Starch-Blocking Foods for Diabetics?

Diabetics Should Take Their Pulses

How did doctors treat diabetes before insulin? Almost a thousand medicinal plants are known antidiabetic agents, including beans, most of which have been used in traditional medicine. Of course, just because something has been used for centuries doesn’t mean it’s safe. Other treatments for diabetes in the past included arsenic and uranium. Thankfully many of these other remedies fell by the wayside, but scientific interest in the antidiabetic potential of beans was renewed in the past decade.

Diabetes is a global public health epidemic. Although oral hypoglycemic medications and injected insulin are the mainstay of treatment of diabetes and are effective in controlling high blood sugars, they have side effects such as weight gain, swelling, and liver disease. They also are not shown to significantly alter the progression of the disease. Thankfully, lifestyle modifications have proven to be greatly effective in the management of this disease. And if there is one thing diabetics should eat, it’s legumes (beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils).

Increased consumption of whole grains and legumes for health-promoting diets is widely promoted by health professionals. One of the reasons is that they may decrease insulin resistance, the defining trait of type 2 diabetes. The European Association for the Study of Diabetes, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the American Diabetes Association all recommend the consumption of dietary pulses as a means of optimizing diabetes control. What are pulses? They’re peas and beans that come dried, and are therefore a subset of legumes. They exclude green beans and fresh green peas, which are considered more vegetable crops, and the so-called oil seeds—soybeans and peanuts.

A review out of Canada (highlighted in my video, Diabetes Should Take Their Pulses) compiled 41 randomized controlled experimental trials, totaling more than a thousand patients, and corroborated the diabetes association nutrition guidelines recommending the consumption of pulses as a means of optimizing diabetes control. They discovered that some pulses are better than others. Some of the best results came from the studies that used chickpeas. In terms of beans, pintos and black beans may beat out kidney beans. Compared to the blood sugar spike of straight white rice, the combination of black or pinto beans with rice appeared to reduce the spike more than kidney beans and rice.

Dark red kidney beans may not be as effective because they have lower levels of indigestible starch. One of the reasons beans are so healthy is they contain compounds that partially block our starch-digesting enzyme, which allows some starch to make it down to our colon to feed our good gut bacteria. In fact, the inhibition of this starch-eating enzyme amylase, just by eating beans, approximates that of a carbohydrate-blocking drug called acarbose (sold as Precose), a popular diabetes medication. The long-term use of beans may normalize hemoglobin A1C levels (which is how you track diabetes) almost as well as the drug.

What about avoiding metabolic derangements in the first place? See my video Preventing Prediabetes By Eating More.

What else may help?

What may hurt?

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a DayFrom Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Emily Carlin / Flickr

  • Jan

    Just out of curiosity, what’s the botanical difference between beans and pulses (lentils)? I thought chickpeas were a kind of beans, but according to this article, they’re a kind of pulses.

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Beans, pulses. I think they are the same thing. Lentils vary a bit from larger beans, but they’re all in the “legume family”. I need to call on Thea for more clarification. She is good at identifying foods :-)

      Check this out on the best lentil or this video comparing chick peas and other beans to soybeans. They should help.

      • Thea

        Thank goodness for jem’s reply. That’s way better than I would have done, and I learned a lot from that post. Thanks jem!

      • hopesteph

        Joseph, today’s post by Doctor shows the positive in some people of eating beans:

        “One of the reasons beans are so healthy is they contain compounds that partially block our starch-digesting enzyme, which allows some starch to make it down to our colon to feed our good gut bacteria. In fact, the inhibition of this starch-eating enzyme amylase, just by eating beans….”

        But, I ask, could this also be the reason some of us have horrible issues eating beans, because they go partially undigested, and could this also be why beans are one of the worst FODMAP foods? I have GI care who claim that this might be why beans can exhaust certain humans…..they aren’t being digested completely and are feeding an overgrowth of BACTERIA, not just bad bacteria but good as well. Do you know of any methods to actually allow this starch digesting enzyme to occur, which would in effect be the opposite of today’s premise by Doctor G.? It seems that this might make it easier for some of us to eat beans, other starches, FODMAPS, ETC. The seaweed addition to beans does not seem to help with this issue, for me at least.

        Thank you if you can offer ideas and suggestions.

        • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

          Good questions. There may be some additional explanations in Dr. Greger’s book Carbophobia that goes into carbohydrate metabolism. He mentions FODMAP fructans in the Gluten video, but not sure how they may feed bad bacteria too or in what ratio. As we see from his other videos there are various types. I think these prebiotics can cause discomfort in people eating fiber poor diets and maybe their systems can adjust. The second meal effect from beans offers advantages. Also, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even the insoluble fibers in veggies, roughage from the skins on fruit, all pile together offering their services to gut flora. Heck, the lignans in flax aren’t worth nothin’ unless our bacteria unlock their magic, turing them into powerful butyrate and other short chain fatty acids. So maybe if someone is having trouble digesting some foods there are still other options.

    • jem

      Legumes are plants that bear their fruit in pods, which are casings with two halves, or hinges. Legumes are a very healthy food because it is low in fat and high in protein. Legumes are also very high in fiber and other nutrients.
      Legumes Are Made Up Of:

      The term “legume” refers to the plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. Legumes represent a vast family of plants including more than 600 genera and more than 13,000 species.
 When growing, legumes fix nitrogen into the soil, which reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, fresh peas, lupins, mesquite, soy and peanuts.

      Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most common varieties of pulses. Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, and are low in fat. Like their cousins in the legume family, pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve the environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems.

    • vegank

      Hi Jan,
      I was wondering that too and found these sites , I like their concise description.
      As Joseph & Thea said they fall under Lugume (Fabaceae family).

      The following includes recipes which look quite nice:

  • vegank

    Thank you so much Dr Greger & team, now you proved that I wasn’t imagining things.
    I definitely feel better after eating black beans than Kidney beans for example when combined with rice (white or brown) interns of sugar spikes after meals, and was trying to do my own research so that I can prevent the unpleasant after effect. This research of yours will help me guide with optimal food combinations . But then again it did not surprise me, my ancestors have been consuming this variety for 1000s of years.

  • baggman744

    What would you say if you get the following for a buck, and its organic?

    Serving Size .5 cup

    Serving Per Container 3.5

    Amount Per Serving

    Calories 120 Calories from Fat 0

    % Daily Value*

    Total Fat 0g 0%

    Saturated Fat 0g 0%

    Trans Fat 0g 0%

    Cholesterol 0mg

    Sodium 130mg 5%

    Total Carbohydrate 21g 7%

    Dietary Fiber 6g 24%

    Sugars 0g 0%

    Protein 8g

    Yup, that’s right, a can of organic black beans $1.00 (on sale $.20 off). I’m always going on how expensive good food is, but this is a rare exception. All that protein, all that fiber, low in: salt, fat, sugar, carbs, stores for at least a year. Now whatever you do, don’t tell the food companies otherwise they’ll raise the price. But by all means, tell your friends & family.

  • I came across a bunch of articles on the internet that claim that if starchy foods are cooled down after cooking that they become more resistant (Wikipedia calls the process retrogradation). I would like to adopt the cooling practice if I know there is science in it and that there is a big enough effect to make a difference. Are there good studies that back this up?

  • dancer80

    Black beans are harder to digest for some people due to the thicker skin on the beans. The easiest beans to digest are adzuki beans. In Japan adzuki beans are considered a diet food as well as a regular staple of Japanese cuisine. Adzuki beans are also eaten in Taiwan, China, and Korea in much the same way. One of my favorite snacks growing up was adzuki beans soup, basically it’s just adzuki beans cooked in water with sugar added onto it just before it’s done. It’s eaten either cold or hot depending on the weather, and it’s a favorite of both young and old in these East Asian countries, sometimes mochi dumplings would be added onto the hot soup. Yes it has sugar but absolutely zero fat not to mention it was packed with nutrition and fiber, so compared to Western desserts and snacks like cookies and cakes made with eggs, butter, and too much sugar, it’s a lot healthier. When my Japanese grandparents visited the US (both lived well into their late 90s) they always had trouble eating Western desserts, which they found too sweet and greasy.

  • Psych MD

    Since this website does not have a forum format in which to originate topics I am interjecting this late-breaking newsflash here. After more than two years of exhaustive research a dramatic “life extension” strategy has emerged. It is being hailed as transformative, a revolution, and a “massive leap forward”:

    • Matthew Smith

      Did you know that anti-psychotics shorten life? Did you know that they fatten people and cause diabetes? Did you know that the study the APA funded against Niacin, which can add many years to life, was biased in that it tested Niacin against a much lower dose of Niacin. Three grams versus 6 mg. It is possible, even probable, that they both made an improvement. Perhaps you should consider using Niacin to treat mental illness. It is easier to dose.

  • Nicoaguilera

    Thank you Dr. grenger and Joseph, but i have a doubt, Why some nutritionist say to people give up all kind of legume because they think that they produce a high spike of glucose? where do they based from?, sorry if my english is not perfect, Regards from Chile!!! :D