By Megann Phillips
Dr. Carol Johnston (left) and Dr. Karen Sweazea pose for a portrait in the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative Building, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 in downtown Phoenix. Dr. Johnston and Dr. Sweazea work in a lab to produce testing materials for their research on type 2 diabetes. (Photo by Tynin Fries)
Although American Diabetes Month officially came to a close last week, diabetes patients should be aware about their health year-round.
Almost 30 million people in the United States were suffering from diabetes in 2012, according to American Diabetes Association statistics, and ASU nutrition program director Carol Johnston said the prevalence of the disease would continue to increase with each passing year.
“We expect that the incidence of diabetes is going to rise because of the high obesity incidence,” Johnston said. “We also think it’s going to be occurring at younger ages.”
Johnston studies the effects of diet choices on diabetic health, and has collected quantitative evidence to support the benefits of drinking vinegar before eating on controlling blood sugar spikes.
Johnston obtained these results by observing the effects of consuming a vinegar drink before meals twice daily on the health of a number of diabetes patients.
After eating a meal that consisted of a large bagel and juice, diabetics who consumed vinegar before the meal saw a 40 percent decrease in postprandial glucose. In other words, she found that it lowered their post-meal blood sugar significantly.
She also found that the vinegar had a lasting positive effect on the fasting glucose levels diabetes patients.
“If you can reduce the amount of glucose that’s in your bloodstream, that’s just going to help slow the progression of the disease,” Johnston said. “The vinegar is not a cure-all. It’s not going to cure diabetes; it’s just one of the tools a diabetic should use to help manage (their disease).”
She said pre-meal vinegar consumption is easily implemented in everyday life and recommend diabetics eat homemade vinaigrette dressing—two parts vinegar, one part oil — on a salad before diving into their main course at dinner.
Assistant professor of nutrition Karen Sweazea has also conducted research on the benefits of diet choices on diabetic health, but she chose to focus on the inflammation-reducing properties of almonds.
“The almonds contain many different plant-based nutrients, so it’s difficult to pinpoint which one has the effect (of reducing inflammation in diabetes patients),” she said. “It could be due to some of the Vitamin E that’s in them, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it is exactly. Almonds are sort of a super food.”
Whatever it is about almonds that reduces inflammation in diabetics, Sweazea said she highly recommends eating them, as inflammation causes heart disease and other serious medical problems that often ail people who suffer from diabetes.
Ginger Hook, a registered nurse and diabetes educator at ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, has been researching diabetes since 1985, and she also said diet should be considered one on diabetes’s most valued combatants.
“It is well documented in studies that lifestyle modification — increased exercise and changes in eating habits — can prevent or delay the progression to diabetes in individuals with increased risk of diabetes or pre-diabetes,” Hook said.
She said small changes have the potential to make big difference in diabetic health.
“Interestingly, small changes can actually make a difference (in blood sugar management),” she said. “Increasing your activity by just walking helps, cutting sugary drinks from your eating habits can have an impact. Losing a few pounds can actually be very beneficial. Sometimes these small changes that are actually achievable can make a difference.”