The latest research shows that insulin imbalance is the cause of many diseases including diabetes, cancers, heart disease, dementia, autoimmune problems, not to mention weight gains. The spectrum of imbalance ranges from mild insulin resistance to pre-diabetes to full-blown type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that one out of every three American adults has pre-diabetes, and by 2020, one in two will be affected, 90 percent of whom will not be diagnosed.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas to control the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. After we eat, the amount of glucose in the blood rises. Insulin is secreted to help cells absorb glucose where it’s used and stored for energy. By doing this, insulin helps bring glucose levels in the blood back down to normal levels. However, if too much glucose is consumed, blood sugar will rise too rapidly and the body can end up releasing too much insulin. Excess insulin production can make the body become resistant to its effects overtime and result in diabetes. Moreover, if too much glucose is absorbed into the cells and not used up, it will turn into fat which results in weight gain.
Though exercise and elimination of sugar product consumption can lower your blood sugar level, studies show that eating certain foods may also help. You may be more familiar with foods such as barley, nuts & seeds, cinnamon, berries and beans to help control diabetes. What you may not know is that the following 7 Asian foods have been studied in modern medicine as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda to help lower blood sugar.
Bitter melon is a popular edible pod vegetable in many Asian countries and is arguably the most bitter tasting of all culinary vegetables. Among many other health benefits, studies have shown that the phyto-nutrient in bitter melon – a plant insulin called polypeptide-P, lowers blood sugar levels. In addition, bitter melon contains a hypoglycemic agent called charantin, which is known to have blood sugar lowering property equivalent to insulin. Together, these compounds may have been thought to be responsible for blood sugar levels reduction in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.
Daikon is the Japanese name for white radish. It is commonly pickled and eaten as a vegetable in Japan, China, and other Asian countries. Daikon is also commonly used in diced form as an ingredient in soups, salads, curries, rice dishes, and various condiments. Daikon is known to inhibit or down-regulate the activity of enzyme—Protein-Tyrosine Phosphatase 1 beta, which plays a role in increasing insulin resistance and decreasing insulin sensitivity. Study has also shown that the juice of daikon possesses significant hypoglycemic potential and antidiabetic efficacy.
In Japanese and Chinese cookery, burdock is an all-purpose vegetable that can be used in soup, stews, stir-fry and pickled. In Japan, pickled burdock root is often sold as an accompaniment to sushi or rice meals. It can also be fried into chips or tempura. Burdock contains high amounts of inulin, which studies have shown may lower blood sugar. Burdock root for diabetes is well documented in The Compendium of Materia Medica written by LiShizhen, the most important figure in the history and development of traditional Chinese Medicine.
Also known as “Tulsi”, holy basil is a potent herb that has been used in India for thousands of years to treat colds, coughs, and flu and other ailments. Tulsi is considered sacred by those worshiping Hinduism. Holy basil is used in Asian cooking to flavor curry, stir-fry dishes and as condiments to be added to soup. According to Ayurveda, tulsi promotes purity and lightness in the body, cleansing the respiratory tract of toxins and relieving digestive gas and bloating. Though holy basil is more known for its effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, randomized placebo controlled, single blind trial study suggests that holy basil may help control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients.
Fenugreek is an herb that has long been used in cooking and in traditional Asian medicine to stabilize blood sugar and fight diabetes for centuries. In Indian cuisine, fenugreek seed is a common ingredient in curry powders and pickle powders. It is also used to temper various vegetable and dal based dishes to enhance the aroma and taste. Fenugreek seeds are high in soluble fiber, which helps lower blood sugar by slowing down carbohydrate digestion and absorption. In a controlled trial, incorporating 15 grams of powdered fenugreek seed into a meal eaten by people with type 2 diabetes reduced the rise in blood glucose. In another study, animal research suggests that fenugreek may also contain a substance that stimulates insulin production and improves blood sugar control.
Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family that is native to southeast India and has been used in Asian cooking for thousands of years. It’s what gives curry its yellow color. It’s often used in Asian cooking for flavoring and coloring food. Traditionally, turmeric has been used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. Modern studies published between 1998 to 2013 indicate the active polyphenol in turmeric known as curcumin may provide an ideal intervention for type 2 diabetes. The human clinical research conducted on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients revealed that curcumin can lower blood glucose, improve beta cell function and improve fatty acid oxidation and utilization.
Ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The name “ginseng” refers to both American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), which are made up of similar chemicals. Both Asian and American ginseng contain substances called ginsenosides, which researchers think are the active ingredients to have beneficial effects on glucose and lipid metabolism. Though more research is needed, several human studies show that American ginseng lowered blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. One study found that people with type 2 diabetes who took American ginseng before or together with a high sugar drink experienced less of an increase in blood glucose levels. Other studies suggest that North American ginseng prevents diabetes-related complications including retinal and cardiac functional changes by reducing stress.