans are also low on the glycemic index, meaning they will not cause a dangerous spike in blood sugar.
Overall, if you are going to pick any carbohydrate for your body to convert into energy, beans are one of the healthiest, safest choices.
Beans are rich in fiber.
The majority of carbohydrates fall into three categories: starch, sugar, or fiber. The most beneficial carbs are the ones high in fiber, which is another reason beans are great for people with diabetes.
Fiber moderated digestion, making for more stable blood glucose levels. Fiber is also good for your cholesterol levels, and minimizes the risk of various complications that are common with diabetes (such as heart disease and obesity).
If you are not used to eating high amounts of fiber, add beans and other high-fiber foods to your diet slowly, as you may experience gas and/or bloating as your digestive system (happily) adjusts.
Beans are full of protein.
To be more specific, beans are a great source of plant-based protein. The body digests protein slowly, so protein-rich foods like beans are unlikely to trigger a significant spike in blood sugar. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer (as a result of the longer digestion time), so you are less likely to overeat and more likely to be able to maintain a healthy weight, too!
In addition to all of this, beans contain various essential nutrients, each of which have their own benefits to the body:
- Folate, or folic acid, helps convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is the fuel that cells need to perform their jobs. Folate also aids the production of red blood cells, white blood cells, DNA, and RNA — all of which we could not live without.
- Iron is an important component of red blood cells, which help transport oxygen throughout the body.
- Potassium is an electrolyte, meaning it helps keep the body hydrated, among other things. Potassium is also involved in muscle function, including the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing.
- Magnesium regulates blood pressure, promotes proper muscle and nerve function, and supports the immune system.
- Calcium is best known for building strong bones and teeth. It is also responsible for enabling muscle contractions and blood clotting.
Finally, beans are low in salt, sugar, and cholesterol. They also contain primarily healthy fats, with little to no trans fat and/or saturated fat.
Adding Beans To Your Diet
Beans are available in raw form and canned. The raw form should be your first choice, as you can control how it is cooked and what is added to it. These beans do take longer to prepare, however, since they generally need to be soaked overnight. Make sure to rinse them before cooking, too.
Canned beans can also be healthy and more convenient, but be sure to read the label to look for added sugars, high sodium, and trans fats. By rinsing the canned beans before cooking you can get rid of most of the added salt. Be especially careful with baked beans, as these tend to have a lot of added sugar and are not a great option for people with diabetes.
Beans can be added to salad, burgers, burritos, soups, and much more. Making chickpeas into hummus, for example, and eating it with veggie sticks is a great-tasting, diabetes-friendly snack.
You can also eat beans on their own, and even make them central to the meal. Play around with recipes and see what you like.
American Diabetes Association: Superfoods
The following list, compiled by the ADA, contains what they believe to be diabetes superfoods, as well as the impressive nutrients each of them possess:
- Beans! (see detailed nutrient information above)
- Dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, etc.): vitamins A, C, E, and K; iron; calcium; potassium
- Citrus fruits (orange, lemon, etc.): vitamin C; fiber; folate; potassium
- Sweet potato: vitamins A and C; fiber; potassium
- Berries: vitamins C and K; fiber; antioxidants; manganese; potassium
- Tomatoes: vitamins C and E; potassium
- Fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, etc.): healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts/seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, etc): healthy fats; magnesium; fiber; omega-3 fatty acids
- Whole grains: vitamin B; magnesium; chromium; iron; folate; fiber
- Milk and yogurt: calcium; may be fortified with vitamin D
You should build your diabetes friendly diet around these incredibly nutritious foods — you’ll be holistically glad you did!
Diabetes is a condition that needs to be managed, but if you make certain lifestyle adjustments you can live a happy, healthy life.
Beyond diet, here are a few other steps you can take to best care for yourself and your diabetes:
- Exercise regularly, so as to strengthen heart health, reduce stress, and even build insulin sensitivity. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce fatty tissue, which leads to better insulin sensitivity. A healthy weight makes managing diabetes a lot easier and lessens the risk of complications.
- Take any medication your doctor may have prescribed–typically some type of insulin substitute–and follow any instructions they may have given you. Here at Banting we believe insulin should be readily available at an affordable price, so we offer up to 80% off local pharmacy prices. For access to affordable insulin, all you need is a prescription, and Banting provides the rest, delivered conveniently and safely right to your home. With a system this easy and price-friendly, you can check this list item off easy!
- Keep track of your blood sugar throughout the day, especially after eating. If you notice your blood sugar is too high (or too low), take action accordingly to bring it back down. Fast-acting insulin can help, as can exercise. If your blood sugar is dangerously high, you may need to go to the hospital to have it safely corrected. You should also get an A1C blood test regularly, so as to see how your blood sugar level is faring over a longer period to ensure your treatment plan is working as it shuold.
Beans are a diabetes superfood, offering the body fiber, protein, healthy carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients. All people, but especially people with diabetes, should incorporate beans into their diets as much as possible.
In addition to a healthy diet, people with diabetes can manage their diabetes with frequent testing, proper use of their medication, and regular exercise.