If you have diabetes or are at risk of developing diabetes, it’s important that you eat the right foods to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. For diabetics, reducing blood sugar isn’t just a short-term health goal — it can actually help delay or prevent diabetes complications, such as heart and kidney diseases. Put simply, eating to maintain healthy blood sugar levels can change the course of diabetes entirely.
Foods that the body absorbs slowly are ideal for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels since they don’t cause blood sugar spikes. Lentils are a good example of such foods. Sometimes called pulses, lentils are the dried seeds of legumes. They are great for reducing blood sugar because they are rich in fiber and protein.
In fact, a 2018 study by Canadian researchers showed that replacing half a serving of potatoes or rice with lentils can help lower blood sugar levels by more than 20 percent.
Diabetes management: replacing potatoes or rice with lentils
The Canadian study involved 24 healthy adults, who ate one of four dishes: white rice only, half a serving of white rice and half a serving of large green lentils, half white rice and half small green lentils, and half white rice and half split red lentils.
The researchers measured the participants’ blood sugar levels before they ate their assigned dish and again two hours after they ate. The experiment was repeated with white potatoes instead of white rice. The researchers said they mixed lentils with either potatoes or rice because people don’t usually eat pulses alone. Many consume pulses together with other starches as part of a bigger meal. The researchers wanted the results to reflect that.
The researchers found that blood sugar levels dropped when half of the starch in one meal was replaced with any type of lentil. They said the lentils likely reduced blood sugar by slowing digestion and the release of sugars from starch into the bloodstream.
When your body absorbs sugars slowly, you don’t experience spikes in blood sugar. Having high levels of blood sugar over a period of time can put you at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The study suggests that eating lentils can lower that risk.
Pulses like lentils are also known to contain components that inhibit enzymes involved in the absorption of sugar. In addition, the fiber in pulses encourages good gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which help reduce blood sugar levels. Protein also helps prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing digestion.
However, note that eating large portions of carbohydrates daily will negate any improvements in your blood sugar levels. This is because eating high-carb foods puts a huge metabolic load on the body. And it’s not just diabetes that you need to worry about. Having high blood sugar can also lead to weight gain and poor metabolic health, both of which can put you at risk of heart disease.
As a rule of thumb, carbohydrates should only make up 45 percent to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. That means if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should get no more than 1,300 calories from carbs. That’s anywhere between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates, depending on the sources.
Recipe for French lentil soup
If you’d like to add more plant-based dishes to your diet, you should definitely consider lentils. They are loaded with fiber and protein, easy to cook and have a rich, earthy flavor that goes well with any dish.
This simple French lentil soup is a meal on its own, perfect for cold summer nights. It’s incredibly easy to make as well.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup lentils
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Splash of white wine vinegar
- Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
- Saute the onion, carrots and celery for 5–7 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the tomato paste, lentils, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Add white wine vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve with toast.
Lentils are nutrient powerhouses that can help control blood sugar levels. Tasty, nutritious and easy to cook with, lentils are also a great way to add more protein, fiber and other nutrients to your daily diet.
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