Debate Over Diet and Diabetes Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

Recent findings emphasize the connection between diet and managing the disease.

By Jill Russell Qualizza, Contributing Editor

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The debate over diabetes — what causes it, what cures it (if anything at all) and what helps or hurts it -- shows no signs of slowing. In fact, more than $1 billion was spent in 2013 alone on diabetes research, according to the National Institute of Health, funding thousands of studies for the disease that is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease and cancer.

With nearly 30 million Americans living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, food processors have started to take note in recent years.

In 2010, Nestle announced it was developing and implementing programs focused on nutrition to prevent and manage diabetes in India. The company entered into an agreement with India’s National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation and focused its efforts on educating consumer on the role nutrition plays in the prevention and management of diabetes.

Then in 2012, Nestle took it to a global level, signing a three-year partnership with the International Diabetes Federation to fight non-communicable diseases, including diabetes. Nestle Health Science, the company’s healthcare nutrition business, produces nutritional products designed to help manage diabetes.

Earlier this year, Kraft Canada launched a new section under its What’s Cooking site dedicated to diabetes-friendly recipes and information on living and managing the disease.
But is this enough? Three recent studies may give processors a reason to stop, or at least pause, and consider the findings when formulating their next products.

A recent study by the American Chemical Society found rosemary and oregano contain diabetes-fighting compounds. In fact, the compounds work in much the same way as prescription and anti-diabetic medications work in the body. However, according to the study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, how the herbs are grown determines how effectively they fight with diabetes-related enzymes.

Out of four different herbs, the extracts of dried commercial Greek and Mexican oregano and rosemary were better at fighting diabetes enzymes than the same herbs grown in a greenhouse.

The findings indicate that while most Type-2 diabetes patients manage the disease with medication, diet and exercise, the need for prescription medication might be alleviated with the option to naturally lower blood glucose with herbs.

Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism concludes high-salt diets double the threat of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes compared to those who consume less sodium.

"The study's findings provide clear scientific evidence supporting low-sodium diets to reduce the rate of heart disease among people with diabetes," said the study's first author, Chika Horikawa of the University of Niigata Prefecture in Niigata, Japan, in a statement. "Although many guidelines recommend people with diabetes reduce their salt intake to lower the risk of complications, this study is among the first large, longitudinal studies to demonstrate the benefits of a low-sodium diet in this population.

"To reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, it is important for people who have Type 2 diabetes to improve their blood sugar control as well as watch their diet," Horikawa continued. "Our findings demonstrate that restricting salt in the diet could help prevent dangerous complications from diabetes."

Another study suggests canola oil has a positive effect on diabetes. According to the study by researchers at the Dept. of Medicine at University of Toronto, canola oil, combined with low glycemic index foods, such as legumes, lentils and whole grains, help lower blood sugar in Type-2 diabetes patients.

Canola oil, which contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (the same omega-3 fatty acid found in walnuts) and monounsaturated fatty acids (like those found in avocados and olives) was found to help Type-2 diabetes patients improve their glycemic control and cause glucose levels to decline. Of 141 participants, those that supplemented their diet with four-and-a-half slices of canola oil-enriched whole wheat bread dropped their blood glucose levels one-and-a-half times more than those who did not.

Regardless of the study, and the food it focused on, one conclusion can be said for all of them: Diet does make a difference.

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