How to Use Diet & Lifestyle to Treat Diabetes in AyurvedaDr. Surya Bhagwati
When it comes to Diabetes treatment, people first think of sugar avoidance. You probably know that there’s more to diabetes treatment than simply avoiding sugar. Diabetes medicines may seem like an important part of treatment and not just in terms of conventional medications like hormonal drugs and insulin. Most people also assume that Ayurvedic treatment of diabetes focuses on medicines. While herbal medicines for diabetes are extremely valuable in treating diabetes, Ayurveda is a holistic health system that doesn’t just focus on disease treatment and quick fixes. Diet and lifestyle changes are therefore fundamental to any diabetes treatment plan in Ayurveda.
Diet Tips to Treat Diabetes
1. Ditch the Processed Foods
When creating your personalized diet plan or diet chart, this is the first rule that you should follow. An Ayurvedic diet plan for diabetes requires elimination of processed foods, while focusing on whole foods. This is in keeping with the current scientific advice to make carb choices based on their glycemic value.
Processed foods like bread, chips, and pastries have a high glycemic load, causing spikes in blood sugar. This is because they contain simple carbs. Whole foods like brown rice, whole oats, vegetables, pulses, and even fruit contain complex carbs and are lower on the index. This said, it makes sense to also look at the glycemic load of individual foods, favoring those with a low glycemic value.
2. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Fiber intake is regarded as healthy under normal circumstances, but it becomes increasingly important for diabetes management. This is because fiber can slow the rate of sugar absorption into the blood stream, helping maintain stable blood glucose levels. This is particularly true of soluble fiber, but you should get both types.
Most fruits, whole grains, and seeds will give you both types of fiber. Fiber is also helpful as it can lower levels of bad cholesterol, protecting against heart disease – a common complication in diabetics. Good fiber intake also increases satiety and reduces cravings, making it easier to eat healthy and lose weight.
3. Ensure Balanced Nutrition
This is another theme that you will find in any Ayurvedic diet, as Ayurveda is in favor of moderation, rather than restrictive diets. In this context, you should make sure that your diet also includes adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats. Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are unhealthy and healthy sources can actually help slow the absorption of glucose. Good sources include nuts, olive or sunflower oil, and sesame or sunflower seeds.
Similarly, proteins have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar and they also increase satiety. This reduces hunger and food cravings, helping with weight loss. Good sources of protein include pulses, beans, legumes, peas, dairy products, and eggs.
4. Control Serving Size & Snacking
When trying to manage diabetes it’s important to control meal sizes and frequency. Instead of eating two really large meals, eat at regular and more frequent intervals with smaller meals and healthy snacks. This can help to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. This will help to control diabetes and can also reduce the risk of complications. Healthy diabetic snacks would typically include foods that are high in fiber or protein and without any processed or simple carbs.
5. Consume More Medicinal Foods
Ayurveda has always emphasized the healing power of foods and many are even used as ingredients in Ayurvedic medicines to help control blood sugar levels. For example, karela, methi, and drumstick are widely used vegetables in Indian cuisine and they are all proven to be therapeutic for diabetes. Studies have found that regular intake of karela improves sugar metabolism and enhances insulin production, while methi contains compounds that reduce intestinal glucose absorption, while improving insulin sensitivity. Drumstick or moringa leaves contain insulin-like proteins that can have a similar blood sugar lowering effect and can improve sugar processing.
Foods can also be garnished with herbs and spices for added benefits. Cinnamon is known to lower blood sugar levels and curcumin in turmeric produces similar effects, also protecting against heart disease. Tulsi or Holy Basil leaves are also effective for the same reasons.
Lifestyle Tips to Treat Diabetes
1. Exercise regularly
The importance of physical activity was long overlooked in mainstream medicine, but this Ayurvedic recommendation is now widely accepted. Activities that raise your heart rate moderately or aerobic exercises are regarded as best. However, you need to start gradually with mild activities like walking. Diabetics are advised to stick with mild to moderate intensity exercises to control blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart disease. Exercise also helps lower stress levels and aids weight loss.
2. Start Meditation & Yoga
Aside from the fact that yoga is one of the gentlest forms of exercise, it is also a vast discipline and includes asanas that can be therapeutic for diabetes. Additionally, yoga includes pranayamas and meditative practices that are especially useful for diabetes management. Studies show that meditation can help as treatment for stress and anxiety disorders, which can otherwise make it harder to cope with diabetes. Stress management techniques like meditation can also lower the risk of heart disease.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is one requirement that we all tend to take for granted. Ayurveda reminds us about the importance of sleep for the health of every bodily function, including the endocrinal system. Sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation can wreak havoc with hormones, increasing food cravings and causing weight gain. Getting adequate sleep can help with the adoption of other healthy habits that are needed to control diabetes.
4. Follow the Dinacharya
Until very recently, the advice to follow a structured daily routine was exclusive to Ayurveda and we often ignored it. This concept of daily routine is known as dinacharya in Ayurveda and it has been formulated to ensure that your routine syncs perfectly with the natural ebb and flow of energy forces or doshas in nature. This idea is now supported by investigations that look at practices to strengthen the circadian rhythm and its role in human health.
5. Stop Smoking
If you are a smoker this is one of the first things that you should do if you wish to prevent or treat diabetes. This is not because smoking causes diabetes, but it greatly increases the risk of serious diabetes complications like heart and kidney disease, blood vessel damage, eye disease, and nerve damage. Smoking also has a direct effect on lung function, reducing your endurance levels and the ability to exercise.
These are just some of the most basic and important tips based on age old Ayurvedic wisdom. For more specific and personalized diet or lifestyle recommendations to reflect your unique dosha balance, you should consult an Ayurvedic specialist. You can also use Ayurvedic diabetes medications containing extracts from herbs like guduchi, tulsi, vijayasar, karela, and ashwagandha
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