Health & Fitness

The Surprising Food that Treats Diabetes


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Before you pass by those broccoli sprouts in the cooler at your local grocery store, you may want to add a few containers to your grocery cart. That’s because they help improve your blood sugar levels, particularly if you’re suffering from type 2 diabetes. That’s because research shows that sulforaphane found in broccoli sprouts as well as other cruciferous vegetables can help improve fasting glucose levels.

In the novel study published in the medical journal Science Translational Medicine researchers analyzed the pattern of gene expression in type 2 diabetes and compared it to gene signatures of thousands of compounds to find those that could counteract the effects of the disease. Many of the substances they reviewed included drug options.

Sulforaphane demonstrated the greatest results of the thousands of tested substances. They found that it worked on 2 levels: inhibiting glucose production in cells and improving glucose tolerance in animals fed a high fructose diet. Additionally, they found that it improved fasting glucose levels in humans. Sulforaphane even reversed the “disease signature” in the livers of diabetic animals. The disease signature is the gene expression of the disease.

Type 2 diabetes arises when a person is unable to use the hormone insulin effectively, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise, and can lead to complications like heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney failure.

Metformin is the most commonly used drug to treat diabetes; however, some patients are unable to use them because they increase the risk of kidney disease. Other side effects of the medication include: diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, coughing, hoarseness and decreased vitamin B12 levels (which can result in fatigue or anemia).

Broccoli sprouts contain other natural compounds, including one known as indole-3-carbinol, which has been linked to a reduction in the incidence of breast, prostate, endometrium and colon cancers.

While you can buy broccoli sprouts at most grocery stores, health food stores and even many farmers’ markets, it is easy to grow your own. Check out my blog “How to Grow Sprouts.”

Research in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that broccoli sprouts are at the nutritional peak after 5 days of growing the seeds and 4 days of refrigeration.

While there is some public concern over contamination of sprouts with food-borne pathogens like E. coli or salmonella, the reality is that the risk is quite low. These foods are no more at risk than other foods that are eaten in their raw state. You can rinse them prior to eating to help remove any possible foreign bacteria, but the best way to ensure that they have not come in contact with these disease-causing bacteria is to grow them yourself, ensuring that you have thoroughly washed your hands and rinsed the sprouts regularly. Usually contamination arises from dirty hands at some point in the growing or distribution of sprouts.

In addition to broccoli sprouts, other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage also contain sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is also found in fermented versions of these foods, such as sauerkraut or the Korean fermented condiment kimchi.

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