Beans and Greens: A Prediabetes Diet Plan

Beans and Greens: A Prediabetes Diet Plan

More than one-third of adults in the U.S. have prediabetes — that's 86 million people! An additional 29 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. At the same time, obesity is on the rise, and is strongly linked to both diseases. To combat all three epidemics, it is necessary to start with clearly defined nutritional goals and to stick with the plan. Research suggests that an optimal plan should include beans and greens.

Why beans?

Beans are rich in nutrient-dense carbohydrates. They are high in folic acid, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and zinc. Consequently, beans contribute to health in many ways besides reducing prediabetes risk. However, beans contain compounds that aid specifically in control of blood glucose.

Phenolic compounds found in beans mimic the action of common α-glucosidase inhibitors like acarbose, which doctors typically prescribe for type 2 diabetes. Beans also contain phytic acid, which modulates secretion of insulin by β-islet cells in the pancreas. Phytic acid, which is also found in sweet potato skins, is useful in decreasing insulin resistance, and insulin resistance is a part of the progression to prediabetes and beyond.

Beans also fight prediabetes in other, less specific, ways. Beans are a rich source of soluble fiber, and studies of individuals with type 2 diabetes suggest their fiber intake is characteristically low: only one in five meets the baseline standard of 25 grams per day! Dietary fiber plays a significant role in weight management, which is essential in avoiding prediabetes. Also, fiber decreases the rate at which glucose is absorbed, lessening a meal’s glycemic impact, so insulin secretion is slow and steady.

Beans are also an excellent source of resistant starch, which gradually ferments in the large intestine and serves as a prebiotic, establishing a favorable balance of intestinal bacteria. These bacteria in turn produce short-chain fatty acids, which play a role in the enhancement of insulin sensitivity.

Why greens?

A major British study suggests that eating 1.5 servings of green, leafy vegetables per day can, by itself, slash diabetes risk 14%. That grouping includes lettuce, kale, and spinach, but also brassicas like collard greens and mustard greens, not to mention herbs like parsley and dill.

Spinach, for example, contains compounds, nitrates, that combat mitochondrial dysfunction, which is a hallmark of prediabetes. The body converts nitrate to nitric oxide, NO, which plays a critical role in normalizing endothelial function. In laboratory animals, and presumably in humans, nitrate counteracts metabolic syndrome.

Greens also are nutrient-dense but calorie-poor. Consequently, including them as part of one’s daily fare makes achieving and maintaining a healthy weight — a primary goal whether one is managing or trying to avoid prediabetes — easier. Greens also add significantly to dietary fiber.

Though beans and greens should not, by themselves, be your entire diet, they serve noble ends:

  • They are a boon to cardiovascular health.
  • They are anti-carcinogenic.
  • They improve blood lipid and glucose profiles and help combat prediabetes.

If you want to slash your risk of prediabetes, modify your diet today. Exercise portion control and eliminate refined carbohydrates altogether. Substitute low glycemic load foods for ones with larger amounts of simple sugars. And exercise, move, sweat, and breathe deeply every day of your long, wonderful, and precious life.