People with diabetes are often susceptible to low immunity, as blood sugar fluctuations can weaken their immune response. A review article published in the journal Current Diabetes Reviews states that hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) could disrupt the immune response of those with diabetes, making them more susceptible to infections.
Besides medication prescribed by the doctor, natural foods like fruits, vegetables and herbs contain some essential nutrients that can improve your insulin sensitivity, which in turn will have a positive ripple effect on your immune response. According to Dr A Sharda, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist, Manipal Hospital, Millers Road, Bangalore, following a healthy diet comprising food items with medicinal properties like amla, jamun and curry leaves powder can boost immunity in people with diabetes.
Foods for managing diabetes and improving immunity
Experts share the benefits of six natural health boosters that can aid diabetes management by improving insulin sensitivity:
1. Gooseberry (amla)
Dr Sharda says gooseberry is a great source of vitamin C — a powerful antioxidant that enhances your immunity. “Additionally, chromium found in amla is known to aid carbohydrate metabolism [breaking down food for supplying energy to the cells], which makes the body more responsive to insulin,” she explains.
Amla also has anti-inflammatory properties. So, consuming it on a regular basis helps reduce inflammation of the pancreas, which can eventually lead to pancreatitis. “If there is inflammation in the pancreas, insulin secretion is affected. This causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels,” she adds.
You can consume amla by juicing or grating it. You can also mix it (powdered amla) with water and drink it as a morning tonic.
2. Curry leaves
Curry leaves, generously used in most South Indian preparations as a flavoring agent, can be consumed in multiple ways. Dr Sharda explains that besides aiding weight management, curry leaves also contain beta-carotene (which is used by the body to make vitamin A) along with several other antioxidants that reduce inflammation (induced by oxidative stress) caused by type 2 diabetes and boost immune function.
Additionally, they’re a good source of fiber and can be added to dishes in fresh or powdered form. You can also make tea out of it or add it to vegetable juices to boost your insulin sensitivity.
The rich aroma of curry leaves, when added to soups, stews and curries, will enhance their flavor and improve your overall health.
3. Jamun powder
While jamun (Indian blackberry) has several health benefits, its seeds contain compounds like jamboline that help lower blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity. This, in turn, helps reduce sugar absorption from the intestines. In addition. They’re also rich in antioxidants that boost your immune response by reducing inflammation.
Nidhi Nigam, a Bangalore-based nutritionist, says jamun powder can be purchased or made at home by drying the seeds in the sun and grinding them into a powder. You can consume it once or twice a day. “It not only regulates the blood sugar levels but also reduces the glycemic load when you consume it before a meal,” notes Nigam.
You can mix jamun powder with water or sprinkle it on salads and yogurt.
4. Moringa (drumstick) leaves
While the pods of the drumsticks are used in sambar preparations, the leaves of the tree (also known as Moringa oleifera) also have ample benefits. Available in powdered form, the leaves are considered a nutritional powerhouse as they are rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins A, C, E and K. They can be prepared as a side dish or simply included in daal. “Drumsticks can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve lipid profiles, improving the overall health of those with diabetes,” says Kaul.
Drumsticks are also a well-known source of protein among other plant-based sources, which is why they have become a functional food. “You can also knead in moringa leaves with healthy flours to make fiber-rich chapatis that slow down sugar release,” suggests Nigam. Additionally, incorporating the leaves into smoothies or soups can enhance their taste as well.
5. Okra (bhindi) water
Bhindi or okra is another low-calorie, high-fiber vegetable that’s usually included in a diabetes-friendly diet. While it’s usually made into a vegetable preparation, you can also clean, cut and soak two to three okras in water overnight and drink it the next morning. “It not only takes care of your blood glucose levels but also helps with chronic constipation,” says Nigam. In addition, Kaul says, “Okra or bhindi also promotes satiety and aids weight loss by reducing appetite.”
6. Bay leaves
Bay leaves, also known as tejpatta, are used for seasoning curries and biryani. “Not many people know that bay leaves help in lowering blood glucose levels when boiled and consumed as tea,” explains Nigam. You can also add star anise to the tea for additional health benefits. In addition, they’re also rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, which strengthen immunity.
However, it’s crucial to exercise portion control and consult a healthcare provider for personalized dietary recommendations tailored to your specific needs. “These food items are not a replacement for your medications. So, you should consult with your doctor before including any of these in your diet,” cautions Dr Sharda.