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Go nuts for almonds and reduce your blood glucose
Eating a fistful (2 oz/60 g) of almonds (the natural ones not the salted roasted, or sugar coated ones), significantly reduced those white bread blood glucose spikes according to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Co-author Dr Cyril Kendall from the University of Toronto says: ‘Almonds have already been found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and contain a variety of important nutrients. This new research shows that incorporating almonds in the diet may help in the management of blood glucose levels and the onset of such illnesses as diabetes, while promoting a healthy heart.’


The small study looked at the effects of five meals eaten on five different occasions by 15 healthy young men and women. They ate the control meal (white bread) twice and then the three test meals – 60 g raw unblanched almonds with white bread, Uncle Ben’s parboiled converted rice and instant mashed potatoes. The latter two were balanced for fat, protein and total energy with the almond meal with butter and cheese. After each meal, the volunteers had their blood drawn to check glucose, insulin and oxidative stress levels.

The GI values of the almond and white bread (55) and parboiled rice (38) meals were significantly less than the mashed potato meal (94) and this difference was clearly reflected in the significantly smaller rises in the volunteers’ blood glucose levels after eating the almond and rice meals. What this shows is that eating almonds ‘can have a significant impact in blunting the glycemic and insulin responses of the body when fed with a carbohydrate (bread in this case) meal,’ said Kendall

And there’s more. The researchers found less oxidative damage after the volunteers ate the almond meal and suggest that including antioxidant-rich almonds in a low GI diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes through mechanisms beyond their impact on blood sugar levels.
The Journal of Nutrition, December 1 2006

GI Group: So, what’s so special about almonds?
These tasty tidbits pack a nutritional punch. They are rich in protein, calcium, vitamin E and arginine (an amino acid that helps to keep your blood flowing smoothly). They also contain good amounts of fibre, iron and zinc. They contain relatively little carbohydrate, so don’t have a GI value. Although they are high in fat, it’s largely the heart healthy poly and monounsaturated types. Studies have shown that almond skins contain some 30 different antioxidant compounds. So buy the whole natural ones with the skin on and enjoy a handful for a snack or add them in your cooking. Here are 10 tips on how to get more from dietitian Nicole Senior from her forthcoming book (with home economist Veronica Cuskelly), Eat to Beat Cholesterol (to be published in March 2007):

  • Add slivered or chopped almonds to muesli.
  • Top fruit and yoghurt, fruit puddings and parfaits with slivered or chopped almonds.
  • Snack on raw unblanched almonds an almond/dried apricot combo.
  • Add roasted almonds to a chicken and vegetable stir-fry.
  • Toss slivered almonds through steamed or microwaved carrots, beans or broccoli.
  • Add chopped roasted almonds to rice, noodle and couscous dishes.
  • Stir whole raw almonds into a four bean mix, herb, tomato and asparagus salad.
  • Toast flaked almonds and sprinkle on baked fish.
  • Add almond meal to meat loaf, meat balls, burger patties and fish cakes or substitute some flour with almond meal in baking.
  • Bake apples or pears with a filling of chopped almonds and mixed dried fruit.

Even more reasons to eat those low GI oats
Beta-glucan is a polysaccharide (sugar) derived from foods like oats and barley that’s recognised for its ability to lower blood cholesterol levels. New research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals even more beta-glucan benefits, for carbohydrate metabolism and blood pressure. Ninety-seven men and women (average age 60, average BMI 32.4) were randomly assigned to eat oat beta-glucan or control foods (with maltodextrin) for 12 weeks in a double-blind, controlled trial.

Photo: Ian Hofstetter

The researchers found that peak insulin levels after meals decreased for the beta-glucan group but not the control group. Similarly, blood pressure was also lowered in obese participants.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition advance online publication 6 December 2006; doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602562

Does sugar cause diabetes?
No. There is absolute consensus that sugar in food does not cause diabetes, and there has been for some time. And if we are to deal with the increasing rates of diabetes worldwide, it’s essential to deal with the real risk factors. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition triggered by unknown environmental factors, such as viruses. Type 2 diabetes is strongly inherited, but lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, central obesity and being overweight, increase the risk of developing it. In the past, when the diabetes diets prohibited sugar, many people (including health professionals) joined the dots and drew the conclusion that simple sugars were the villain of the piece and responsible for high blood glucose levels. We now know that’s not true – research at Harvard University has shown that it’s high GI diets (not high sugar intake) that increase blood glucose levels and the risk of developing both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But it’s hard to change minds, let alone ‘popular opinion’. A recent study may help.


In the December issue of Diabetes, Steven Hunter and colleagues from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, report that a high sucrose intake as part of a weight maintaining diet had no detrimental effect on insulin sensitivity or glycemic profiles in healthy people without diabetes. In the small randomised, cross-over trial, 13 healthy young men ate either a high sugar (200 grams per day) or ‘average’ sugar (80 grams per day) diet for six weeks. They then had a ‘wash out’ period for 4 weeks before crossing over to the other diet. The results showed no significant differences in insulin resistance, or weight gain on either group, nor differences in glucose uptake or glucose production. Finally, there were no adverse changes in the elasticity of the arteries or the men’s glycemic profiles on either diet.
Diabetes, Dec 1, 2006; 55 (12)

GI Group: Notwithstanding this finding, empty calories whatever the source, sugar, starch, fat, or alcohol won’t keep your body operating optimally. ‘Moderation in all things’ is one of those sayings that has withstood the test of time for obvious reasons. You can enjoy refined sugar in moderation – that’s about 40–50 grams a day – an amount that most people consume without thinking about it, and somewhat less than the ‘average’ 80 grams in the trial described above. Try to include sweetened foods that provide more than just kilojoules – dairy foods, breakfast cereals, porridge with brown sugar, jam on whole grain toast etc. Most diabetes organisations all around the world no longer advise strict avoidance of refined sugar or sugary foods. This is one of the happy spin-offs from research on the GI – recognition that both sugary foods and starchy foods raise your blood glucose. Furthermore, scores of studies indicate that moderate amounts of sugar in diabetic diets (for example 30–50 grams or 6–10 teaspoons) does not result in either poor control or weight gain. So cut the guilt trip and allow yourself the pleasure of sweetness.