Curry is a mainstay of Asian cuisine. But it does more than taste good. Thanks to its use of several healing spices, curry is also a superstar of The Diabetes Healing Diet. Of the combination of spices found in traditional curries, coriander, chili peppers and ginger are particularly useful for people with diabetes. That’s because these spices help reduce inflammation and insulin resistance, repair and prevent the damage done by free radicals and slow the metabolism of glucose in the bloodstream.
1. Coriander helps reduce blood sugar levels. Coriander is a potent curry spice that’s beneficial for people with diabetes. The fresh plant is pungent. It’s known by its Mexican name of cilantro in America and generally chopped and used in salsas, salads and other dishes. In India and other countries, both the plant and its dried seeds are known as coriander. As a pantry item, it’s easiest to buy it as whole seeds or ground and use as needed.
Coriander helps reduce blood sugar levels by promoting the release of insulin from the pancreas, so that glucose can be used by the cells. Both the fresh leaves of the cilantro plant (which is very popular in Mexican cooking) and its dried seeds are high in phytonutrients, flavonoids and polyphenols. These include quercetin, which protects against cardiovascular disease and eye problems such as retinopathy, associated with diabetes.
2. Coriander protects against cardiovascular disease. Coriander contains powerful antioxidants that combat free radicals and help reverse the damage they do over time to blood vessels. Chlorogenic acid (also present in coffee, red wine and chocolate) helps slow the release of glucose after eating. Beta-carotene helps stop LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming arterial plaques, which can lead to diabetic complications like cardiovascular disease and stroke. Both Japanese and German researchers have also confirmed the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds in the essential oils of cilantro.
Researchers in India have also found that coriander helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. And as if that weren’t enough, according to USDA scientists, the fiber content of coriander seeds improves digestion: Just 2 teaspoons of coriander contains almost 6% of your Daily Value (DV) for dietary fiber.
3. Cilantro helps detoxify the body. The blood sugar imbalances symptomatic of diabetes are also bad news when it comes to keeping the body free of toxins. Here, too, coriander can help. Japanese research has found that coriander helps clear up infections, a risk for people with diabetes. Coriander is also an excellent (and inexpensive) remedy for chelating, or removing, heavy metals such as mercury from the body. A Japanese study on treating eye infections accidentally discovered that cilantro leaves speed the body’s excretion of mercury, lead and aluminum.
Fresh cilantro leaves also have the ability to kill salmonella bacteria. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Japanese researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, found that fresh cilantro leaves contain an antibacterial compound called dodecenal, which tests showed is twice as powerful as the most commonly used antibiotic for killing salmonella.
4. Chili peppers lower blood sugar and protect the heart. The main active compound in all chili peppers, from cayenne to jalapeño, is capsaicin, the spice that gives curry powder its heat. According to an Australian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating hot curry, such as vindaloo, helps lower your glucose levels while supporting the liver and pancreas (one reason, perhaps, that hot curries are so popular as a late-night meal in Britain after the pubs close each evening).
The antioxidants in capsaicin help combat free radicals, thereby cutting down on chronic inflammation in the body, a precursor to diabetes, arthritis and other chronic illnesses. A study of 27 adults found that eating fresh chilis minimized oxidation of cells that, under certain conditions, leads to damaging free radicals, chronic inflammation and disease.
Arthritis sufferers already know that capsaicin cream relieves sore joints, but it is also effective in treating sensory nerve disorders, such as diabetic neuropathy. And by helping to reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides, capsaicin also helps prevent platelet clumping that can predispose diabetics to heart attacks and stroke.
Chilis are high in vitamin C and carotenoids, which help regulate insulin. Two teaspoons of chili peppers provide 6% of your recommended DV for vitamin C and 10% of the DV for vitamin A — vitamins that help repair the compromised immune systems of diabetics. Chilis also help you lose weight. That’s because their searing heat in the mouth burns energy, and therefore calories.
5. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory. Ginger is an antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. A study published in Life Sciences found that gingerols inhibit the production of nitric oxide, which quickly forms a damaging free radical called peroxynitrite.
Ginger not only boosts the immune system but also helps soothe the digestive system. This is important for people with diabetes because elevated blood sugar tends to impair digestion and lead to gastrointestinal complications. In a study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, ginger was found to reduce the negative effect of high blood sugar on the stomach’s rhythm and rate of emptying. The researchers concluded that while bringing blood sugar down is Job One for people with diabetes, eating foods infused with large quantities of ginger, such as curry, helps improve digestion.
6. Try your hand at Indian cooking. Mastering the art of Indian cuisine does not have to be intimidating. Start by adding typical curry spices into your daily menus. Ginger is a perfect healing companion to baked squash, or grated into hot water and lemon juice for a soothing tea. Chili powder can be added to everything from egg salad to brown rice, and cilantro adds a lively kick to salads and lightly steamed greens. Once you’re familiar with the individual spices and flavors, browse through some Indian cookbooks at your local bookstore, set aside an afternoon and try your hand at a simple curry for maximum healing benefits.
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