People in the age group 30’s and above must have heard their doctors or gym trainers telling them “burn your calories.” And if you are diabetic, it is quite likely that you must have also heard “take more dietary fiber.” But how many of us are really aware of what these terms are?
A calorie is a unit of energy and in a nutritional sense, the food we take – fats, proteins, carbohydrates or sugars are sources of calories. For our cells, the brain and the entire body to function properly, these calories are needed in an adequate amount. In excess, it causes troubles and that’s why shedding the extra calories is important.
Coming to dietary fiber, it is also known as roughage or bulk. Now, do not be misled by such terms, they are called so just because they are parts of plant food that cannot be digested or absorbed by our body. But they play important roles in maintaining bowel health, achieving healthy body weight and most importantly, controlling lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. There are 2 types of dietary fibers:
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus is one of the most prevalent lifestyle disorders all over the world. It is a chronic condition caused due to insufficient production of insulin by the beta cells of the pancreas or inefficiency of the body cells to effectively utilize the insulin produced. Diet and lifestyle have major roles in preventing and managing the condition effectively. Among the researchers, one such interesting topic is the effect of low-calorie high fiber diet in managing diabetes.
There was a time when insulin was not invented as therapy and then, the treatment was mainly focused on reducing the carbohydrate intake (Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and to effectively utilize this glucose by the body cells, insulin is necessary. A fault in this mechanism results in high blood sugar levels, resulting in diabetes). Incidentally, this carbohydrate reduction coincided with a reduction in the intake of calories also. Excess fat in the pancreas hampers the production of insulin by the beta cells. The low-calorie diet helps in weight loss and getting rid of this excess pancreatic fat, which in turn triggers the beta cells to produce normal levels of insulin in response to glucose.
So, it is evident that the intake of carbohydrates or high-calorie diet has a negative effect on blood glucose levels. But taking the nutritional aspects and a balanced diet into consideration, we cannot completely avoid it too. Researchers say the smartness lies in choosing the right type of carbohydrates – like, fiber-rich complex carbohydrates which are digested more slowly, thus preventing the over-production of insulin. Evidence shows that a high-fiber diet, especially cereals and whole grains, considerably reduces the risk of cardio-metabolic diseases like cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and obesity. High fiber foods are filling, most have a lower glycemic index and thus helps control your appetite and have less effect on blood glucose levels.
Diabetes is generally correlated to Prameha in Ayurveda and most of the Ayurveda physicians consider Madhumeha (a classification of Prameha itself) as Diabetes, based on the similarity in causes, pathogenesis, clinical features and prognosis.
Acharya Susrutha classifies Prameha mainly into 2 types:
So, here we are considering the second type, which is the sthoola pramehi (Type 2 diabetes mellitus) and the dietary management mentioned for the same in Ayurveda. There are some important diet-related causes mentioned for Madhumeha in Ayurveda and let us evaluate how it leads to diabetes.
So, when considering a diet for a diabetic individual, Ayurveda gives emphasis to food items that are difficult to digest and have less nutritive value (Guru Apatharpana chikitsa). Needless to say, this goes hand-in-hand with the concept of low-calorie high fiber diet we mentioned earlier.
There are some common food items mentioned by all Acharyas in the treatment of Prameha as Pathyahaara (food items that are conducive). Cereals like Yavam (Barley), Godhuma (whole wheat grain), Thrindhanya (like corn), pulses/lentils like Mudga (green gram), Channa (Bengal gram), etc. are rich in dietary fiber and may be taken by diabetics. It is a known fact that vegetables and fruits are rich in dietary fiber and are good options if you are particularly on a low-calorie diet. Ancient Acharyas astonish us there also, by specifically mentioning vegetables and fruits like Karela (bitter gourd), Methi (Fenugreek), Jambu (Blackberry), Amalaki (gooseberry), etc. as good for diabetics. Regarding the intake of oils, Sarshapa taila (mustard oil) is mentioned as the best and because it contains about 60% monounsaturated fatty acids, it is also good for diabetics who watch out for calorie intake.
It is interesting to note that these are easily available and practical options to include in our daily diet. Apart from these, there are certain impressive recipes too mentioned in classical treatises with these ingredients that can be prepared very easily. Vaatya (barley porridge), Sakthu (roasted corn flour), Aapoopa (pancakes with any mentioned cereals), Yavam soaked in the decoction of Triphala, kept overnight and mixed with honey, etc. are some examples.
Furthermore, Acharya Charaka also emphasizes that people who habitually take roasted barley, dry corn-flour, mudga and amalaki do not suffer from prameha.
Type 2 Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that can be managed effectively with appropriate medicines, diet control, and lifestyle modifications. Many of us have a misconception that it may be controlled with medicines only. But what we tend to forget is that Diabetes can even be prevented if your diet and lifestyle are properly taken care of from the beginning itself. Better late than never. So, prepare yourself for a high fiber low calorie diet, try some innovative ancient recipes and enjoy a healthy long life with Ayurveda.