Diabetes & Blood Sugar

Legumes for Diabetes

Dr. Ryan Shelton Headshot
By Dr. Ryan Shelton, NMD

Diabetes affects more people than we know about. While there are about 29 million verified cases of diabetes in the United States, an estimated 8 million more are undiagnosed, meaning that as much as 28 percent of people with diabetes remain undiagnosed.

Because the body cannot adequately process glucose, diabetes can be difficult to treat, as treatment relies largely on the patient being vigilant with their own wellbeing, administering insulin properly, managing diet and food consumption, and being aware of the ancillary complications that diabetes can cause.

Among the side effects that diabetes can cause are very serious ailments that can each be difficult to treat on their own.

Complications with the feet and legs:

Diabetes can cause neuropathy, which is nerve damage, and can make it difficult to feel hot and cold, as well as cause foot ulcers and peripheral vascular disease.

Kidney Disease:

Diabetic kidney disease is perhaps the most damaging of the dangers of diabetes, causing the kidneys to leak abnormal amounts of protein from the bloodstream into the urine, and eventually causing kidney failure.


If blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol is not closely attended to and maintained, diabetics run the risk of stroke, which can range from slightly debilitating to deadly.

While there are great prescription medications to help diabetics deal with their condition, treatment and healing always begins with diet. Knowing which foods can help reduce the effects of diabetes on the body is paramount to coping with the disease effectively.

Not only is it important to consider which foods to eat, but how often and when to eat throughout the day. The foods that generate the largest spikes in blood sugar are those which are high in carbohydrates. This is not limited to just cookies and sugar laden foods; even healthy foods like cereal and fruits can spike blood sugar.

As for amount and time of meals, experts recommend eating three main meals daily with snacks in between them to keep blood sugar consistent throughout the day.

Studies are showing that among the best foods for diabetics are legumes. With their high protein and fiber content, beans are a wonder food for diabetics, containing as much protein in one cup as two ounces of meat or chicken.

Heavy in foods that are appropriate for diabetics, the diet typical for a person in the Mediterranean includes legumes as a staple food, and research is validating these food choices as diabetic friendly.

Published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome, researchers studied whether or not the Mediterranean diet can help treat type 2 diabetes, with promising results.

The study was performed on 158 participants with type 2 diabetes, measuring fasting glucose and lipids in the bloodstream along with monitoring food intake to assure adherence to the diet.

Out of all participants, 55 percent were able to adhere to the Mediterranean diet properly, and researchers found that the consumption of nuts, legumes, and seeds were associated with a significantly reduces risk of diabetes.

Legumes are great for diabetics because they are very low on the glycemic index, a method to measure the impact that food has on blood sugar. Lower foods on the glycemic index are better for diabetics because they don’t create heavy blood sugar spikes which leads to internal organ damage. This coupled with high amounts of protein and fiber make beans a diabetic’s dream food.

Perhaps the best nutrition plan for a diabetic is the paleo diet. Like the Mediterranean diet, the paleo diet also recommends eating healthy amounts of fruits and vegetables, but the paleo diet does not traditionally include legumes.

The paleo diet contends that our human bodies have not yet evolved to adequately digest many of the modern, commercially augmented, foods that we regularly consume. Proponents contend that we should stick to a diet that is similar to that of Paleolithic man, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, grass fed meat, fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and healthful oils.

The paleo diet, however, does not recommend legumes as part of a daily diet. Paleo diet with legumes may be a powerful combination.

We know that beans are great for diabetics, but the paleo diet may be able to help control diabetes in addition to the powerful effect of legumes.

One recent study examined the metabolic and physiologic effects from following a paleo diet. Scientists conducted a metabolically controlled study on 14 type 2 diabetics, comparing the paleo diet to that suggested by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Measurements were taken of mean arterial blood pressure, urine electrolytes, hemoglobin A1c and fructosamine levels, insulin resistance, and lipid levels.

While both groups showed improvements in metabolic measures, the group adhering to the paleo diet showed greater benefits in areas of glucose control and lipid profiles. In addition to lipids and glucose, the paleo group also showed a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity, an outcome not exhibited in any of the insulin resistant subjects following the ADA recommended diet.

And yet another study expounds on the ability of legumes to reduce inflammation in the body. Studies show that first-degree relatives of patients with diabetes are more at risk for endothelial dysfunction. This is a vascular disease in which the endolethium –the inner lining of blood vessels- has an imbalance between dilating and constricting, which can have an impact on many blood pressure-related bodily functions.

This study aims to determine how legumes can help reduce inflammation that can cause serious side effects in the relatives of type 2 diabetes patients.

26 participants, each with a familial history of diabetes, were randomly assigned to a legume enriched diet for 6 weeks, separated by a two week washout. Inflammatory markers were assessed and measured before the study. The results indicated that, with equal caloric intake, those consuming more legumes exhibited significantly reduced levels of “high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-α, and serum levels of adiponectin”, concluding that “a legume-enriched diet significantly reduced the hs-CRP concentrations in first-degree relatives of patients with diabetes after 6 week of intervention compared with a habitual diet.”

A diet high in legumes is capable of reducing inflammation as well as aiding digestion of carbohydrates, leading to reduced blood sugar spikes for type 2 diabetes patients, and a healthier, less inflammatory response in the body due to dietary intake.

Legumes are not a perfect food for diabetics, but they are very close. With their high fiber content, coupled with high amounts of protein and low sugar and carbohydrate content, beans are an excellent food not only for diabetics, but for anyone looking to eat healthier, increase fiber intake –which generates a huge amount of benefits in and of itself- and reduce blood sugar spikes, a key to treating type 2 diabetes without harmful medication.

By Dr. Ryan Shelton

Dr. Ryan Shelton, N.D.
Zenith Labs®



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