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The nuts and bolts of managing diabetes
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The nuts and bolts of managing diabetes

Are nuts a good snacking option for people with diabetes? We find out from experts
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Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

People with diabetes are usually on the lookout for nibbles or munchies that can take care of their hunger pangs and yet not spike their sugar levels. While trying to steer clear of carbohydrates and fried foods, they run out of snacking options or even fruits which may not always help lower sugar levels.

Experts reckon that’s when nuts and seeds come in handy as a nutritious snacking option to keep the hunger and sugar levels at a safe distance.

Shalini Arvind, chief dietician, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, explains why nuts make for a safe and satiating option and don’t suddenly spike sugar levels. “Any food, high in protein and fibre and low in carbohydrates has a low glycaemic effect and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels. Nuts are one such group of foods. They are packed with nutrients and have a low glycaemic index,” she says.

According to Soumita Biswas, chief nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital, a handful of nuts every day is good for staying healthy for everyone including those with diabetes. But she is also quick to point out that keeping a check on the quantity is a must.

Arvind says that while nuts do have healthy fats, it is the excess calories when not used end up getting deposited as fats and pose the risk of lifestyle diseases. So, consuming the right quantity considering the calories from the other meals for the day is a great way to balance the intake. “This means, people with diabetes can have nuts but within calorie constraints, as ultimately, the total energy intake and output play a major role in deciding your overall health,” reasons Arvind.

Keeping a nut count

Bengaluru-based dietician Deepalekha Banerjee recommends not more than 20 grams of mixed nuts for snacking. “Almonds can be had the most, followed by pistachios, walnuts, peanuts and one or two cashews. She says that one can even add chia or flax seeds to the mix but one shouldn’t go overboard with the quantity, sticking to a maximum of 24 calories.  

Banerjee suggests that while consuming a handful of any healthy nuts is fine, seeking a dietician or expert’s advice is the best way to go about it. “You can’t team meals and nuts at the same time as the calorie intake will only add up,” she notes.

Benefits of nuts

Banerjee reckons that nuts and seeds are beneficial because they have fibre, healthy fat, low carbs, vitamins, thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, phosphorous, antioxidants and phytosterols (which block cholesterol from being absorbed). But experts also point out that one should stay away from salted or flavoured nuts because of the salt or sugar they contain.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, almonds are shown to influence glucose metabolism by reducing HbA1c levels in just 12 weeks of consumption in adolescents and young adults. The study has also shown that almonds when included as a snack can help manage dyslipidemia (imbalance of lipids such as cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, (LDL-C) and triglycerides) by reducing LDL-C and total cholesterol in the same population. The study emphasises that almonds can be a good healthy snack that can replace regular snacks and can be considered a part of the food-based strategy to help prevent prediabetes, especially in the young.

Banerjee points out that peanuts, boiled, unsalted or roasted are the most affordable and easily available nuts for snacking, but people shouldn’t consume more than a fistful of those. She says that the problem with peanuts is that usually once people start snacking on them, they can’t stop. But she doesn’t dispute the health benefits of peanuts. “Peanuts contain healthy fats like MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) which are known to lower the risk of heart issues, blood cholesterol and sugar levels.”

However, a nut like cashew when eaten in large amounts is shown to increase cholesterol and sugar levels. So, Banerjee says it’s best to avoid daily intake of cashew alone. “Nevertheless, having one or two cashews in the nut mix is fine,” she adds.

Consumption of nuts teamed with seeds is also known to be a winning combination. “Seeds are high in fibre and help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol). These also help maintain healthy serotonin (a brain chemical) levels which aid in sleeping better,” says Banerjee.

When it comes to seeds, chia and flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids and magnesium and known to stabilise blood sugar levels. Similarly, pumpkin seeds are high in protein and a good source of antioxidants and magnesium.

“Most seeds including pumpkin and sesame have an anti-inflammatory compound called lignans which have antioxidant effects and are also known to help control diabetes,” explains Banerjee.

Soak it in

While nuts are easily accessible munchies, you can’t reach out for them just about any time. Experts suggest that it is especially around mealtimes that one should stay away from these.

According to Banerjee, the best time to have nuts is early in the morning, ideally on an empty stomach to get its maximum benefits. She also says the trick for getting maximum benefits from nuts is soaking them overnight in water which makes them easy to digest and chew. It is also better to keep the skin on since it is high in vitamins, minerals and fibre.

“For nuts like walnuts and pistachios which can have a heat-inducing effect on the body, the water works as a natural coolant. When you have water-soaked nuts, those become slightly heavier and satiate you more. As a result, you feel fuller sooner. So calorie intake and portion control can also be done easily by soaking nuts,” says Banerjee.

When it comes to snacking, most experts advise munching on nuts mid-morning or evening, because it is usually between meals or during evening teatime that one craves a bite. “It is during these gaps that you should switch to nuts. Then you avoid empty calories,” says Banerjee. Alternatively, if people want to get the benefits of nuts in other forms, then they could probably add those to milkshakes or curd-based smoothies. Banerjee usually advises her clients to go for skimmed milkshakes or curd-based smoothies while those who are lactose intolerant are advised to stick to almond or soy milk with a handful of nuts and seeds.

Biswas believes that people with diabetes don’t need to fear nuts as they won’t cause weight gain when one has them in moderation. “It is essential that they eat nuts mindfully so that the blood sugar levels remain in control.”

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