At this time of the year, children are excitedly preparing for Halloween and part of the fun is to carve pumpkins into a scary lanterns. But don’t throw away all that orange pumpkin flesh, because it could help you to avoid or better manage diabetes.
A portion of pumpkin has a low glycaemic load (GL), about one sixth of that of a baked potato. Glycaemic load is an accurate indication of how something you eat will affect your blood sugar level. A low GL diet is central to putting you in control of your blood sugar and keeping your insulin levels stable, and replacing potatoes or parsnips with pumpkin can help you to achieve this.
The vibrant orange colour of pumpkins comes from beta-carotene, a plant pigment that is also a fat-soluble antioxidant and is converted to vitamin A in the body. Animal studies have suggested that beta-carotene helps to protect against diseases in which oxidative processes play a role, such as the complications that can arise from diabetes. Reactive oxygen species (free radicals) are produced by the immune system as a natural defence against invading pathogens, but when they are present in excess they can cause vascular complications in diabetes.
A recent study from Brazil showed that diabetic rats produced significantly more reactive oxygen species than non-diabetic controls. Including beta-carotene in the feed of diabetic rats was found to reduce the levels of reactive oxygen species present, indicating that it may help to prevent conditions linked to oxidative stress, such as heart disease, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic nephropathy.
Beta-carotene is not the only diabetes-fighting nutrient in pumpkins. Two other compounds, trigonelline and nicotinic acid, have been shown in studies to be effective in lowering blood sugar levels by improving insulin resistance. Researchers in Japan used non-obese, type 2 diabetic rats, as a model for the disease in humans. They found that when pumpkin was added to the feed of one group of these rats, their blood sugar levels remained lower than those of a control group, during a glucose tolerance test.
Pumpkin compounds have multiple modes of action against diabetes
This study went on to isolate the two compounds responsible for the blood sugar lowering effect and found that trigonelline and nicotinic acid both improved glucose tolerance, with a stronger effect from trigonelline. This is not surprising, since trigonelline is the active compound in fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), a herb with a long tradition of use in India for the treatment of diabetes. Trigonelline acts by supporting the regeneration of beta-cells (the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas), increasing insulin secretion and regulating the activity of enzymes related to glucose metabolism, as well as acting as an antioxidant.
Other members of the squash family also have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels. In Mexico, researchers have found that a kind of pumpkin called the fig-leaf gourd contains the phytochemical D-chiro-inositol, which has blood sugar lowering properties comparable to standard anti-diabetic drugs and is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The bitter melon, another kind of gourd grown widely in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, increase insulin production, reduce blood sugar levels, suppress appetite and repair damaged beta-cells in the pancreas.
Pumpkins can be eaten roasted, baked or steamed as a side vegetable and are great added to pasta, risotto or curry or made into a warming winter soup. And don’t forget to eat the pumpkin seeds, too, which are best lightly roasted. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in pumpkin seed oil play a vital role in skin health, promoting its natural moisture balance and lubrication, and also help to prevent menopausal symptoms in women and benign enlargement of the prostate gland in men.
Pumpkins can help with the control of blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But there is another type of diabetes that I haven’t mentioned yet. It is called gestational diabetes and it happens as a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. This condition, and how to deal with it, will be the subject of my next blog post.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
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Category: Diet and Exercise