Blood sugar problems (in people of Indian descent)

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India is the diabetes capital of the world!

In 2019 there was an estimated 72.96 million cases of diabetes in adult population of India (Source) .The high numbers are mainly due to genes and environmental and lifestyle changes, like urbanisation and a sedentary lifestyle. But the most significant cause is the modern, processed diet.

History of the Indian Diet

A cursory glance at the history of India shows that very early on in history very few restrictions existed for the typical Indian diet. Meat and animal products were eaten freely and some of the modern foods hadn’t been introduced yet. 

However, as time went on new populations entered India and with them, religions such Buddhism and Jainism came along, bringing with them many new foods and food philosophies. Since that time, many Indians have adopted a non-violent approach to eating and have restricted meat and eggs, and possibly onions and garlic too. This resulted in a relatively high carbohydrate diet.

This was ok until…

Modern Food Enters the Story

The introduction of modern processed forms of these vegetarian foods, such as processed seed oils (AKA vegetable oils) refined flour and refined sugar, means the diet has become overly heavy in processed carbs. 

This has been the undoing of a lot of Westernised Indians (in India or in Australia), who are now leading the way in diabetes diagnoses. 

What can you do?

You’re born with your genes, but you can change your diet and lifestyle to you help manage and prevent blood sugar imbalances. 

Even if you choose what you eat because of religious reasons (rather than health) you can still adopt a diabetes-friendly diet plan with foods to eat and lifestyle choices that will help manage blood sugars and insulin.

Lifestyle Management and Blood Sugars

The management of blood sugar problems needs a holistic approach that involves lifestyle management, along with good blood sugar control and balanced nutrition to nourish the body. The right food management will not only restore healthy blood sugar levels but also improve blood cholesterol, and keep you in a healthy weight range. 

I have adapted the recommendations of nutritionist Priyanka Sadhukhan, for the latest guidelines on how to manage blood sugars. Insulin control is considerably improved with intermittent fasting so I have included this as well.  

Sample Indian Diet Chart for Blood Sugar Control

These sample meal plans are primarily for blood sugar/insulin control and weight loss, hence the inclusion of quantities. 

Working with a nutritionist will help you tailor these samples for your unique circumstances. Factors to consider are age, sex, type of diabetes, physical activity, and type of medication you are on.

North Indian

MEALFOODS TO EAT
Early MorningOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged
BreakfastOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged1 large glass of water with a large tbsp psyllium husks, followed by an additional large glass of water
Pre-LunchOptions:Fenugreek water (1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds soaked in a glass of water overnight) PLUS1 cup cucumber, tomato, and carrot salad. Add a dash of lime, and garnish with coriander leaves and a few mint leaves or, 1 seasonal fruit (except for banana, mango, sapota, custard apple, jackfruit) orUnstrained vegetable juice/ bitter gourd juice orOvernight soaked almonds (4-5 pieces)
LunchOptions:2 vegetable moong chillas with green chutney and 1-2 whole boiled eggs OR2 medium-sized whole wheat chapatis with ½ cup rajma/chole +½ cup thin dal + 1 cup okra curry/ any other vegetable curry + ½ cup curd/raita or2 medium-sized whole wheat chapatis with 3 oz baked fish + any vegetable curry + 1 cup raita or1 piece of brown bread with 2 boiled eggs + 1 cups greens + 1 cup green tea or2 small whole wheat parathas (with ghee or butter) with 1 cup raita + 1 teaspoon pickle + ½ cup boiled sprouts.
Afternoon SnacksGreen tea without sugar or artificial sweeteners. You can have one small cup of bhel puri or baked snacks.
DinnerOptions:2 medium-sized chapatis + any vegetable curry (any type of gourd, brinjal, capsicum, etc.) except for root vegetables + 1 cup dal/paneer2 medium-sized chapatis + chicken stew + any vegetable curry, except for root vegetables.
Before Bed1 cup of warm full cream milk with a pinch of raw ground turmeric/cinnamon powder

East Indian 

MEALFOODS TO EAT
Early MorningOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged
BreakfastOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged1 large glass of water with a large tbsp psyllium husks, followed by an additional large glass of water
Pre-LunchOptions:Fenugreek water (1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds soaked in a glass of water overnight) PLUSOvernight soaked almonds (4-5 pieces)1 apple or orange or 1 cup papaya or guavaAny unstrained vegetable juice or bitter gourd juice
LunchOptions:1 slice of toasted wheat bread and 2 boiled eggsCucumber salad + 1 whole wheat chapati + any vegetable sabzi + ½ cup boiled sproutsCucumber salad + 1 whole wheat stuffed paratha + peas sabzi + 1 teaspoon pickle 2 medium-sized whole wheat chapatis + 1/2 cup vegetables, such as peas, cauliflower, capsicum, any gourd, green beans, etc. + 1 cup daalCucumber tomato salad + ½ cup rice + ½ cup vegetable curry + fish curry1 cup of daliya vegetable khichdi + ½ cup curd
Afternoon SnacksOptions:Masala puffed rice and green teaGreen tea and a fistful of roasted nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts)
DinnerOptions:2 whole wheat chapatis + ½ cup chicken stew + ½ cup vegetable curry + ½ cup yogurt2 chapatis + ½ cup vegetable curry + ½ cup daal + ½ cup yogurt
Before Bed1 glass of warm full cream milk with a pinch of cinnamon or raw ground turmeric powder

South Indian

MEALFOODS TO EAT
Early MorningOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged
BreakfastOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged1 large glass of water with a large tbsp psyllium husks, followed by an additional large glass of water
Pre-LunchOptions:Fenugreek water (1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds soaked in a glass of water overnight)Overnight soaked almonds (4-5 pieces)1 apple/ guava/ 1 cup papayaUnstrained vegetable juice/ Bitter gourd juiceTender coconut waterA glass of ragi malt with thin buttermilk
LunchOptions:2-3 idlis with chutney and drumstick sambar (use Celtic sea salt)2 dosas with chutney and vegetable sambar (use Celtic sea salt)1 small cup of vegetable upma with chutney Cucumber and tomato salad + ½ cup brown rice + 1 cup sambar with lots of vegetables + any vegetable curry (with less spice) + 1 glass mint jeera buttermilkCucumber and tomato salad + ½ cup brown rice + 1 cup vegetable curry + ½ cup fish or chicken curry with less spice + 1 glass mint jeera buttermilk
Afternoon SnacksOptions:Green tea with roasted flaked rice with curry leaves and chopped garlicBlack coffee and ¼ cup homemade snacks Filter coffee with whole milk and ½ cup roasted chana
DinnerOptions:Vegetable clear soup or chicken and vegetable clear soup +2 chapatisMixed vegetable curry + 2 chapatis + curd
Before Bed1 cup warm full cream milk with a pinch of raw ground turmeric or cinnamon powder

West Indian

MEALFOODS TO EAT
Early MorningOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged
BreakfastOptions:Intermittent fasting is encouraged1 large glass of water with a large tbsp psyllium husks, followed by an additional large glass of water
Pre-LunchFenugreek water (1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds soaked in a glass of water overnight)Overnight soaked almonds (4-5 pieces)1 apple or guava/1 cup papaya1 glass unstrained vegetable juice/1 glass bitter gourd juice1 cup cucumber, tomato, and carrot salad
LunchOptions:1 slice of toasted wheat bread and 2 boiled eggsCucumber salad + 1 whole wheat chapati + any vegetable sabzi + ½ cup boiled sproutsCucumber salad + 1 whole wheat stuffed paratha + peas sabzi + 1 teaspoon pickle 1 cup red rice vegetable poha + ½ cup boiled sprouts2 besan chillas + 2 tablespoons green chutney1 cup vegetable oats upma + 1-2 whole boiled eggs2 chapatis + 1 cup vegetable curry + 1 cup daal + ½ cup curd3 oz steamed or baked fish/chicken + ½ cup rice + 1 cup vegetable curry + ½ cup curd1 cup vegetable daliya khichdi + 1 roasted homemade papad + 1 cup curd
Afternoon SnacksOptions: Green tea with ½ cup roasted chanaGreen tea with ½ cup green moong/ black chana chaatGreen tea with 1 cup ghee-roasted makhana
DinnerOptions:1 cup vegetable curry + 2 multigrain chapatis + 1 cup daal + curdCucumber salad + 2 multigrain chapatis + ½ cup vegetable curry + Fish curry or chicken curry
Before Bed1 glass of warm full cream milk with a pinch of cinnamon powder or raw ground turmeric powder

In addition to the foods mentioned, you can consume the following:

Foods To Eat for Blood Sugar Problems

Healthy Fats

Not all fats are bad. 

Aim to remove all processed fats. Golden vegetable oils like sunflower oil are, in fact, industrialised seed oils and are highly inflammatory. Plus, they have been shown to contribute to insulin resistance. Butter and ghee are recommended for their nutrient content. Vitamin A & D are essential to health. Coconut oil is suitable for cooking unlike olive oil which burns quite easily. Both the quality and quantity of fat matter in the regulation of blood sugar levels.

Foods To Eat – Small fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, halibut), fish liver oil, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, avocados, and oysters. Extra virgin olive oil (not for cooking), coconut oil, cream and milk, butter, ghee, tallow and lard (if not vegetarian). Avoid processed vegetable oils like rice bran oil and sunflower oil.

How much to Eat

The amount of fat recommended per day depends on your weight. 2-3 tablespoons of fat is recommended at lunch and another 2-6 tablespoons throughout the rest of the day. 

Carbohydrates

Complex carbs with high fibre content are recommended for individuals with diabetes.

Whole grains contain fibre and help improve the glucose levels after a meal and maintain healthy insulin levels. Avoid refined carbs with low to no fibre content.

Foods To Eat – Rye, oats, quinoa, millet, legumes, brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat or spelt.

How much to eat. 

Limiting starchy carbs/grains to around 100-150 grams per meal is recommended. 

Healthy Proteins

Consuming high-quality protein is essential for body repair. Protien is used by the body to build muscle and is a component of every cell and enzyme. Adequate protein is vital for blood sugar balance. Include proteins with high biological value in each meal.

Foods To Eat – Lentils, fermented soy (natto, tempeh), kidney beans, tofu (highly processed so keep to a minimum), hummus, pumpkin seeds, organic chicken, turkey, fish (sardines, mackerel, tilapia, catla, rohu, singi, magur, pomfret, cod liver oil, hilsa, tuna, and trout).

How much to Eat

For most people 80-100g of cooked protein is sufficient. Those who are very active may have 150g

Vegetables

Vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. Having at least five servings of vegetables (cooked or raw) a day will help you lose weight, boost your immunity, and develop good control over blood glucose levels. 

Foods To Eat – Spinach, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, peas, capsicum, gourds, onion, garlic, celery, asparagus, Brussels sprouts beans, brinjal, lettuce, zucchini, tomato, broccoli, and kale.

How much to Eat

Starchy/sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes and tomatoes should be limited to < 100gms per meal. Non-starchy vegetables can be eaten more freely, an additional 100-200gms per meal. Greens such as spinach and lettuce are unlimited. 

Dairy

Dairy proteins (casein and whey protein) in milk, yoghurt, and cheese may exert a beneficial role in the management of poor blood sugars and insulin. Fermented dairy is always preferable over unfermented. Choose milk kefir, yoghurt, buttermilk, cultured cream and butter (ghee is even better!) over other options. Dairy falls into the fat category so include these into your fat quota. 

Foods To Eat – Whole milk, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, paneer, sour cream, and unflavored almond milk.

How much to Eat

A good rule of thumb is one serve per day.

Functional Foods for Blood Sugar Balance

Functional foods with bioactive compounds can have a beneficial effect in managing blood glucose levels. The list of superfoods are:

  • Fenugreek
  • Bitter gourd / bitter melon
  • Psyllium husk – bulks up the stool and encourages beneficial bacteria
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Cinnamon – regulates blood sugar levels
  • Turmeric – anti-inflammatory
  • Nuts and oily seeds – Walnuts and flaxseeds (properly stored)
  • Garlic 

Lifestyle Changes for People with Blood Sugar Problems

The basics of a healthy lifestyle are relevant to everyone regardless of whether they are Indian or unwell. Following a few practices, like waking up early, practicing yoga, working out, eating right, getting proper sleep, meditating, taking out time for yourself, going to bed early, etc., are a few changes that will bring positivity and happiness in your life.

Final Word

Choosing healthier foods is a spiritual decision and a health decision. Diabetes is a terrible disease that greatly diminishes a person’s quality of life, especially in more advanced cases. So, even small improvements to the diet, along with lifestyle changes are worth it and will help you gain better control over your blood sugar level. 

Consult a doctor and nutritionist to get appropriate suggestions as per your medical status.

Brenda Rogers

Brenda Rogers is The Natural Menopause Expert. Her Passage to Power programs and events are designed to transform women from overwhelm, struggle and fatigue into the new generation of women seeking adventure and empowerment at midlife and beyond. 

Brenda Rogers

With over 25 years experience as a corporate trainer, naturopath, yoga teacher and wise woman educator, Brenda is the head clinician and coach at Quintessence Health.

"A healthy mind and body simply ensures you have the time and energy to fully express and manifest your life’s purpose – it facilitates the unfolding of joy."

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