The Impact of Nuts and Seeds on Your Diabetes Self-Management

Nuts and seeds may sound like professional advice for attracting squirrels to your yard, and there’s no doubt those fuzzy rodents would appreciate the consideration, but maybe squirrels know more about healthy eating that you give them credit for.

Healthy snacking is an important part of any healthy eating plan, and in some ways especially important for managing body weight and blood glucose when you have diabetes. But, when people think of snacks, they often think of the high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, and high-fat kind like chips, cookies, or candy bars on racks in your local convenience market.

Healthy snacks can help reduce between-meal hunger, give a boost of energy, and even reduce mealtime calorie intake, all without piling on extra calories, unhealthy fats, or excess carbohydrates. Portion control is always important and so are added ingredients like salt, but all in all nuts and seeds fit the bill for diabetes snacking pretty well.

In the practical sense, nuts and seeds contain enough protein, fiber, and fat to help you feel full. You can easily guess that managing hunger can go a long way toward reducing impulsive eating. Nuts and seeds are relatively low in carbohydrate, too, so they work well for most people with diabetes by not raising blood glucose levels.

In fact, if you’ve been advised to have a snack during the day or in the evening to avoid periods of low blood glucose, nuts or seeds would not be your best choice.

The real story with nuts and seeds is fat — healthy mono and poly unsaturated fats, to be specific. One ounce of nuts contains 13 to 22 grams of these heart-healthy fats. Walnuts, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds contain more polyunsaturated fats. Almonds, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, and sesame seeds contain more monounsaturated fats.

Although the fat in nuts is predominantly these healthy fats, any fat is calorie dense. A 1-ounce serving of nuts packs 150 to 200 calories. Packaged nuts and seeds often include added salt or sugar, neither of which are helpful for the main purpose of snacking, so check the nutrition label on packaged foods.

Several studies have looked at nuts and seeds as a desirable element of diabetes management. Research from the University of Toronto in 2011 found nuts to be a favorable replacement for carbohydrate snacks when a group with type 2 diabetes showed improvements in A1C and bad LDL cholesterol after three months.

A study involving 13,000 subjects by Louisiana State University found consumers of tree nuts (the study excluded peanuts, which are a legume) had smaller waist measurements, lower weight, lower blood pressure, lower fasting blood glucose, higher levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and lower levels of proteins linked to inflammation and heart disease.

In fairness, regular nut eating was also linked with higher consumption of whole grains and fruits, and lower consumption of alcohol and sugar. Still, the association between nuts, seeds, lower weight, and better cardiovascular health is strong.

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